I read something at each of my sisters’ weddings.
The eldest, whose name is Nicole though everybody in the family calls her Nee, was the first to go. My text was Shakespeare’s sonnet 116: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds” etc.
The gist of the poem, according to the commentary in the Arden Shakespeare (third series), is that true love is “unaltered and unalterable.”
Sure, why not.
After the ceremony, my youngest sister, whose name is Eden though everybody in the family calls her Petey, teased me mercilessly for my declamatory reading of line 5:
“O no, it is an ever-fixed mark“
She thought I sounded phony and hoity-toity, particularly on the “o no.” It probably didn’t help that I pronounced “ever-fixed” with four syllables (“ever-fixèd”) to preserve the iambic pentameter. Petey’s impression of me doing the line sounded like Dr. Frasier Crane auditioning for King Lear.
As it happened, Petey was the next to get married—not right away, seeing as how she was 14 at the time of Nee’s nuptials. But eventually.
This second sisterly wedding took place on a beach, so I wanted to read Edward Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat” for the bit at the end that goes:
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
But that idea was nixed on account of all the “pussies” earlier in the poem: “O lovely Pussy, O Pussy, my love, / What a beautiful Pussy you are.” And so on.
Instead, I ended up reading something from the Book of Psalms as well as the passage in the Book of Ruth where the title character promises to stay by the side of her mother-in-law, Naomi, saying, “Whither thou goest, I will go” and “thy people shall be my people” and a lot of other strangely romantic things to say to your mother-in-law.
I still did “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat,” but at the rehearsal dinner rather than the ceremony. For comic effect, I hit each “pussy” very hard (there’s a first). It killed.
I intended to repeat the performance at the rehearsal dinner before the wedding of my middle sister, Kelsey (no nickname). But as we were sitting there, my then-boyfriend, now-husband, Frank, told me that a rerun would never do, so I had to whip up something on the spot.
I had brought along my copy of Into the Garden: A Wedding Anthology—which is a collection of stuff to read at weddings—because it contains “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat.” In a low-grade panic, I flipped to the empty back pages and scribbled a quick toast during dinner.
At least this last-second writing project distracted me from the party, which was awkward because two prominent guests—my mother and father—were in the middle of getting a divorce. Kind of puts a damper on the celebration of eternal matrimonial bliss, let me tell you.
The conceit of my toast was that I had asked the bride to write it for me (not true—I wrote every word). So it’s full of extravagant praise for her and putdowns for me. I say, for instance, that she got all the good genes in the family, and then take the opportunity to waive my rights to any future inheritances. That sort of thing. It killed.
At the ceremony the next day, I read what’s labeled as an “Apache song” (translator unknown) in Into the Garden. I’ll close with that text because, of all my wedding readings, it comes the closest to describing what a good marriage is actually like. It’s not all dancing in the moonlight and making protestations of unending, unalterable devotion. Instead, the song presents a simple image of two people keeping one another warm.
Now you will feel no rain,
for each of you will be a shelter to the other.
Now you will feel no cold,
for each of you will be warmth to the other.
Now there is no loneliness for you;
now there is no more loneliness.
Now you are two bodies,
but there is only one life before you.
Go now to your dwelling place,
to enter into your days together.
And may your days be good
and long on the earth.