February 14 has come and gone, and I, for one, am glad it is over.
But not for the reasons you’re thinking! While it may be true that I am newly (and very happily) single, I am most definitely feeling an enormous amount of gratitude for experiencing one of the best Valentine’s Day celebrations, EVER! As I went through the day, I mindfully paused to reflect on the meaning of love. More importantly, I felt tuned in to a higher vibration all day – that of true, real, unconditional love – a love that lasts longer than life and way beyond death.
My V-Day started out rather early, like 5:00 am early (and if you know me, you know that is much akin to a normal person waking up at midnight). I peered out the front door, and saw nearly two feet of snow in the driveway. The roads looked like shit. Worse than that though, was the fact that my baby brother was getting married at 11:00 am, at the West Mountain Inn, which is, well, up a pretty steep hill (it is on a mountain, after all). A determined group of well-wishers woke up that very snowy morning, got dressed up in their nicest clothing, and strapped on winter boots, knowing it had snowed all night long the previous night. Loved ones traveled mainly from Vermont, and New York (both upstate and downstate). Old Man Winter had indeed tried to throw a wrench in all our plans, but we were one determined group of loved ones, willing to go to great lengths to be there to support the happiness of those who are most important to us.
My brother Mark and his wife Beverly awoke and started the coffee. They, like me, had a rough time sleeping well the previous night, as I suspect many did. I always feel a sense of heightened, intense energy during storms. This feeling was started out the morning with a “Happy Valentine’s Day” and though we were all tired, we knew we had to be ready to leave early to account for the roads being bad and the fact that we knew what would normally be a 15 minute ride would probably take 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how well the roads had been plowed.
Our friend Annie was due to pick us up between 9 – 9:30 that morning, but she called early to say the plow hadn’t been on her road, nor her parent’s driveway. We all waited, but Annie called us back to say that she might be late or not coming at all due to being stranded at home from the snowstorm. We decided to call our Mom to ask her to pick us up on their way through. My sister-in-law Beverly, trooper that she is, put on a pair of jeans, boots, her coat, winter gear, AND WENT OUT WEARING A DRESS (with freshly glued nails I might add) and shoveled the walkway as we waited for our landlord to plow. How fabulous was THAT? That’s how Vermont girls roll!
Thank Goddess we called my Mom, because her husband Bernie drove the 4wD Ford Explorer like a pro, even though the roads were horrendous! Once we arrived at the bottom of the driveway for the Inn, we saw the flower girl, in her beautiful dress, running up the hill. There was another 4wd heading confidently up the path without issue. On the right side of the driveway was my brother’s car, with Rachel, the bride sitting in the driver’s seat. As we continued our ascent toward the Inn, we saw Rachel’s Grandparents’ Volvo stuck in a snow bank to the left. My brother, Michael, the groom, attempted to shovel them out, but it wasn’t working. We saw the other 4wd vehicle stop to pick up the flower girl, and we followed behind them as we finally made it to the top.
My brother Mark and my cousin Jerry also worked diligently to try and help get the Volvo unstuck. But it would require the assistance of a plow to eventually get it unstuck (which ultimately didn’t happen until the very end of the day). That was a bummer, and without 4wd, one would most certainly not have made it up the driveway; 2WD vehicles were destined to get stuck, go off the road, get stuck in snow banks and all sorts of other misfortunes in these hazardous conditions. Most people are just not equipped or seasoned enough winter drivers to make it from one end of a long, winding mountain road, to the other. This was a tough group of folks, many of whom ended up hiking up the road, all dressed up, trekking through two feet or more of snow on this country road just to wish a young couple well.
The Inn itself was really small, classy, inviting, warm, and charming. The staff were incredibly helpful, and friendly. However, I have some criticism: this wedding was planned well in advance, and a fair number of people risked their lives driving on dangerous, slippery roads to attend and support a special day for two people in love. The weather presented challenges for the entire wedding party that we weren’t expecting to have to deal with, but we dealt with it as it came because that’s what we do! It really brought out the spirit of community and extended family, which seemed so perfect for that particular moment in time. The Inn is located on a steep, mountain road/country driveway in Vermont. The date they booked happens to occur during wintertime – a season when Nor’Easters happen in these parts! Management should have planned accordingly, and arranged for the driveway to be plowed, and sanded earlier on in the day, as well as throughout the day, as needed.
As we entered the Inn, we were greeted by Rachel’s mother, Robin, and some of their relatives, who all seemed to be in good spirits. My Aunt Michelle and I converged on the coat room to change out of boots and into dress shoes. We then mingled, and greeted our family as well as Rachel’s as they filed in. I had some warm cider which hit the spot, because I’d been recovering from a cold that felt like a flu. I got overheated and still felt generally crappy, but I hugged family as they arrived, and even got to talk to Rachel’s stepmother, who was gregarious and if I’m reading her right, spunky!
I saw Rachel for a brief moment when she finally made it up the hill and inside, then she quickly disappeared to go get ready. While she did that, my step-father Bernie, and my brother’s friend Jeff took turns chauffeuring relatives up and down the hill, which they did practically all day long. The wedding didn’t get started until 12:30 pm or so, because of all the mishaps. It was because of the fortitude of real Vermonters that people got up and down the hill and helped one another, as a community should. This community of people came together to celebrate the love of two people whom we love. So this was a very special occasion.
TWO FEET OF SNOW BE DAMNED, my brother Michael and his soul mate Rachel were going to get married! A violinist played simple melodies of familiar songs and hymns.”Tis the Gift to Be Simple” was the song chosen for the processional. First, Hailey, the flower girl, threw fresh rose petals to her sides as she sashayed down the walkway. Next came my teary-eyed mother, who walked my brother up to the altar. Of course, we expect my mother to cry on occasions like this, and she didn’t disappoint. She even posted on facebook the night before, “I hope my mascara is waterproof.” (Ohhh mom, thank you so much for passing this trait on to me!). Finally, Rachel’s mother and father walked her down the aisle where she met Michael, as they held hands and gazed at one another. Rachel looked absolutely gorgeous, and my baby brother Michael looked all grown up.
The Pastor was an Irish woman with a very gentle spirit, and she seemed very grounded and wise. Her philosophy encompassed a combination of many forms of spirituality, which was extremely appropriate given Rachel is from a Jewish background, and Mike was raised Christian(ish). I could tell that most of the people in the room were spiritual in more non-traditional ways. The feeling of love was truly in the air, and it wasn’t simply because we were celebrating the love that Michael and Rachel have for one another. It was because we were all there, family, for a moment, witnessing something very beautiful, taking part in a sacred ritual.
The ceremony was written by and for them, as were the vows. One of the first things the minister said was, “these two were introduced, by Celisa, a friend…” to which I chimed in, “SISTER!”. She expressed gratitude for my “foresight”, and, not to toot my own horn BUT I was indeed, the matchmaker! This was by far the best match I’ve made, bitches!!! The minister read poems, quotes, and talked about Michael and Rachel’s love for and devotion to one another, and I felt my father’s presence very strongly in the room, as tears welled up in my eyes. I looked over at my brother Mark, who is Michael’s identical twin, and I noticed he, too, had tears in his eyes. Their vows were exchanged, and I got this comforting sense that my father was proudly watching over us, as were all of our departed relatives and loved ones. It was by far one of most beautiful, genuine, and heartfelt wedding ceremonies I have ever witnessed. I am proud to have had a small part in helping the Stratton name survive – because I know it is just a matter of time before I become an Aunt again! Hint, hint, Mike and Rachel, get to work!
Post-ceremony, we posed for pictures, and while I haven’t seen the professional photos yet, my mother snapped one on her phone that I’m sure made her happy: All of her children together, with their spouses, in one picture. Healthy. Alive. Well. After over five years, according to my mom (my mother is the authority on these matters). A little over five years ago is when our father passed away. So this was a really beautiful moment for all of us.
I got a chance to talk to my sister Jessica for the first time in weeks; we had gotten into an argument and I made a decision to not talk to her for a while, because I was feeling really upset over everything that had transpired between us. It seemed like all of our past and present issues with one another had finally reached a breaking point, in the context of a fight that involved several siblings. The result was a great divide in the family dynamic for a period of time. We all distanced ourselves from one another until we could talk again and try to make sense of the fucked up shit that happened before.
My family may be dysfunctional, but at the end of the day, we are loving and supportive of one another when times are tough. Life may throw obstacles in our way that threaten to tear our bonds apart, but at the end of the day, we will always have love and respect for one another. I know our father would want us all to unite strong in our love for one another rather than hold grudges from past hurts that can’t be changed. This is a challenge, and healing our family scars is a work in progress, one that most people never quite get perfect. My sister and I still have work to do, in fact, we all have work to do, but I know we can rise above the petty shit and just make peace, because we are Strattons. It is in our blood and DNA to be strong, resilient and fierce!
Since the wedding was supposed to be a brunch, that ended up starting rather late, most people were hungry because they didn’t have breakfast. Everyone eagerly awaited for the serving of our meal, while snacking on hors d’oeuvres. Brunch food was served, but we didn’t get to eat it until 2:30! There were a lot of hungry people in that line! The food was really good, and included fruit, eggs, bagels and lox (yummy), latkes, as well as sausage and bacon (I love when my Hebrew people eat bacon! It is delicious!). My mother brought the cake server from she and my father’s wedding. Rachel’s ring is the one my mother wore when she was married to my father; My brother Michael’s is the ring my Grandmother Riley’s late husband wore when they were married. I guess all the bases were covered: Something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue…I’m not sure what the “blue” something was, and maybe it is apropos that I can’t think of anything blue, as it is the color of melancholy! Oh wait, no, the wedding card was blue, and so was the gift I passed on to them. Blue indeed!
Rachel’s Grandfather gave the toast, and mentioned that he and his wife have been together for 58 years! Incredible! I sat at a table with My Uncle Bill and Aunt Donna, who have been together for as long as I’ve been alive, and as a couple, they are a hoot. Their relationship is an example of how married couples keep one another in check, in a loving, oftentimes sarcastic, smart-ass (but always hilarious) way. Interestingly enough, they didn’t get married until 15 or 20 years of being together. My brother Mark and his wife Beverly have been together for nearly ten years, and though they have their explosive arguments, they are also a devoted couple, having been through hell and back together – from the brink of death and back to the realm of the living, lessons learned in the school of hard knocks. After all of that, Mark and Bev continue to stay committed to their marriage, and are considering renewing their vows this June.
The couples mentioned above seem to have what it takes to remain in love with one another in spite of life’s extreme highs and lows. This is what staying power looks like folks, and I believe Mr. and Mrs. Michael Stratton have staying power. Congratulations to both of you. It is amazing to watch our family grow and change to what it has become. I am blessed, truly. We are all blessed to have one another! So what is true love? The freedom to be who you are, and still feel loved and appreciated by another human being, who in turn, does the same for you. These bonds of love are timeless; they will last for eternity, and for that, I am thankful.