The road to marriage is strewn with broken legs.
I spent the weekend at Anvil Ranch, west of Healdsburg along a country road that runs out to Stewart Point, north of Jenner. The occasion was the wedding of my friend Eva to Winston, the oldest son of my old friend Ben.
The weddings I’ve attended over the past few years were of family and, in one case, very close friends whose daughter is the honorary cousin of my kids and the kids of my wife’s sisters. There’s enough overlap when it’s family that friends of my brother-in-law have become my friends, too. At Eva and Winston’s wedding, I fell in the broad category of “not family.”
There were others at the wedding, also “not family,” who could claim longtime ties with bride and groom. I would classify them as “sort of family.” In the context of a wedding, they’re emissaries of the past — both recent and distant — telling stories that connect them with the couple and provide a sort of good-humored absolution for their foibles.
For me, this wedding was like ethnography, parsing two very different families, totally and blissfully united in their affection for the couple. Eva’s family is “complicated,” as they say, but thoroughly cosmopolitan. Winston’s family is rooted — more apparently solid, but capable of its own surprises. In a short talk I wrote for the after-dinner speeches, I mentioned Anthony Trollope’s “Palliser” novels, thinking of Winston’s family.
But Eva is the kind of heroine Trollope would revel in, arriving at the altar after a tightrope walk across ravines of mortality. Winston too had his shadow-of-death moment, run over as a kid while biking, dragged by the car and left a wreck: a different kind of encounter with our fragility, but part of their background as a couple is how life deepens when you get it back. (My reference to broken legs in the subtitle reflects the traditional hubris- and jinx-beating wish of luck. Eva’s tightrope crosses territory littered with broken legs and sacrificed chickens — anything to get the gods on her side.)
When I got back from Healdsburg today, I made the “Map of Eva & Winston from Memory” above. It represents Eva’s family as an organic whole, loose and yet interconnected. She comes from an academic family, philosophers, but it also felt literary. And this is how I think of Eva — as a writer, literary. Winston’s father is an architect, so a house seems apt as his family’s metaphor, reflecting its more tightly knit nature. Winston wore a kilt at the rehearsal dinner and on him it seemed natural, something they would do.
Winston spoke first at the wedding feast, recounting how they met and expressing his immense happiness and good fortune. Eva cited her late friend, Melanie Lewis, who told her, “Be yourself and one who loves you as you are will find you.” There’s no better advice. Eva wrote later that her friend loved her unconditionally, and the experience of that love enabled her to recognize it. Over 40 years of marriage, I’ve learned the heart of it is accepting the other as she is. I believe that it’s the heart of friendship, also.
All families are complicated, in my experience. Not every family is cosmopolitan. Cosmopolitanism is a trait to be cherished.
My after-dinner speech went undelivered, but Winston’s mother has a copy and now so does Eva.
My drawing reveals one reason why I never became an architect, although today I suppose it would be less of a drawback.
The photo of Anvil Ranch was taken by Freeman Wilson, Eva’s cousin.
Eva and Winston’s wedding was featured in “Vows” in the New York Times, in an article written by Stephanie Rosenbaum Klassen.