An ominous moment arrives in every wedding when the minister invites anyone who can show "just cause" why the couple should not be married to "speak now; or else forever hold your peace." No one ever speaks up, of course. Nevertheless, at my daughter's wedding last month, I had a morbid dread that a voice would rise from the back of the church proclaiming, "Stop!" and that everyone would turn and behold a grim-faced, though not unprepossessing lizard:But more about that later.
At the bridal dinner I did feel obliged to inform the groom and guests that my daughter had received an offer of marriage some years before. We were having dinner in a restaurant in a small town in Italy. Gill was reading a poignant passage in "Jane Eyre." The proprietor misinterpreted her tears and suggested that what she needed was a nice Italian husband. He disappeared into the kitchen and soon returned with his wife and son, a handsome 13-year old named Antonio. Apparently, when Italian mothers meet a prospective daughter-in-law, they don't shake hands, because Antonio's mom seized Gill chest-high as if examining an article of livestock and announced, "She'll be wearing a bra in six months."
It's crossed my mind over the years that a deal could have been struck on the spot that would have given Gill a guaranteed livelihood and her parents free meals at a fine Italian restaurant. But she was a little young, and I think we made the right decision by passing the opportunity up.
Back to the lizard. Here was a more serious matter. The plain truth was that Gill had been married once before. The ceremony took place in our former Old West Lawrence home. Gill's friend Jennifer from across the street was maid-of-honor. I gave the bride away. My daughter looked splendid in her bridal gown, which was embellished with a serrated reptilian ridge, a gesture to the spouse, which happened to be her pet iguana, Cilantro.
Don't expect me to explain the psychology behind this union. Little girls are inscrutable. The prospect of adventures such as marriage interest them at an early age. Gill was one of those kids who "rescued" frogs, snails, preying mantises, snakes and brought them home. Marrying a lizard seemed altogether natural to her.
As far as I remember, it was a good marriage. Gill was a devoted wife. There were no stormy disputes. Disasters occurred, of course, such as the time Cilantro disappeared into a small hole and I had to tear down part of a bathroom wall to retrieve him. Alas, he came to a tragic end one winter when he ventured into an unheated room and froze to death. This may sound heartless, but I'm fond of my daughter's new husband and happy that Cilantro wasn't in the way when they met:
By a certain age, most of us have witnessed so many weddings that the ceremony has almost become a routine. But when your own daughter is involved, the words - "for better for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death" - strike the heart with enormous power. My little girl! Even the minister seemed overcome with emotion.
Marriage was still in the air at our backyard reception. The meadowlarks were whistling a bar from Purcell's Trumpet Processional in D. The prairie was in flower like a vast wedding bouquet. I gave the guests - from as far away as Nepal - a briefing on the environs. Lawrence, where most of them were staying, was "a blue island." Our Vinland home was in the "sea of red." If anyone stopped them on the road after the festivities, they should have their NRA membership cards handy. If quizzed on the subject of Darwin, they should not make the mistake of arguing that man is descended from the apes.
I asked them to sign a form holding us harmless for West Nile virus, snake bite, Lyme disease and other local hazards and informed them that our hillside is in a tornado alley. Fortunately, there's a tornado-proof room in the basement, but it can accommodate no more than five people. My other son-in-law suggested that we raffle off the spaces to help recoup some of the cost of the wedding.
The evening passed in a joyful blur. How quickly, after months of planning, it was over. The next day we were greeted with a mountain of trash bags, a garage filled with flies, wasps in the half-finished glasses of beer, the beautiful flowers limp in their vases. On the way home from one of our errands the day after the wedding, my just-married daughter cried out, "Stop the car!" I hit the brakes. Out she jumped. I watched her running back through the rear view mirror. She stooped, picked up a small object, and returned to the car in triumph, a tiny turtle in her hand.
"You haven't changed at all," I said.