I doubt anyone has ever felt such a feeling of accomplishment mixed with trepidation upon entering Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It was one of a few scheduled stops we’ve needed to aim for and symbolized an end of sorts. After Iowa our next and only other planned stop is Alaska, our ultimate destination, the North to balance our South. We hadn’t planned on it, but Iowa also became a gateway to Winter. The rain that had followed us across Kansas gave way to blue skies and an icy wind.
My cousin Neil and Shannon, his bride (who hails from Cedar Rapids, hence the destination wedding), had planned a lovely mid-fall wedding set amidst an explosion of flaming red Iowa foliage. They’d found a lovely winery overlooking farmland and picturesque stands of oak. The guest list comprised a small family reunion. Not only were most of our L.A. relatives there (including cousin Troy, a favorite recurring character/heartthrob for avid followers of this blog) but my Mother was too, having arrived several days early from Seattle in order to warm up the crowd. She’d apparently been trying for days to get kicked out of the Midwest by making off-color jokes to the bridal party as they dashed about in preparation.
Heat lamps were set up about the outdoor ceremony like the spindly columns of a cathedral. Guests dressed in shiny black shoes and down parkas were drawn to them like moths. Shannon looked beautiful as she read her vows to my ever smiling cousin, tall and lean in his black suit and tie. Neither seemed to be affected by the cold, distracted as they were by the engagement at hand. Like most of the people older than Neil in attendance, I reflected on the pudgy faced child I’d first met decades ago and marveled at the lanky young husband he was about to become. Like the rest of the people thinking the same thing, I felt old, and tried to scoot closer to the heat lamp in order to ward off a chill.
It was a rather secular wedding even though like their late mother, my Aunt Ellen, my cousins are Jewish. A nod to the chosen people came in the form of ‘the breaking of the glass’ during which more than a few Midwesterners looked around in confusion. I imagined they were wondering if they should start busting up the dinnerware as well, out of respect.
The reception was filled with delicious food, abundant alcohol and lots of dancing. At some point after the crowd was fairly well into their cups, Hava Nagila began and Neil was hoisted onto a chair. Hands were clasped but instead of circling the groom a melee ensued in which people ran in every direction, the music becoming ever more frenetic and exotic sounding. Trains of confused dancers ran with linked hands only to collide with other, longer trains, sending everyone spinning across the floor amidst shouts and hoots of laughter.
We caught up with my cousins when we could, but they were the nucleus of the party while we were merely in orbit. Troy was entertaining a number of admirers, having suddenly been voted the most eligible bachelor by the batting eyelids of a dozen guests. We did manage to laugh about the last time we’d all seen each other in Ecuador, a fact made more amazing by the presence of Josh, the fourth big body we’d stuffed into the tiny blue Chevy Spark. We’d last seen Josh as we rolled through a seedy neighborhood in Quito, shoving him out of the car without bothering to stop. He held no grudges though and we all laughed about that day. Speaking of grudges I do wish I’d been able to hand him the trash he’d left in our back seat, but I stopped carrying it around with that purpose in mind weeks ago.
Late in the evening Magda and I gathered as many relatives as we could in a quiet spot in order to call our 96 years young Grandfather with an update of the festivities. It probably sounded like we were calling from the moon, which most people in L.A. would say we were.
As the volume of the music increased, the age limit on the dance floor sank. Magda, my cousin Jeanne and I retreated to nurse our aching feet and our glasses of wine. Jeanne’s mother, my aunt C.J., circulated amongst the crowd, spiritedly confirming that she was the oldest person left in the room. We were not far behind. Before long we packed it in, but not before congratulating the happy couple once more. Shannon howled in disgust at our early departure, which I took to be a great compliment and was further convinced she was a perfect addition to our family.