This weekend we celebrated my Aunt Alice and Uncle Bob’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. My mom had originally planned on having a big family party with all the relatives and it lasting the weekend. Instead it evolved into dinner in the private room of a restaurant with our family and Bob’s brother Donald. The party was to be Saturday night in Fennimore, Wisconsin, so my parents rented us a room at the Governor Dodge Hotel in Platteville. I haven’t been to Platteville in a long time. It brings back a lot of growing up memories. This southwestern part of Wisconsin is filled with rolling hills. The drive there looks like a child’s drawing: emerald green grass, lazy black and white cows, puffy white clouds, brilliant red barns. We get to the hotel a few hours early, and we’ve promised Lucy that we’ll take her swimming. She immediately strips off her clothes and begins jumping on the bed naked (or “mekkid” as she pronounces it). When I was about her age, my Aunt Nan took me here on a little getaway. I remember doing the exact same thing and I somehow remember her calling my parents to tell them we had gotten there OK. They must have asked what I was doing because she said in her dry way, “Well, right now we are cavorting about in the nude.” It’s so funny to bring my own daughter here to these same rooms and watch her do the same thing.
The pool was a success, and I love to watch her and Darren together—she’s getting so brave after her swimming lessons, with her “Supermans” and her “Ice Cream Scoops” and jumping off the side of the pool into his waiting arms like a big kid. She wants to be with me, so we trade off, Darren with Elaine and Lucy and I, and I swirl her through the water on her back and tell her that she’s a mermaid and that Smoochie is a merbaby. This is entertaining for a few minutes, but she realizes Dad is more fun in the swimming pool than Mom. I take Elaine back and gently bounce her through the water.
We get ready for the party, and Darren realizes he hasn’t packed any toiletries whatsoever. Or rather he realizes I haven’t packed any for him (apparently my words, “I packed all of our stuff; now you’ll need to do yours” mean something different to him than they do to me) so he goes to Wal-Mart. I put the girls in their lavender party dresses, and I curl Lucy’s hair especially. Then I put on my own “party dress”—my vintage black with lace across the yoke—that makes me feel better than any dress I’ve owned.
The restaurant and room for the party are much nicer than I imagined. There are fairy lights everywhere and little bridges over fountains. Lucy is entranced. My mom takes Elaine because she is dying to show off her new baby. They are there already—Aunt Alice and Uncle Bob and Donald. I watch my aunt especially to see how she is, to see how much more the Alzheimer’s has eroded her as my mom says it is doing. She seems sweet and a little lost. She recognizes us and is thrilled with the baby. She admires Lucy’s party dress and is charmed by Elaine’s chubby plum cheeks and little bare feet. It is one of those parties that is awkward and hard to get going. Chuck and Rome arrive with a beautiful bouquet of roses from all of us. The party begins to get going as Lucy passes out the favors. I made these—gold-wrapped truffles in gold tulle with ribbon and vellum tags with the anniversary couple’s name. It was also my job to pick up the cake, and of course I’ve misunderstood and haven’t picked it up at all. It’s 40 minutes away by the hotel. In an unexplained and serendipitous move, the waitress comes out of nowhere with a cake lit with candles and chocolate covered strawberries. Lucy begins to charm everyone by climbing up on Aunt Alice’s lap and talking to Alice and Bob. It’s her usual three-year-old stream of consciousness; I hear her describing how her piggies are painted as she crams chocolate strawberries in her mouth., but it is wonderful for them. I love her for this. She is so like Darren, so warm and loving and approaches the world with open arms. I remember being so timid and shy at that age, at any age really, and I see how this little girl’s prattle warms them.
She takes Uncle Bob by the hand and asks him to take her to see the fountain, talking energetically the whole way. I follow them to take some pictures—I think of my parents, so full and loved and surrounded with children and grandchildren, and I think for a few moments it is lovely for this elderly man to walk with this little girl through the restaurant. As soon as they return, she runs to Donald to ask him to view the fountain too, but he and Bob have found a better idea—we’ll all go to the attached “saloon” and play the player piano. Donald tells me, “We’re going to play the piano for the little girls!” and he adds with a rueful grin, “And for the big boys too!” The piano plays, and my mom dances with Lucy, and we all leave the restaurant on a high note.
At their home, my mom rummages around and brings down a small green album with their wedding pictures. Their sister, Pearl, fancied herself a photographer at one point, and as none of the sisters had any money, Pearl took all the wedding pictures. These are actually beautiful. We women crowd on the sofa and exclaim over the 50s fashions, and my mom tells Rome and me that Alice bought the lovely, pale pink full-skirted wedding dress (she bought it in pink instead of white so she could wear it again)—one of her first and only store-bought dresses. She was a beautiful seamstress, and she made my mother’s green satin bridesmaid dress, but hers was special for this day—a boughten dress. We laugh and tease Uncle Bob—he looks so nervous in the pictures, was he nervous? “Aw, I didn’t care a thing about it!” he laughs, and young—“You look like a little boy here!” my mom cries. “He WAS just a little boy!” Aunt Alice exclaims earnestly and we laugh, and he looks over at her fondly. She’s sitting on the arm of the sofa, looking at herself in her beautiful pink wedding dress, in the pink dress my mother has bought her for her fiftieth anniversary. Pink is her color. Mom gave her the dress the day before, and Alice doesn’t remember that it’s for a party. She keeps asking, “What do I have do to do to this dress?” and Mom patiently explains time and again that she’s bought it especially for her, a size 4 petite, it will fit her exactly. Other than her wedding dress, she’s never owned a dress that she hasn’t had to tailor or alter or make from scratch.
We leave to go back to the hotel, and Lucy hugs and kisses them and says “Congratulations!” in her earnest little way. They love her, and they touch Elaine’s baby face and arms and legs one last time as if they can’t get enough of her. We drive away in the starlight, and we’re playing Marc Cohn’s first album in the car. We tell Lucy that this was what we always listened to the first summer that we met, and we look over at each other and smile and hold hands, remembering that summer. It takes me back—the night and the stars spinning in the universe and driving to music—our own song “Perfect Love” with James Taylor harmonizing in the background. I’m filled with nostalgia, and I miss those days. I look in the back and see the little girls, so like their dad, and I fall in love with him and them and the night all over again. Today is even better than then.
The next song comes on, “True Companion,” and it’s one of the most beautiful love songs I’ve ever heard. It got played a lot at weddings around that time, but of course in the summer of ’91 we thought it was just for us: “Baby, I’ve been searchin’ like everybody else, can’t say nothin’ different about myself; sometimes I’m an angel and sometimes I’m cruel, but when it comes to love I’m just another fool. I will climb that mountain and I’ll swim the sea…my arms are reaching out across this canyon: I’m asking you to be my true companion…”
Then I think of the lovely young couple—the young man so nervous and the beautiful brunette in the pink dress, smiling into the unknown future.
When the years have done irreparable harm
I can see us walking slowly, arm in arm
Just like that couple on the corner do
‘Cause girl, I will always be in love with you
When I look in your eyes I still see that spark
When the shadow falls and the room grows dark
And when I leave this earth
I’ll be with the angels standin’
I’ll be out there waiting for my true companion
You are my true companion.