Posted by: patti | May 12, 2010


Three years ago today, the Little Brother married the Little Sister-in-Law.  Their wedding was in St. Alban’s Church, a sweet pile of Episcopal stone on the grounds of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

It’s sense memory that comes back to me when I think of their day:  the shocking red door on the pale stone church, the floral cotton dresses of the women, the fragrant spikes of lavender lining the paths between the church and the hall.  My grandmother’s cool hand in mine.  The Librarian’s hand in the damp small of my back.  The whisper of the bride’s dress.  The hot pressure of tears.

I cried during the homily — everyone did, or almost did, or pretended they didn’t.  Later on in the day, you could easily spot the ones who almost cried, and those who pretended they didn’t:  there is only so much emotion you can hold in.  It doesn’t matter if it’s happiness or sadness you’re holding in, if you hold it in too long, you come apart at the seams.

But these were not sad tears, not at all.  The Little Sis-in-Law was visibly pregnant, beaming, glowing, and the Little Brother’s smile was so big, Disney bluebirds were getting caught and trapped in his dimples.  The LSIL’s mother conducted the ceremony.  I need to repeat that:  the officiating priest was the bride’s mother.  Sarabeth, who is one of my favorite people, ever, radiated love.   She could not wait to meet her granddaughter.  She spoke of family, of patience, of love, of acceptance.  I cried because those are the only gifts I’ve ever wanted for my little brother, and because I knew my little niece, who I also couldn’t wait to meet, would also know those gifts.

And then there was the heat.  Oh my God, the heat.  If you know the District in early May, you can guess the weather forecast for their wedding:  humid with a chance of swampy.  And there was no air conditioning, or it was broken, or it really doesn’t matter because oh my GOD the heat.  An AA meeting was assembled somewhere else in the same hall, either downstairs or in a side room, and they systematically appropriated every fan that had been set up for the wedding reception.

There was a thunderstorm.  My aunt and my mother had a fight that they are only just now, three years later, recovering from.  There was food, and drink, and family, and dancing, and there was singing — singing!  Family, singing! At a Varol wedding!  Ok, ok, the Varols watched, we didn’t sing.  But we were there, and we were smiling.  That counts.

And then a strange thing, strange to Varols, anyway, a strange thing started happening.  The LSIL’s stepfather gave a toast.  And then the Maid of Honor gave a toast.  And then the Best Man gave a toast.  And then a cousin of LSIL gave a toast.  And then another cousin — guests were randomly, as the spirit or spirits moved them, picking up the mike and letting everyone know how much they loved the LSIL and the LB.   Somewhere in there was the thunderstorm, and more dancing, and the fight, and the Varols thinned out, but the Varols left didn’t know what to do.

I turned to the Librarian and said, “I should go up there. I should say something,” the speech already half-forming in my mind.  The Librarian shook his head: “No, your family has made enough of a scene here tonight.”  And so I didn’t take the mike from Lisa’s stepfather, who was making his third delightful speech, and I stayed to the side, sweating, waiting for the dancing to resume.

When we got back to the hotel, I wrote out the speech that had started to take shape when I was tempted to pick up the mike.  I regret, deeply, that no one from our family gave a toast that night.  I hate that I didn’t tell the Librarian, “Fuck you for thinking I’d make a scene.”   I wish, not only do I wish I had given this speech that night, but I also wish I had not let three years go by before I let Stephen and Lisa know how much I love them, and how close I felt to them on that happy, happy night.

Here is the speech, exactly as I found it in my journal, three years late, but no less true:

We Varols, we’re a Northern people.  We like to think of ourselves as tough New Yorkers, and we are, certainly, but really, maybe, not so much:  we know humidity maybe a month a year.  We’re dropping like the toughest of flies out there, but don’t take it personally, and please, don’t comment on it.  We’ll just say we’re fine, really.

I’m raising a glass to you, before the sweat slips it right out of my grip, to say I love you.  Stephen, it took us a long time to discover that we had more in common than parents and memories.  We were close when we were very little, but we grew apart and had to learn to be friends.  It has always astonished me how fiercely loyal you have always, always been to me, even when I was too self-absorbed to see that you were the only one who was looking out for me.

Lisa, you and I are only just getting to know each other, but I already know I love you, because I can see how happy you make him.  You bring out something in Stephen, the part of him that I treasure, that playfulness, that joy.  You manage — I’ve never known anyone who could do this so completely for him — you manage to encourage him in all of his whimsy and creativity, you inspire him and push him to be better, to do better, to reach, while all along, you love and accept all that he is, right now.

I can’t offer anything in the way of advice about The Kid.  I can’t wait to meet her, because I know she will be as beautiful and as smart and as funny and as loved as you are.  What I can offer you in the way of advice has to do with the everyday choice that is marriage.  Humor goes a long way.  Be kind to each other.  Be strong.  Expect the best, and always be your best self.  Be yourself.  Trust.  And be fiercely loyal.

I love you.

Engagement photo


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