Friday, May 11, 2012

Wedding bells dilemma

Weddings have always made me uncomfortable but surely the fact that I can't dance is the least of it. I perceive them as foreign rituals like Hindus bathing in the Ganges or Muslims going 'round and 'round their holiest-of-holies in Mecca. I never quite know what to feel or do at weddings, particularly if I attend with Stew, my defacto husband, partner, boyfriend or whatever you want to call him, for the past forty years.

Wedding bell.
Nothing against weddings, heterosexuals, Hindus or Muslims, mind you. During the past week, however, with President Obama's announcement that he favors same-sex marriages and following our gardener Félix' sis-boom-bah of a church wedding and celebratory dinner afterward for literally hundreds of people, the reasons for my discomfort are clearer.

I feel uncomfortable because a proper wedding, as in a public ceremony announcing that Stew and I are a bona fide couple, that we are in a relationship that merits recognition, respect and even celebration, is something he and I have been denied for no good reason at all.

I'd probably feel the same way about golf if I were arbitrarily barred from a country club just because members didn't want the likes of us hanging around the greens. I might try to save face by screaming, "Well screw you, I never wanted to play golf anyway!," but my guts would be roiling with resentment.

Flower girls awaiting the bride's arrival
Félix' wedding this weekend had other disconnects for Stew and me. Though I felt happy for him and his bride Ysela, who looked gorgeous in a white dress with a six-foot train, ethnic and economic barriers made it even more difficult for us to relate to the event.

It was not Felix' fault. On the contrary, he invited us to come to his house early though later I discovered he may have had an ulterior motive: He had rented a black suit but couldn't tie the tie.  He even asked us to sit at a table reserved for the immediate family though we got there late and there was no room. Félix couldn't have been more gracious or welcoming.

The wedding at Sosnavar's half-finished church ran on Mexican time, with the priest standing by the front door for twenty minutes waiting for the bride to appear. Even the church bells rang late; the one o'clock clang came ten minutes after the hour.

No matter. Ysela finally arrived, lifting her skirts and train to dodge the dirt of the town's unpaved streets, a little winded but otherwise resplendent, her hair coiffured and face expertly made up. She looked like a model who had parachuted into a backwater movie set. Félix looked like quite the stud too, his suit a bit rumpled, the shirt collar open--it was too small--but his tie perfectly in place.

The bride arrives.
As Roman Catholic weddings go, this was a model of economy and simplicity. A three-woman a capella choir sang at given intervals; two altar boys, one eighteen inches taller and several years older than the other, carried the metal bucket of holy water and other ceremonial trappings. Ysela forgot nearly all the wedding vows--the priest discreetly cued her along--but Félix recited his without a hitch, loudly and proudly.

The priest was a handsome forty-something Mexican from central casting, with deeply dark skin complemented with jet-black hair and a beard. He had swooped into the parking spot in back of the church, kicking up a cloud of dust with his four-wheel-drive Toyota pick-up with a light bar over the cab. He changed into simple white vestments in the sacristy and proceed with the ceremony punctually and with military-like precision, even if practically everything and everyone else was late.

I didn't have a chance to speak to him but hope to soon. Given the number of churches around here--every two-bit town has to have its own church, one of them within sight of my office window--combined with the scarcity of priests, this guy's life must be like that of a Coca-Cola truck driver, robotically rushing from store to store, dropping off the merchandise, collecting the empties, and moving on.

After the wedding, the priest drove away, probably off to another ceremony, waving at the crowd and giving a couple of toots from his truck's oogah-oogah horn.

Church ceremony. Baby in the blue shawl is Félix'
three-month-old son, Edgar.
For all its simplicity and universal familiarity--in sickness and in health, and so on--parts of the service deeply moved me. Here was a young couple who had poured probably every last peso they had into a public celebration of their relationship. Stew and I were never allowed one of these even though we could well afford it.

Indeed, the sheer size of the post-wedding production was mind-boggling. By the time the all-weekend party was over literally hundreds of people had filed by and gorged themselves on pork morsels, roasted chicken and shredded beef. Not only every person but every dog in town too came by for a bite.

According to Félix, two pigs, a small flock of chickens and a cow, were sacrificed for the event by the in-laws and then prepared by a platoon of women hovering and sweating over makeshift wood grills and various other cooking contraptions for hours. The brown mole used to douse the chicken was delicious but incendiary.

All the reveling took place just outside Félix' one-room home, which lacks a bathroom or running water, under blue plastic tarps that protected the ever-revolving group of guests from gray skies that seemed ready to burst into rain at any minute.

The happy couple.
Having a proper church wedding was all-important for this young couple. Bathroom, schmathroom. That can come later.

Ranchero music blasted from an amplifier and two beat-up speakers. We recognized the amp as one we had thrown out a couple of years ago because we thought it was dead. One of Félix' electronic-whiz buddies apparently had revived it. There was no dancing, though, because neither he nor his wife likes to dance. No mariachis either; they couldn't afford it.

Party, party. 
How Félix paid for all this is something that baffled Stew and me until Félix explained the finances of Mexican weddings: All the relatives and neighbors pitch in. Pretty much everything from the flowers to the food is supposedly donated by relatives. His in-laws bought the cow, and butchered and barbecued it right in their backyard. I can't imagine and I didn't ask for any details.

I don't know exactly what came from whom--we gave him a set of pots and pans from Costco--but the festivities left Félix in a hole. He had to borrow US$1,200, repayable over the next twelve months. No matter how generous his relatives may have been, just keeping the cases of beer coming--and coming--for hours on end, wiped him out financially.

It didn't take long before the guests started to get blottoed and after an hour or so teetotallers Stew and I went home.

The day after, Stew and I were happy for Félix but upset about something that neither one of us could quite articulate. Stew said that what affected him was the poverty that chokes so many of the small towns around us and perhaps the spirits of those who live in them. But there's nothing we can do about that, we reassured each other.

Then President Obama's announcement explained it all to me: Indeed, after 40 years together, Stew and I deserve a proper wedding too. Not a "commitment ceremony," "exchange of vows" or much less a "civil union" at Chicago's City Hall before a faceless clerk, as if we were pulling a building permit. We should have a damn wedding.

So it will be a proper wedding in our next trip to New York. So thank you Félix and Barack for clearing up this life-long dilemma for me. And most of all, thank you Stew for our forty years together.