Saturday, June 18, 2011

18 years later

So, as the anniversary of my marriage to my beloved approaches, I am getting all sentimental. I've been scanning photos and uploading them to facebook, promising myself that I'll find time this summer to scan the negatives and preserve them digitally. It's funny how pictures can put you in a time and place in a surreal way, isn't it? Before I started scanning them in, I was thinking of posting here a secretish tale of all the things I hated about my wedding. Believe me. There were many. Nasty emotions were present, control issues abounded, and if I had it all to do again with today's eyes, the whole thing would be a world different. But as I scanned and read the thousands of words each photo carried, I remembered all the wonderful things, the happy emotions, the love that held it all together and made it happen. So what you'll read here is a blend of all that, a few pictures of the reality I have created for myself of that day.

We'll start here. The man in the stole is my beloved priest, mentor, friend, grandfather figure, Frank Mason Ross+. He and I spent countless services together at the altar, where I came to learn how to sense his needs before he would verbalize them, and he would gently guide me through caring for God's people. He and his lovely wife, Evelyn, meant more to my family than many a relative, and every Hart wept and giggled at his funeral some years later. He had retired before my wedding, and a new rector had come to lead our parish. I did not like the new guy, and I did not really want to. I wanted my Frank+ to marry us. I wanted MY priest to lay his hands on my beloved and me, to offer God's blessing on our new life together. But the new guy insisted that he be a part, and I questioned his motivation from the beginning. (These many years later, I still do.) Nonetheless, Bob was the one who led our "premarital counseling" (which was actually just a wedding plan - shame on him for not guiding us through important and tough questions!). Bob was the one who insisted during the rehearsal that God was okay with just the bride and groom receiving the communion. Let me just say, Hays-then-Hart showed her royal bridal ass and was plenty ready to run away that night and do it all differently. Nonetheless, my Frank+ made it all better. My friend Maxine+ gently persuaded and firmly insisted. I let the three of them hash it out theologically. Know what's funny? I don't really remember the resolution. I couldn't tell you if we all shared in the bread and cup or not. I just don't remember. All I remember is that I felt let down, disappointed, betrayed by the politics surrounding my faith. But the next day, when my Frank+ asked my love and me to say our vows to each other, when he held my hand before my husband put the ring on it, when he cried all the way through it, I just wanted to jump up in my white dress (which felt like an acolyte's vestment, come to think of it) and sneak into the parish hall and get him some water to help him clear his voice. I kind of wish I had. But I didn't want my Jimmy, who didn't fully understand my relationship with this old man, to think I was running. I didn't care what the hundred other folks crammed into the church thought, but I for sure didn't want my beloved to feel any more uncomfortable than a groom already does. When I think of my wedding, I think of Frank+, and I miss him terribly.

My face pretty much sums up everything I was feeling, I think! My sweet Momma. Oh, how I miss her, too. She tried so hard to be enthusiastic about the whole wedding mess despite her health, her uncertainty about my marrying at not-quite-22, her worries and concerns about pleasing me on a budget (which I later found she had blown completely). I look at the pictures of her dressing me and dressing my niece the flower girl, and I remember how tender she was in her gruffness, how her touch made all things better, and how she cared for me always in all ways. We were playful and silly and positive despite the stress and foolishness of it all. And my Nicole, in the red dress, was and remains my dearest friend of all time. With such a small church, I kept my bridesmaids to just my sisters, and Jimmy had his dad and brother on his side. But my Nik was there to do all the things a Matron of Honor would, and she did. She reminded me to eat and fetched me food. She ran to the drugstore for tampons and hairspray and all the things a bestie grabs from the honeymoon-needs list. She made me nap. She jumped right in and helped to dress me, she checked on the menfolk to make sure all was well there, and she surely did a thousand other things I have no idea about today, because that is what friends do. All these years later, after being pregnant together and raising kids and battling depression and all that life has thrown our way, we know that when we are old and need wiping, that the other will be there.

I don't know if I ever saw this picture before yesterday. I love it.

We had an official photographer, who was sort of adequate, but who didn't require that I buy an album and whose package price included the negatives. That's what I wanted. I never did a formal bridal portrait - too pricey - and spent way too much time during the reception being photographed. I hardly remember the reception. I remember that the community building was not air conditioned and we all spent a lot of time outside in the ocean breezes coming through the inlet, and I really didn't feel all that social anyway. Most of the people there were my family's and Jim's family's guests - not mine, really. I needed space, and I don't regret taking it. Nonetheless, we had also asked my niece's daddy, Stu, to take candids, too. He captured this moment of Hart life perfectly. We weren't all there, but with six or seven, it's hard to all be in the same place at the same time. We were together, and not necessarily concerned about what the rest of the world was up to. We always welcomed happiness in spite of tension. We pooted and giggled. I like to think that in the midst of the nonsense of the celebration that one of us farted and the rest of us were amused by it. That, or someone said something smartypants and triggered the silliness. Whatever it was, I love the look on my parents' faces, the goofy grins we all share in this shot.

And finally, at least for this post...

All my life I lived with this river. The mouth of the Cape Fear - I've actually been called that on more than one occasion - "The Water." When you live in a place like Southport, you take The Water for granted sometimes. You assume it is everywhere. Believe me, I have lived many places, and it isn't. This will always be a place that heals me, reminds me, softens me. I could sit and stare at this water forever. Our family often did, even if not always together. My Daddy spent countless hours sitting on the swings and benches with old-timers who remembered when Southport really was a quaint fishing village. My Momma and I would take my Beth (and eventually my Babies) to The Water to feed the gulls, watch the tides, enjoy the majesty. I would go-go-car-ride with my Maggie dog to find a few minutes to breathe in the salt-tinged air, just to breathe. We look to The Water for what has been, for what will be. When I look at myself in this picture, I think about how long I've been away from that place and how I can never really leave it. I sense a wistfulness, a tightness in the chest that says, "Goodbye, childhood; hello, marriage." And that is what my wedding really was. It was a time to remember how much I need my family, but that I was ready to make my own. It was a time to let the people in my life celebrate, to love me, to serve my groom and me, to serve each other.

I've said before that weddings are about everyone BUT the bride, and I still think that. The bride has already let go by the time the wedding comes around, at least as much as any of us really lets go, but the people around her need the ceremony to allow the letting-go to happen. The mother of the bride needs to have that moment of getting her baby girl ready one last time. The father of the bride needs to formally say, "This is mine. Treasure her," even if those aren't the words he says. The siblings need to have someone to mock once more, to share the attention with before she goes away. The family of the groom needs to let the bride's family dynamic be what it is, and to welcome her into their own. The groom needs to see how much fuss she is worth, to remember her face as she approaches their life together. Everyone needs to look at how the Bride and Groom show their love for each other and to each other, and remember that weddings are about love, about marriage, about commitment. They aren't about the flowers, or the dresses, or the arguing priests. They aren't about perfect pictures or glamorous cakes. They certainly aren't about getting drunk and partying all night, although that sometimes happens. Weddings are about transition from living apart to living as one. Ours was that. It might not have been perfect, and I would do some things differently if I had known better or if I planned it today, but I do know it was about love. I look at these pictures, and I don't see the sadness or hurt feelings, or stress. I don't see the flowers, or the ribbons, or the venue. I see love. And 18 years later, it's still there.

Happy anniversary to my best friend, my boyfriend, my true love, the father of my babies, the keeper of my tears, the holder of my hand, the pusher of my buttons, the bigger piece of me, my Jimmy, my honey, my husband. Wanna get married?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Random Summer Reading Thoughts

Took the kids to Barnes and Noble yesterday afternoon to make some "Summer Reading" purchases. They have their lists from the schools they'll be starting in the fall (Godhelpme, middle and high) and want to get the required reading out of the way to free up thinking space for their REAL summer reading.

Austin's heading into English II Honors (whatever that means) and has to annotate his readings. He is at that point where I have spent much time - the place where you think it is offensive, at best, to write in a book. And I'll admit, although I have no problems marking up my professional reading, especially printed copies of articles, I still don't like to capture my thinking in my novels. Maybe that comes from having borrowed so many, or maybe it's some other hang-up about letting the feelings and thoughts enter and exit without needing or wanting to capture them. Don't know... Either way, Austin picked one from the required list and one sequel to a book he'd read earlier this year, and will pick the third sometime after making his way through these two.

Kori's list was actually at the house, so we pulled it up in the i(diot)Phone. She's such a fiction girl, so the SC Junior Book Award Nominees list was plenty for her to make her choices. Conveniently, the good folks at the BN had a table set up with stacks of them. She asked for the one that was missing that she most wanted (Anything but Typical) and sent the workerguy scurrying into the back for it. We picked up a few others and I slipped over to the table for the Children's Book Award Nominees, which was the designated list most of my friends from this year would be using to guide their choices. I snatched up four or five for my classroom and for the beginnings of my own summer list.

See, for the past three years, I have only read a very few novels, what with all the reading of M.Ed. things, and my Summer Reading will be stacks and stacks of books from my classroom library. Sure, there are plenty of grown-up books that I might enjoy here and there, but I need, need, NEED to know more books for helping matchmake them with my fifth grade friends. I have to find more books that compel me to keep reading so I can help my friends meet a book that will push them beyond the required chapter or pages or minutes. I need to find out which ones from the required list will be good ones for me to suggest when I run into my friends in the grocery store and harass them lovingly about what they've been reading. I need to read, and so very often, the truest books are the ones not written for adults.

So, I've read two so far this summer break, and I am remembering how hard it is to try to read a book through a kid's eyes. It's hard to remember that kids don't always read a book cover-to-cover in one or two blocks of reading time. They might hit a chapter or two, then wait a day, then read some more, then wait, so they might not notice that the author seems to be rushing through the story - they've had hours or days to exist with the parts they've read, so when they pick it up, they're ready to move forward. It's hard to remember that my younger friends might get stuck on a part that doesn't make sense, maybe because of some word choice the author made, or because they don't understand a reference, or because the stupid publishers keep splitting the words up in arbitrary places... I don't have that problem as much when I am reading their books, so it's hard to remember how much thinking that can take. It's so hard, in fact, that I found myself wondering why I would even try to be a kid-reader. Duh! In order to make the most of a book, I need to read it through my eyes. Of course! I find myself thinking critically about the complexity of the novels, of how I want the author to develop the characters more, or how I wish they wouldn't leave out such big blocks of time, or blah blah blah, and that makes me realize that some kids will be doing the same thing, even if some are not. I need to be aware of what I am thinking when I am reading and not always second guessing what a kid might be thinking. They want to know what I think of a book when I recommend one to them, not what I think they will think. They want to know what a book made me feel, not what emotions I think it might evoke in them. They want to know what my relationship was with the author. They want to know why I think they would like it, which means that I know THEM, not just the book. THAT is what I need to remember as I read this stack I've started.

Once I got that straight in my head, I opened myself to a realization: what I am learning about myself as a reader is that I bring my relationships with others to every book I read, and that is what makes books great. All that text-to-text and text-to-self and text-to-world connecting and the labeling thereof is one thing (and Austin has to label the connections he makes in his annotations - UGH) but I think we might be ignoring or missing out on one important connection we make when we read: Text-to-others. (And yes, I am making this up as I go, so please, friends, tell me if I stole this from someone else in my subconscious readerbrain.)

Take the book I just finished this morning: Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry. I found that I wasn't so much imagining how I would feel if I were the main character (Brother) or how he was feeling or thinking. Instead, I realized I was thinking of friends I have who might read this and what they might be feeling as they read it. I thought of a young Catholic friend I taught this year who would understand all the references to the Mass and to serving as an acolyte, and how that would draw him closer to Brother. I thought of my grownup friend from California and how I had never heard of Basque before I met her and how she would connect to those references. I imagined the life my pre-school nephew might lead, being the son of a Lt.Colonel, knowing that his dad might have led some neighbors into battle and sent them home in pieces, and how that might make him feel if he read this when he was older. I couldn't think about how I connected to this text without thinking about how others might. I had all of those people with me in my bed this morning as I read the final chapter and wept and wept. If I had allowed myself to read this book analytically, or critically, or from a how-would-I-teach-this-book lens, I would not have. Because I invited my relationships into the book, I could feel the story, know the characters, and imagine the life Brother was leading.

I guess what I am thinking here is that I need to help my readers find books that connect to them, to their experiences, to their schema, but maybe I need to spend some extra time helping them build relationships with each other so they can take each other home with them over the summer and over their lives. If they know about more than just themselves, if they know their friends and their friends' stories, if they can imagine that theirs is not the only point-of-reference, then they can grow in their own understanding of books by taking those friends' lives into account when they are reading.

So, as I start my next book this evening, know that one or more of you, dear readers, might be curled up beside me as I invite you in for my experience with the new text. Looking greatly forward to seeing who shows up in my head!