On a Hill, Overlooking a Strawberry Farm

I stood on that hill overlooking the pond at the strawberry farm; there had been a few small rain drops and a slight threat of rain, so I flippantly stated we were going to go ahead with the ceremony in spite of the threat to those who’d gathered to witness the union between me and my love. The air was sweet, and the breeze light, flowing through the trees with a subtle hush. From behind me the sultry, honest tones of a cello and the yearning, mellow notes from a violin danced in my ear. I looked into the eyes of many of my friends, some of whom I’ve not seen in a while and some far longer. I glanced back to my left and then to my right to see the confident smile in my sons face and my lovely daughter’s who’ve chosen to share in this moment with me, they didn’t have to, but it means the world to me that they came together to celebrate as members of Shira and my wedding party, and waiting proud and graceful, the maid of honor. Then my eyes went to the sky, to the clouds over the fields around us, I thought of how beautiful this day has turned out to be, how proud my father might be of me and how I wished he were alive to be here, to share in this moment.

My palms began to sweat and my mind was awash with thoughts of fantasy and wonder at what the future might bring for my bride and me. As the ring bearers, handsome and proper took their seats and the flower girl made her way up the aisle, meandering and innocently curious what all the fuss was about as she dropped rose petals onto the cool green grass, I noticed a flock of blackbirds take sudden flight from the trees above us.

There was a moment of quiet, short and daunting, and from the guests seated there came a murmuring, then shallow gasps as they all turned around. Abruptly a quiet ringing entered my ear, a new song began to play and then everything was silent but for the guttural and fluid sounds of the beating of my own heart. And there, from behind a grand oak tree stepped out the most wondrous sight, the image of all that is good and decent and strong and magnificent, I was floored, as I watched her step to the back of the seats, I looked at her and nothing else in the world mattered to me in that moment. She stood elegant, poised in her wedding dress, and I just soaked in her image, her lips and her face.

Then, from somewhere deep inside of me a small boy, one whose been hiding for so long, slowly climbed down from his tree, stepped out onto the shoreline along the river and cast upon the cool dark waters his sail boat without care. He stood and watched as the small craft that’d been docked for so long, waiting for him, glided freely on the current, swiftly out of site. When the boy turned and looked at me I knew him, I felt him and as he stepped away, leaving no tracks in the sand I didn’t fall apart, I was no longer afraid, I no longer felt alone. Instead I felt empowered and free.

My heart had stopped but for a minute, I wanted to run to her when the tears began to roll along her cheeks, but she came to me, in the arms of her mother and her father, under a beautiful sky, amongst friends and family, she came to me and took my hand and we looked at each other, we saw each other, we shared in that moment all of our hopes and dreams and embraced a new beginning for each other, for us together. Everything appeared to be perfect, she seemed perfect, but with all of it stripped away, the people, the hill, the sun and the exquisite clothes, the symphony of pomp and circumstance, it was just us, alone and together, with our hearts and souls in each other’s arms. It was altogether, simply and extravagantly beautiful. It was indeed perfect.

 

The gods, Six Women and a Wedding

The gods pinged me again. They had no sense of decency, coming in right there on the outside steps of the Rotunda just before my son walked me down the aisle at his wedding. I turned and saw the reflection of us standing there in the glass door. I saw us clearly. I saw us from where the gods saw us from way out there somewhere. That’s me, in the long elegant black dress, hair all done up around my head, one hand holding my son’s arm and the other dangling a black shawl, like a child holds a blanket. We look alike. Both tall, both slim. Then the ping. It suddenly seemed strange that the cells of this 6’2” man spun off and popped out of my body and ended up standing next to me as a full grown man, irreversibly tied to me, no matter what.

They’ve been after me all my life, those gods. I don’t know what I did, but it must have been something big. They are determined I must go through life backwards. Maybe they thought I had it too easy. Maybe they thought I had too much life, that I saw too much good in the world. Or maybe they just thought I was shallow and needed to learn a lesson or two.

But I’m here, at this wedding and I’m smiling while this man, this man the gods forced through my body at 18 and out into the world, before either of us were ready, is saying his vows today. In spite of the gods watching us.
And I see his hands, the pigment gone white, in irregular lines, that look like drawings of continents against the darker skin. And now the nails, warping at the base. His tux is a little too big now, with the weight loss, the tiny incision holes over the kidneys hidden. But he looks fine. He is fine, still.

Even the grand matriarch on the bride’s side, the grandmother, caught me in the bathroom and said “We just love Calvin and are glad to have him come into the family.”

I said, “He’s only on loan.” She didn’t know what I meant with those words.

And they look fine, he and his radiant bride, later at the head table, smiling and laughing, so beautiful, so full of promise, so ready to do the marriage and children scene, all the way till. . . . I can’t say the word.

He found the right one. I feel a mother’s love toward that.
I said my speech. “You want so much for your children, you want things to go right, to be easier for them. And with these two, I think they are they lucky ones who have it all.” Or something like that. Tears well up in my voice and I stop. People clap for me and I sit down. I should be feeling wildly ecstatic right now, that they married their best friend and it’s going to be a good marriage, but that just makes it worse. Bastard gods! I’m mad and getting more mad by the minute.

I mean, what were the gods thinking? They dropped that boy on me before I even had a chance to get out there in the world. They stole that from me, my youth, my choices. But I got over it. And now, when I’m getting older, they’ve come to steal him back before I’m gone? I mean what the hell? What’s the point? For god’s sake, can someone please tell me what.they.were.thinking?

I must have been mouthing some pretty good swear words, in the middle of this beautiful reception because soon Mae, tall Mae with black braids and feathers at the end trailing down her back, came up to me and grabbed my arm.

“Come on Maggie,” she said and pulled me toward the door. I quietly let her lead me. As we passed tables, Janice stood up and joined us. Then Linda, and Maria and Sookie. We stepped out of the glass room, into the darkness and headed down to the amphitheater in the small lake.

All six of us, in our beautiful dresses and high-heeled shoes, wine glasses in our hands, crossed the bridge and stepped onto the circle of grass where hours before the vows were spoken. We lined up in a row. Six beautiful women, aged 36 to 56, strong women. Each of us had been pinged by the gods, as a mother or sister or wife, all of us angry at the gods at one time or other. We stood facing the lake under clouds tinged pink from the huge lights coming out of the glass building behind us.

Our heels sunk deep into the earth.

Then we gathered a strong breathe, and howled. We howled, again and again, more and more, at the top of our lungs, the sound skimming across the lake, shaking up into the trees. Six she wolves, snarling and snapping back. And as we sunk deeper into the earth, howls of women past rose up through our feet, filling our bodes and shaking our chests, their voices joining ours in our throats. And with one final voice, we pinged those gods back with a howl from every woman past, present and future.

Then we were quiet.

We waited as our howl released into the sky and out of sight and the lake became just a lake and the trees just trees.

Mae looked at me. She was talking to me without words, but I could hear her say “you all right now Maggie.”
I drop my head into one accepting nod, our cue to pulled our heels out of ground and make our way back to the glass building.

(c) Copyright Shelley Maasch, All Rights Reserved

The Wedding

Tyrone’s wedding day- a day we did not believe would ever happen. Tyrone was a six-foot four, 400-pound black man who looked like Buddha and though in fact a devout Buddhist, still managed to intimidate a lot of people by the sheer mass of his presence. But those of us who called him friend knew his gentle personality made him more suited to wear a pink tutu than a studded motorcycle jacket.

His ‘Best Man’ Jenny described his bride Mary as “a potato with red hair”. Mary was about five feet tall and white but only her family thought that should matter. Despite the fact that Tyrone treated them with respect and provided for Mary, he was black and in their mind that meant she could do better. In our mind, he was too good for her.

Not only was he running late that morning but when we asked him about his boutonniere, he stared at us blankly.

“Well, does she at least have a bouquet? No flowers? For Christ’s sake!” I said.

We sped to the local Jewel grocery store in my teal-blue Geo Metro, affectionately christened ‘Gimpy’. Its manual transmission meant that I had to drive and Jenny sat next to me in the front seat while Tyrone filled the back seat nervous and singing, ‘Hold on (I’m coming)’ by Sam and Dave.

In the grocery store, we found the weak shouldered florist with the snotty attitude and asked for help. He did not have much interest in doing his job so Jenny took matters into her own hands, grabbing sprigs of this and that until she came up with a respectable bridal bouquet and carnation boutonniere. We had left the house in such haste that none of us had eaten breakfast. The groom-to-be was too nervous to eat anything but we bought cherry turnovers layered with greasy shortening from the in-store bakery and bottles of Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino.

We piled back into my small car, her struts complaining under the weight, and tore down the streets of Chicago toward city hall. My eyes were fixed on the road as I wove through traffic and smashed cherry turnover into my mouth. Jenny handed me a bottle of the cold sticky coffee drink. The chocolate always settles in the bottom of those jars so I instinctively shook it up not realizing she had already done this and removed the cap.

It was difficult to see through a windshield streaked with Mocha Frappuccino but we managed to arrive merely ten minutes late, find parking, run past the Picasso, and abruptly stop in the waiting room behind at least fifteen other wedding parties. Some were dressed in full white dresses and tuxedos. Some couples were elderly while others were quite pregnant. Still others teamed with children of previous relationships mixed together and smiling with joy and tension.

Tyrone wore his cowboy boots, dark blue jeans, leather vest, and tight bleach blonde afro. Mary wore dirty sneakers, brown stirrup pants, an overlarge beige blouse, and no makeup. Jenny and I were dressed in coffee colored rayon but we didn’t start out that way. When the happy couple finally said “I DO!”, Tyrone stooped over Mary like a man getting ready to change a flat tire.

They kissed gently. His smile was quiet and shy. His eyes were soft and distant. No matter what any of us in that room thought the future held for these strange bedfellows, in that moment he simply loved her and beheld her more precious than all other women.

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, March 2014