Just over two years from the day we graduated, yearning for more than a one-horse town, we returned. Kristin and Patrick, the nuptial couple, met at Greenville and it was only appropriate that they would choose Greenville for their wedding.
I’d had forgotten how southern this town in Southern Illinois is until I return from Seattle to see the confederate flags, the Gretchen Wilson music, the biscuits and gravy, the thick accent. Driving east from St. Louis to Greenville is a dream in Americana: the corn high and ripe, hawks circling, grasses glistening from thunderstorms and downpours, a large wide sky above the plains and the sprawling roads.
We pass power lines, traversing and perpendicular, large billboards for country cooking and homestyle restaurants large and gaudy and offering oversized lardy portions at a minimal charge, and all the fields lush with the harvest.
Greenville, that dear town of seven thousand (including the federal prison outside of the city limits) is still itself: with more Victorian funeral homes than residents to fill them, seven antique stores but no store selling shoes, no businesses open by five in the evening, restaurants that change names and keep the menu. I am struck by the desire to read everything Wendell Berry had ever written.
K, the bride, and I sit on Scott field the way we did our freshman year and discuss, categorically and liturgically (it is tradition), our romantic histories. As we talk and are attacked by mosquitoes, a small-skulled ginger cat with a tail as flamboyant as Pepe le Peu’s feather-duster aims for us out of the darkness like a missile.
In the morning I oversleep and run to morning prayer – my favorite rite - only to find the church empty and sepulchral. On the way back I see the Henslow’s sparrows: nervous chickadee things with peeping pipes and a hop that leans forward, a flight that is unbelievably light and effortless, rising with the sudden ebullience of new thought.
(How have I lived here for four years and not found out every secret thing? I want to know what the grasses are called in Greenville, and what crops the fields put forth. The birds: the warblers, red-tailed hawks, and grosbeaks.)
This wedding is no cake to plan from Seattle. Things with which we must contend: nonagerians, newborn babies, vegans, people who had never heard of vegans, kids with Aspbergers, bridesmaids on crutches, thunderstorms, humidity, shade, swamp infestations, mosquitoes, old and new friends, old and new lovers, Byzantine music rehearsals, problems with remembering which hand had the ring finger, the limited number of vehicles, wheelchairs. The wedding has all the assurance of a roadside carnival.
The reception is planned for a barn owned by a professor of religion, Dr. McPeak. It is our job to take a beautiful pioneer space enclosing every obsolete tool and empty fuel canister and broken bicycle part known to humankind and transform it into an open air meeting space. Like treasure hunters we pillage the barn and choose our objets d’art: empty glass jars, wagon wheels, old mirror frames, windows and wooden tables. Every thing is laid in its proper place and evaluated with the aesthetic eyes of five critics who check every vignette until all are satisfied.
I couldn’t have been prepared for the rigorous requirements of a wedding. As wedding manager, me & my clipboard go everywhere taking notes on the portopotties, the caterer, the chairs and tables. The bachelorette party is in a one-room bar called Oasis in the middle of the cornfields on highway 127. We are the only ones in the room and – if this gives you any indication of the kind of establishment – the drinks are $1.25. A drunk man with a ponytail in his briefcase and dirty fingers in Erin’s hair buys up pepto-bismal tequila rose shots. He is difficult to shake off. The barwoman is so glad to see people that she gives us drinks for free. We laugh all the way home.
And somehow eventually, it all winds down and are standing at the altar with smarting toes and sweat behind the neck. And the dresses that were on hangars are now clothing bodies, people that were names on a list are smiling witnesses. Dr. Hartley’s wedding homily was the best I’d ever heard – it was specific and inclusive, it was generous and uncompromising. Take the time to read it here.
All the worries are swept away as we sit down at our tables at the barn to delicious vegan food, our plates and faces stippled by sunlight, a light breeze lifting the corners of the tablecloths. The bouquets haven’t wilted, the rings weren’t lost, and no one fainted or tripped down the aisle. The sun sets slowly and there is dancing on the wet grass, games played on the lawn, a baby being fed, the inevitable leave-takings in twos and threes.
The moon rises orange and the night is still young.
I wanted to read this poem by Rumi at the reception, but I didn’t. So I’ll put it here:
May these vows and this marriage be blessed.
May it be sweet milk,
this marriage, like wine and halvah.
May this marriage offer fruit and shade
like the date palm.
May this marriage be full of laughter,
our every day a day in paradise.
May this marriage be a sign of compassion,
a seal of happiness here and hereafter.
May this marriage have a fair face and a good name,
an omen as welcome
as the moon in a clear blue sky.
I am out of words to describe
how spirit mingles in this marriage.
Best of wishes, K & P. This week was beautiful.