I’d like to share the memory of the happiest day of my life. After we dated for a while, and with her mother’s reluctant blessing, we got married. But not without a final attempt to get rid of me and called a few days before the wedding.
“Mr. St. John, this is Miss Aggie.”
“Hello, Agnes, or should I say, mom. You can call me by my first name now.” She was not amused.
“You know as well as I do, this marriage has disaster written all over it.”
“You don’t need to worry. I’m going to take good care of Darlene.”
“With what? You are a poor person, and Darlene is not used to being poor. My offer still stands, so give me a dollar figure, and with the stroke of a pen, and by your meager standards, I will make you a moderately wealthy man if you call this whole damn thing off.”
“First, Miss Aggie, Darlene is a big girl, and she can do, say, think, and marry anyone she wants. Not you or your checkbook is ever going to change that.” I couldn’t see her but imagined drooling and a full set of teeth about to eat the phone.
“Don’t you ever talk to me like that again.”
“Then ponder on this, Miss Aggie—go to hell.”
“Well then, Johhhnnn, I believe our business has been concluded. I’ll see you two at the wedding. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye?” I believed the old gal was beginning to warm up to me.
It was a Sunday, and LBJ announced he would not run for re-election, but RFK did. The country was growing weary of the Vietnam War, and protesters marched daily.
On any given day, Darlene was as cool as a cucumber; the day of the wedding was not that day. Her temperament and demeanor had slipped the closer we got to the wedding date. I think she took bitch lessons from her mother just for the occasion. Darlene was of Polish descent with a proper upbringing; her heritage and background demanded a Catholic wedding. Her mother made sure it included all the bells and whistles, and money was no object. Though her mother had been kicking and screaming since we announced our engagement, she was not going to be embarrassed with a cheap wedding. After an eternity planning this thing, the day finally arrived. We broke many traditions, and among them—we drove to the church together. Along the way, I took a few moments to speak my mind.
“Darlene, I was thinking…” She interrupted, quickly, and rudely I might add.
“Oh, my God, John!” Then exclaimed, “What is it? Today isn’t a good day for you to be thinking. Please behave yourself.” I thought it was a little early to be getting cranky. In what I referred to as a “lady panic,” she said, “I’ve got a lot on my mind, and I don’t need any shit from you, especially today.”
I told you her temperament and demeanor had slipped. As calmly and politely as I could, said, “Can I please get back to what I was trying to say?”
“Yes, John, say whatever you need to say and get it over with.”
She squinted into her mirror to double-check her makeup and put on the finishing touches. “Missed a spot.” She stopped doing what she was doing long enough to give me a go-to-hell look. “Anyway, before I was so rudely interrupted….”
“John, we don’t have all day long for crying out loud, what are you getting at?”
I hesitated for a moment, then said, “Out of respect for me and my people, I….”
She quickly and sarcastically interrupted again. “People? What people, John?”
As earnestly as I could muster, replied, “Darlene, after all, I am part Jew, and think I should…”
“John, you’ve got about a tablespoon of your people’s blood running through those idiot veins of yours.”
“So what? I ‘ve got enough to call myself part Jew. A friend told me I got my last name from a famous Jew in the bible.”
“And who might that be?”
“Saint John. The Bible is full of Jews, especially the first half.”
“No shit. I hate to tell you this, but John didn’t show up until the second half, and yes, there are Jewish people in that half too.”
“There, you see, he was a Jew, and I was named after him—twice; John, pre-saint, and St. John, post saint.”
“But he was a saint; a far cry from someone else I know.” Then with a hint of disdain plus an added touch of sarcasm, she asked, “What do you want, John?”
“I want to wear that Jew cap thing and stomp on a glass at the holy altar.”
“First, John, it’s a yarmulke, not a Jew cap.”
“That’s easy for you to say.”
Darlene ignored him. “And no, you are not going to stomp on anything at the holy altar. And stop calling them Jews, they’re Jewish.”
“Why not? Aren’t your Polish people called Poles?”
“Yes John, but we prefer Polish people.”
“Scottish people are happy being called Scots, aren’t they?”
“Yes, John, I guess they are.” For a few precious moments, there was silence as I prepared my next line of argument and got ready for her counter-argument.
“What about Negroes? I guess that’s out too.”
“They’re called Afro-Americans.”
“It’s a new term. Where have you been?”
“I don’t keep up. My grandparents from Tennessee used to call them…”
“John if you say that word, I swear to God, I will slap you into next week!”
I thought, Maybe I should have said that word and let her slap me into next week to get out of this wedding mess. Smart-alack me chimed in with, “Wouldn’t that look silly, you all alone at the altar because you did a time machine slap and sent me into next week?” Again, she shook her head in disgust, and predictably, I laughed. She didn’t crack a smile, then tried to make a composed statement. I was aware she was put out by this conversation, but then came the uninvited history lesson.
“You’re right John, which is rare. Yes, we used to call them Negroes. After that, colored people, they went back and forth between Negro and Colored, then simply black, and now the new one. I’m aware other words are just plain rude, especially that one, and I’m sure you have an arsenal of them all. I’ve also heard the term Black Americans getting kicked around,” then she scratched her head and said, “I’m not sure if it’s official yet.”
To be irritating, I mumbled, “They’re really not black, more a shade of dark brown.”
“You say something, John?” I ignored her. I’ve seen all types of official forms, usually involving the government, and when asked to select what race you are, I check ‘other.’ Every time I did, I laughed. Some things made me laugh, and that was one of them. I continued this verbal sparring match with Darlene.
“But it’s still OK to call me a Caucasian even though I’m an ‘other’?
Darlene slapped her hands on her lap with a loud crack. “John, why are we having this conversation?”
“Because I am trying to make a point, Darlene. So, what should I call myself?” As soon as I asked, I knew I’d left myself wide open.
“Alright John, you win. You’re a Jew idiot. Check that box next time.”
“I beg your pardon? That’s Jewish idiot to you. While we are at it, Miss Know-It-All, what’s the new fancy name for your fruit cake, hairdresser friend?”
“Are you talking about Ken? And, yes, he is a homosexual. Is there a problem, John?”
“Are you serious, Darlene? I don’t care if your fruit basket friend is a cream puff.”
“Stop calling him those ridiculous names. John, I swear, you are hopeless. How long did you live under a rock before I came along?”
“I’m sorry Darlene. I don’t know about all this stuff. Hell, I don’t think I’ve ever met a ‘fru…,’ I mean a homosexual.”
“I’m sure you’ve met plenty. For your convenience, maybe they should wear a sign.”
“It might help.” Now for a lesson in the humanities.
“John, in a wasted attempt to try to educate you, they used to be called fairies and queers, but now I think they call themselves ‘gay.'”
“You’re kidding me. Gay? Fan-damn-tastic! So now if I say I’m happy and gay, I’m telling the world I’m a happy fruit-cake. ”
“John, when was the last time you said I’m happy and gay?”
“That’s not the point, Darlene. Now if I want to say I’m gay, I can’t. Being gay used to be an expression of extreme happiness, but now when Ken says, ‘I’m gay,’ it ’s a confession. I don’t get why all the ‘special people’ need to hog up all the neat words. Why don’t they just invent their own? I’ll never be able to watch the Flintstones again without thinking of a fruit bowl.”[G9]
“I’m going to regret this, but what the hell are you talking about?”
“The theme song, Darlene.” I did a warm-up hum, then sang a few lines from “Meet the Flintstones.”
“Flintstones, meet the Flintstones,
You’ll have a yabba dabba doo time.
A dabba doo time.
You’ll have a gay old time!”
That brought a brief smile to her face. “Well then, the next time the Flintstones comes on, cover your ears or switch the channel and watch Maverick.” To add insult to injury, she added, “Now that I recall, did you ever notice Fred and Barney sure spent a lot of time together—alone?” Now she’s the one who laughed.
“What are you getting at, Darlene? Leave Fred and Barney out of this.”
“What about Mr. Spacely? He seems a little limp-wristed. ” She made the gesture, giggling while flipping her wrist up and down.
“Now who’s the idiot? First off, Mr. Spacely is married, and second, he’s on the Jetsons.” Now it was my turn to ponder and pout. “Why can’t those people just go back to being queer like everyone else? I don’t mean everyone; you know who I am talking about—the Fruits.”
“Because queer is an offensive word John, and for the last time, stop with the name calling.”
“Must not be too offensive. I read a sign on Cronkite when a newsman was covering a cupcake parade. The banner read: ‘We’re Here and We’re Queer.’ I suppose they came up with it because it rhymes.” I used my best Walter Cronkite impression with, “And that’s the way it is.” It humored her for the moment; cynicism was its replacement.
“I wish I understood that mass in your fat head you call a brain. I’m going to promote you from being a complete idiot to just plain stupid.”
I ignored the insult and said, “If they wanted to, they could change the word from gay to jolly. I doubt it would make much difference to them. I don’t use jolly much anyway. I can do without that one, but come to think about it—there goes Christmas. I’m going to work on it.”
“John, I love you, and I am so happy to share this special day, and I want you to be as happy as me — but John,” — she’s on a roll —, “you are one of the smartest people I’ve met, but this whole conversation is putting doubts in my head. Maybe you’re not an idiot, or even stupid. Maybe you’re just retarded.”
“Can we still say retarded or is there a new fancy word?”
“You’re hopeless, John.”
“Darlene, while we’re on the subject…” Now she has resorted to yelling, and with more interruptions.
“What, John? she exclaimed. “What subject do you need to torture me with now?”
“You don’t need to raise your voice. I’m serious.”
“Get it over with. I’m sure when you’re done, I’ll have to kill myself.”
“If a fruit boy marries a fruit girl, shouldn’t that nullify the other, and can they live happily ever after?”
Darlene took a deep sigh, and as if in a surrender, she calmly replied, “John, I give up. If your intentions are to drive me insane two hours before my wedding, you’ve succeeded. Congratulations.” The occasion was an opportunity for an impromptu joke.
“Darlene, what do you call a hot tub full of gay guys?”
“I have no idea John, please tell me.”
“Fruit punch.” As you can imagine, she wasn’t humored, but it seemed funny to me. To make her happy, I said gay.
What I thought was an amusing joke, her only response was a mutter. “To think one day, me and this madman might reproduce.”
“Darlene, why do you suppose Band-Aids only come in Caucasian?” After that, I think she ran the madman and reproducing insult through her head again. I found this whole exchange entertaining, sadly at her expense. I realized now was a good time to tone down the rhetoric, or I might be the first guy to need a divorce lawyer before the wedding. As the conversation ended, we pulled up at the church. I conceded any celebration about my rich ancestry was now a foregone conclusion.
In defeat, I said to my sweet wife-to-be, “You’re right Darlene, this is a happy day for us, and I want the wedding to be perfect for you.”
“Thank you, John. I prayed reason would settle into that idiot brain of yours. ” Darlene called me an idiot a lot. She meant it as a term of endearment. I understood she is nervous about the wedding, but it seemed she’d been endearing me a lot lately. I told her being called silly was a lot better. She said idiot was a promotion. It felt more like a demotion.
“OK, Darlene, no Jew hat, I mean Yamaha.”
“Not Yamaha, Yarmulke. What else?”
In continued defeat, I held my head down and humbly said, “And no breaking of the sacred glass.”
“Sacred glass, are you kidding? Today they usually stomp on a light bulb because of the popping noise—it makes for a more dramatic effect.” I asked if she had a light bulb on her. “Yes John, I carry a couple all the time in my purse.”
“Good, then we don’t need to stop at a 7-Eleven.”
Darlene turned and glared at me. “No light bulbs, John.”
“OK, Darlene, you win.” Then she continued the lecture.
“John, I know more about Jewish customs than you do.”
Sweetly, I turned to her and asked, “Why do you think that is, my love?”
“Why do I think what is?” she asked with contempt.
“Your knowledge about my Jewness?” I said.
She about exploded. “Your Jewness? I swear to God, I’m going to slit my wrist right here in this car! I read books, John. You’ve seen them. They’re those thick rectangular things with pages and pages of paper with words on them, and a colorful picture on the front. I have them lying around my apartment.”
“I thought those were decorations.”
She gazed at me and threw her hands up in the air. “John you’re killing me. Please, no light bulb.”
“OK, you win. No sacred light bulb either. To clear the air, I’m proud of my part Jewness, and I can’t deny the facts. I guess the upcoming celebration of Hanukah is out, too.”
“Do you know what Hanukah is?”
“I sure do, smarty pants, — Jew Christmas!”
“Oh, my God, John!”
This was too easy, and I continued the torment. “It’s when Moses brings toys to all the good little Jew girls and boys.”
“I’m speechless, John. What on God’s green Earth am I getting myself into? I’m telling you one thing, if you do anything stupid before, during, or after the wedding, I swear to God, someone will have to hold me back from cutting off your head. When we get home, you can go back to be your same ole’ idiot self.”
A welcomed silence filled the car. We both needed a break. But I was having a blast. She was about to jump out of the car and take off running. I reminded myself the need to ease up. I sure didn’t need a crazy lady with no sense of humor on my hands. Darlene stared out of the car window for several minutes, probably contemplating where to hide the body—mine. I interrupted our brief quiet time and asked if I could keep Jerry.
“Jerry Feld, your best man? Of course, you can keep him. He’s been your best friend for years.”
“Even though he is a real Jew?”
“You’re kidding me, right? I thought he was Irish.”
“Nope, he’s all Jew. He’s the one who convinced me I was part Jew — I mean Jewish.”
“Dandy. Not only is he a Jew, but he’s an idiot too.”
“Darlene, you made a rhyme. You’re a poet and didn’t know it. A rhyme every time.”
She replied, “Here’s another rhyme… you’re an idiot.”
“That doesn’t rhyme.”
“Sorry. You’re an idiot, shmidiot. Are you guys in the same club together? The ‘I’m too Stupid to be Reasonable’ club?” And she was not finished yet. “It’s true what they say: birds of a feather flock together, and you are a pair of dodos.”
In a futile effort to regain posture and re-establish my role in the wedding I said, “Darlene, this is my wedding too.”
With increased scorn, she raised her voice, and in a firm and controlled tone said, “No John, this isn’t your wedding, it’s my wedding. My family paid for the whole damn thing. You’re just a glorified guest where the side benefit of such an honor is you might get lucky after this is over with.”
“Speaking of wedding, do you think we should get in there? The guests are arriving.”
She gathered a few things from the backseat of the car and asked, “Did you remember to bring your elevator shoes? You still own a pair, don’t you?”
“Yes dear, I dragged them out yesterday from the closet.” Like I said, Darlene was a little taller than me, and she and the photographer decided the pictures would look better if we were at least eyeball-to-eyeball. I didn’t care, I was comfortable in my own shoes, so to speak. As a concession on her part, she wore flats to further equalize the height neurosis she and the photographer had. We entered from the back of the church, and I couldn’t resist, then needled her again. “Darlene, what are your thoughts on the Indians, not the India, Indians, our Indians, like cowboys and Indians? Why do you think they call them Redskins? Aren’t they more a darker shade of Mexican? I don’t see a hint of red in them.”
“John, I call you an idiot because it’s the simplest word I can think of when you irritate me, but now I realize you’re not only an idiot but also a sociopath.”
“Look it up. You need professional help. I’ll see you inside. Love you.”
She went toward the back door, then turned. “John, do me a favor, Sister Mary Imucculata asked if we would pick up some colored toilet paper. I forgot.”
Confused, I said, “I wasn’t aware they had their own.”
“Oh, my God, John! Blue toilet paper to match the decor in the powder room—moron.” I really thought she meant colored toilet paper. I figured it was a separatist thing. I had no idea toilet paper came in a rainbow assortment of colors.
“John, just do it.”
She gave me a reluctant peck on the lips and went inside. The Indian thing ticked her off and set the tone for the rest of the day.
Her sister, Lucinda greeted Darlene, and the two embraced. Lucinda was her maid of honor. Lucinda said something to Darlene, and they both laughed, then looked at me. Afterward, Darlene and her sister went to the dressing room to get ready for the wedding. I met up with my gang, and we retreated to our dressing room as well. After everyone got dressed up, we broke another tradition and decided to be seen together before the service to greet our friends and family to take a few “before” photos. The girls in her wedding party looked fantastic. My guys looked like a police line-up, but at least their tuxes matched.
Miss Aggie arrived at the church in her personal stretch limousine. The driver got out and made his move to open the passenger door. All eyes were fixed on her, and she gobbled it up. Darlene’s mother loved an audience as she made her grand appearance. I walked up to her as she approached the church. “My, don’t you look lovely, Agnes.” I’d worked my way up to a first name basis.
“I believe the word you are looking for is alluring.” she dryly replied. We offered to give her a ride, but told us picking her up wasn’t appropriate. “Haven’t you two broken enough traditions for one day?” she said in her usual snotty tone. The word bitch again crossed my mind, but what a knockout. My father gave me the best advice he could when searching for a mate—check out the moms. As much as I disliked her, I had to admit; she looked beautiful. If Darlene ages as well as her mother, in twenty-five years, I’ll be in hog heaven. She wore a long pink silk dress handmade for the occasion, and to finish off the ensemble, a diamond necklace with matching earrings. Those two items alone, their value alone could have purchased a small country.
As her mother made her star-studded entrance, Brice almost tripped over himself to kiss her. He was such a suck-up, and she knew it. Miss Aggie gave him a hefty allowance since his untimely departure from Jaraslaw Enterprises and did everything he could do to protect it. Just like in the movies, Darlene, and her mother, about ten feet apart, both had outstretched arms as they moved toward each other. “Mother, so happy to see you.”
“Me too, my precious Darlene.” They both fell into a phony embrace, air-kissing each other’s cheeks. “Darlene, my dear, you look radiant.”
“You too, mother.”
“Of course, my dear, after all, this is a very special occasion for you and Tom.”
“It’s John, mother, and you know it.”
“Wasn’t there a Tom in there somewhere?”
“No Tom, mother, just John.”
Miss Aggie couldn’t resist. “Speaking about tradition, or should I say, lack of it, how was your slumber party at what’s-his-name’s place?” Darlene knew exactly what her mother was insinuating. Although Darlene had her own apartment, her mother knew they had several, what her mother called sleepovers. I struggled to like her. I didn’t—I loathed her.
As we met with our guests, her brother, Brice approached me. “Hey John, I noticed something.”
“What is it, Brice?”
“Did Darlene shrink, or did you grow?” He thought that was the funniest thing he ever said. I assume he was referring to the shoe/height issue.
“Just comes to mind.” I can understand why; there wasn’t much competition for anything else. He nudged me and said in a teasing whisper, “Shouldn’t Darlene be wearing off-white?”
“That’s hilarious, Brice,” he referred to Darlene’s assumed lack of virginity. Two jokes in two minutes by a guy who must think about breathing in and out. I had to escape from this conversation and excused myself. I’d rather lance a boil than have a conversation with him. As we parted company, I turned back to take a final glance at him and thought, even Armani could make a bag of shit like Brice look good. Brice and I mutually disliked each other, and it showed.
Moments later, Darlene came running from the dressing room, fully adorned in her wedding gown. Like the parting of the red sea, she made her way through the crowd as they entered the chapel and found me. In a quiet, screeching tone, she asked, “Who in the hell is going to walk me down the damn aisle?” Oops. After months preparing and hiring a slew of professionals led by a wedding planner, everyone forgot to put someone in her father’s place. We needed an alternate to give her away—and fast. We could have figured this out at the rehearsal, but I convinced Darlene to skip the rehearsal and go straight to the dinner instead. Bad decision. I understood rehearsing for a Broadway play or a musical, but a wedding? What’s so difficult? Walk up the aisle, say a few things, get married, turn around and walk out.
Back to the problem at hand. The genius I can sometimes be, came up with a solution. “Wait a minute, Darlene. I’ll be right back.” I returned shortly with my best man Jerry. With my arm stretched around him, I said, “Jerry has agreed to do double-duty. He’ll walk you up the aisle and hand you over, then take his place beside me,” — then I proudly announced, “Done and done.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me? No offense Jerry.”
“Would you rather have Brice?”
She paused and thought for a moment. “Big choice. I guess he’ll do. Jerry, I know this is going to be difficult, but all you need to do is memorize this; “Her mother and I,” after the priest asks, “who gives this woman to be with this man.” Now listen to me very carefully, Jerry, — not before the priest, but afterward. Do you think you can handle it?”
Jerry replied, “I do.”
She looked at him, and said, “No, Jerry, —” then pointing at me, “that’s his line. By the way, you do know how to walk upright, don’t you? You also must escort me down the aisle. I had to teach your idiot friend to walk upright like a human being.” Then Jerry pounded his chest like a gorilla and grunted. “Very amusing. I need to finish getting ready.” I think she took out her anger on Jerry and me for her wedding planner’s screw-up.
With all the guests seated, the wedding party gathered in the vestibule. Another one of Darlene’s fancy words that meant lobby. Darlene patted me down one last time just to make sure I wasn’t carrying a light bulb. Everyone lined up like little soldiers, and on orders from the wedding planner, one-by-one, they headed toward the altar. I stood alongside the priest, and when the bridesmaids and groomsmen took their place. The organist played the wedding march, and everyone rose as Darlene glided down the aisle toward the altar with Jerry at her side. Even I got a little choked up and misty-eyed. She looked amazing. When Darlene reached the altar, Jerry took his place beside her. Beads of sweat poured off poor Jerry’s forehead, and then the priest asked the question. “Who gives this woman to be with this man?”
He paused a second, took a deep breath, and right on time, answered perfectly. He kissed Darlene on the cheek then turned her over to me, and took his place with me. Before Jerry left her, she reached for him. “Thank you, Jerry,” then returned his kiss.
The priest was Father Romano, and of Polish/Italian descent, so the service was mostly spoken in Polish with an Italian accent. He threw in some Latin for good measure. And what gives with that Sign of the Cross thing? Darlene had to give me lessons how to do it. When show time arrived, I felt every eye piercing through my skull as the priest began the service.
I’ve been to a few Catholic funerals before, and they were fantastic! I’ve told everyone when my time comes that I want a Catholic funeral—very upbeat. Catholic weddings, on the other hand, I hated. I’ve been to a few in my day, and ours was no different. Up and down, kneel and pray, followed by a song. Then repeat, up and down and pray some more. I was worn out, and we barely got started.
Three seconds into the wedding, we got our indication to do the first of many Signs of the Cross, then I tried. I flailed my arms around doing it and screwed up. I looked like a retarded snake handler. I fidgeted using both hands and arms trying to remember what to do and how to do it. What made matters worse, you’re supposed to only use your right hand, not both arms. Darlene gave me a pass and signaled me with a cheeky grin. She thought my mishandling of “the sign” was cute. After a few giggles from the crowd and my blunder, the priest made a brief sermon no one understood, then afterward, raised his goblet and took a shot, then showered us with holy water.
After the sermon, the priest did another sign and an additional shot of wine, followed by another Sign of the Cross, then gulped down some more wine. He staggered a little, then proceeded with, “Repeat-a… after-a… me-a. I-a… John-a… St. a-John-a… do solemnly-a- swear-a… to… take-a, Darlene-a… to be-a… your-a wedded… a-wife-a?”
Stage fright took over, and “I do” were the only two words needed to be memorized. Not too complicated, even by my standards, but instead, I uttered “OK.” The guests fell silent, and Darlene’s mother about fainted. The priest took another swig—, this time out of necessity. If looks could have killed, Darlene would be handcuffed and facing the electric chair. I didn’t get a pass that time. Remember when I said earlier “OK” would come back and bite me? Well, that was the moment. The anger in her eyes told the story and thought to myself on her behalf. Two words. You only had to remember two words. I’ve been waiting my entire life for this day, and you ruined it because you’re too stupid to remember two simple words—Moron! I threw in moron because I figured that’s what she’d say, even though it was my thought.
Now in the ceremony when you repeat the phrase and in sickness and in health, I swear she whispered, “We’ll see about that. Don’t get sick.” All Darlene’s lines went without a hitch; however, her “I do” was not as enthusiastic as I thought it should’ve been. The rest was easy. With eyes rolling, Darlene looked like an adolescent teenage girl while we read our vows and repeated what the priest asked us too; added to the eye rolling, she sighed a lot. At last, toward the end, the priest did the ‘Sign’ deal—again, which led to more kneeling and another blessing, then he chugged down the rest of the wine. I’ve been to frat parties where there wasn’t this much drinking. To top off this blessed event, he smoked up the place with incense and flung some more holy water on us, followed by another prayer which automatically led to one more kneeling, then the priest spoke the final words establishing our holy union. “You may now-a … kiss-a-the-a- bride-a.” After a brief and reluctant kiss on her part, still mad about the OK thing, the priest turned us towards our guests and said, “I want … to-a … introduce you-a … to-a … Mr. and a-Mrs. John-a St.-a John-a.” The crowd went wild.
The priest gave our guests and us a final blessing, mostly in Latin this time, and in that monotone singing deal priests do, it sounded like, “My-a-father, plays a-dominoes better than a-your-a father plays a-dominoes. Amen.” And yes, you guessed it, another Sign of the Cross, then his exit line, “Go in a-peace-a.”
As we walked down the aisle, Darlene, unbeknownst to everyone, punched me in my ribs, and through gritted teeth whispered, “I could have taught my plant to say I do. There might not be any OK tonight if you get my drift — idiot.”
To summarize this blessed event, the priest got drunk, I nearly choked to death on sacred smoke, worn out from all the aerobics, got soaked in holy water and punched by my new little bride because I forgot my line. I’d never been too sure what I signed up for since I don’t speak Polish or Latin, but I trusted Darlene. I’m confident we got married, at least it appeared that way. The few words I clearly understood through this whole ordeal was, “Repeat after me, you may kiss the bride, and you’re an idiot.”
On a rather sad note, Darlene’s ninety-eight-year-old great-aunt dropped dead during the ceremony. The benefit being that old, was a lot of time for advanced planning for funeral arrangements; a hearse on standby, a coffin within reach and a mortician on-call around the clock.
As Darlene and I exited the altar and made our way down the aisle as man and wife, Aunt Gertie fell dead right in front of God and everybody else. She had been in failing health for years and was on the downhill slope. Everyone was amazed she lasted if she did, and as luck would have it, depending on your perspective, our wedding was the stage for her death. At least the old gal had the decency to last through the final Amen. In all the excitement, the priest passed out, and those around Aunt Gertie ran out screaming. Darlene yelled at the top of her lungs, “Can anything else possibly go wrong!” Which I thought was a little inappropriate given the circumstances.
The mortician, who happened to be a family friend and a guest, jumped to his feet and ordered, “Casket! Stat! Everyone clear the church!” Those who hadn’t already run out screaming, the rest followed as we exited the church. The mortuary staff placed Aunt Gertie delicately in the coffin and wheeled her off to the sanctuary next door. The coroner was summoned and pronounced her dead. No telling how much that cost, I’d done it for free. Blue in the face… check. Not breathing… check. No heartbeat… check. Dead… check. The family decided in advance not to embalm Aunt Gertie because the plan was to get her in the ground as soon as possible, obviously after her death.
The mortician went through the standard preparations, but because she was already in good shape for the wedding, not much to do. Dress… check. Make-up… check. Just a thin coat of blush, puff up the flat part of her hair where she fell, and Aunt Gertie was set to go. The mortician walked up to me and said, “John this was easiest five-hundred bucks I’ve ever made.”
Which I replied, “Do you think the church will give us a two-for-one discount?” Church custom was to give the priest a little cash on the side for his services, so a discount for the funeral wasn’t so far-fetched.
Darlene still ranted and raved to all within earshot. “You would’ve thought she could have lasted for another five minutes! But nooooo! Between you and Aunt Gertie, you both screwed up what was supposed to be the happiest day of my life! Thanks, a whole damn lot, John.” Then she peered toward the casket being wheeled off and added, “You too, Aunt Gertie.”
“At least I didn’t die.”
“The day is young. Don’t push it, Buster.”
Our guests gathered in the reception hall, and we shared cake and champagne. Darlene loved me aside from my mishap at the altar in front of God and every friend and relative she had on the planet. For a short while, the good news for me was Aunt Gertie’s untimely death, because the attention was shifted toward her and away from me. Darlene grabbed me and whispered, “Aunt Gertie may have upstaged you with her little stunt, but you, mister, are not off the hook. OK?” So much for attention-shifting.
Though rare, I showed some class and made a toast to Aunt Gertie. I crafted my words carefully. I’m a quick study, and I didn’t want to go through any more pain because of poor word selection. I raised my glass with a simple, “To Gertie.” Everyone followed my lead and lifted their glasses in respect to the dearly departed of forty-five minutes ago. You think my OK stumble was a big deal? What a killjoy for someone to drop dead ten feet from the altar during your wedding. After the reception was over, the mortician announced the viewing was ready.
The mortician came up to me and said, “We had a hell getting the shit-eating grin off her face. I’ll need to charge someone for the extra glue.”
“I’ll handle it.”
“I won’t charge for the extra hairspray. It was a nightmare re-poofing it, but I got my best man on it.”
“Do you mean Bruce from Style ‘B’ Boutique?”
“Yeah, but he always bitches when I call him. He complains that dead people don’t tip worth a damn.”
After the priest regained consciousness and changed into his funeral outfit, a handful of guests at the wedding went over to the sanctuary. We had a brief, impromptu service in remembrance of Aunt Gertie and burial service the next day. Then came the crocodile tears from her kids and grand kids. You see, Aunt Gertie was filthy rich too, and the vultures began circling the corpse. The relatives couldn’t wait to tear into the will, but Aunt Gertie, even in death, had the last laugh. She donated her entire estate to the church and a few other charities in town. She left the kids and grand kids a thousand dollars, and in the words of the will it stated, “To be split equally.” I liked her style.
All in all, everything worked out, except for Aunt Gertie’s sudden departure. We are now officially married, and Aunt Gertie is in heaven; both in the same hour.
After I survived the wedding ceremony, Aunt Gertie’s death, a beleaguered honeymoon and Darlene’s forgiveness for the infamous OK fiasco, she was now Mrs. Darlene St. John; the most precious name in the world. A diamond ring upgrade helped a lot during the forgiveness process. My lawyer checked out the paperwork to be on the safe side. You could never be too sure with this crowd.
I’m also pleased to add, she was not one of those hyphenated last name liberals either, and proud to be a St. John—besides, her maiden name is Jaraslaw. Can you imagine, Darlene Zygmunt Jaraslaw-St. John? Plain ridiculous. If she hadn’t married me for any other reason, getting rid of her last name was worth it.
After we returned home from the honeymoon, I felt the need to remind her of my man rules. As I sipped my coffee, I leaned back in my chair. “You do remember the rules don’t you, Mrs. St. John?”
She crossed her arms and leaned against the fridge, then glared at me. “You know what, John, I don’t remember. I’m sure whatever it is, was so ridiculous I forgot about it the moment it spilled from your lips.”
“Then I shall repeat it, and this time, pay attention.”
“I’m regrettably all ears.” She sounded so smart when she talks that way.
“OK, John, kindly remind me. What is the rule?”
“Keep me fed and bred, and don’t get fat.”
“I’ll try to remember next time. What I should do is get a pen and paper and write a note, then I’ll stick it on the fridge, so I can view it every day.”
“Good idea, Darlene, now I won’t need to remind you again.”
“You’d make a fantastic marriage counselor. I’m going to address ‘thank-you cards,’ and because of Aunt Gertie, I get to write another set.”
“Isn’t there a card that does both?”
“Thank you for the wedding gift and attending my great-aunt’s funeral? I’ll suggest it to Hallmark. I’m sure there’s a huge demand.”
After we been wed for a while, marital reality settled in. No more lovey-dovey stuff we used to do while dating and during our engagement. We’re regular married folk, and that was alright because we were happy — like two peas in a pod. We spent a lot of time together, did some traveling, and had the opportunity to get to know each other a lot better. I sometimes thought too good. On a Sunday morning, Darlene rummaged around in the kitchen and found an unopened gift from the wedding. “What’s this? John, did you see this in the pantry?”
“Yeah, almost every day. I figured it was a gift for a friend.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I put the dog food on top and forgot to mention it.”
She inspected the gift, then read the note aloud.
To John and Darlene, have a beautiful honeymoon. Love Aunt Gertie.
“Sorry, I never read the fine print.” She put the package on the kitchen table and began to unwrap the gift, then pulled out its contents. I picked up the box, fumbled with it, and asked what it was. She told me it was a bun warmer. Showing my ignorance in culinary devices, asked, “Is it too warm your buns on a cold night?”
“Are you kidding me, John? How can an adult, I assume, be so stupid? It keeps rolls warm and fresh.”
“To avoid confusion, why not just call it a roll warmer? Makes more sense. Besides,” — I grabbed her around the waist and pulled her in my lap and whispered, “I’m your fresh bun warmer now.”
She exposed a tiny grin. “Aren’t we the charmer?”
“I can be. Why don’t you whip up some of your famous biscuits and we’ll test this thing out? Seems to be a versatile device.”
“What do you mean, John?”
“It’s a bun, roll, and biscuit warmer all in one!”
After that, we had three kids.