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May 09, 2005

It's May already!

grass It rained on us last night, huge drops doing their best to blister the paint from our house. We were snug. Our errands run, we were safe and dry indoors. There are few things as comforting as drifting off to sleep with the one you love, a furious but ineffectual rain pelting your home.

The National Weather Service serves Pinole poorly. You can choose data from Napa, Oakland, or Concord, none of them more than half an hour's drive away during rush hour, and all of them receiving quite different amounts of precipitation in a typical storm.

Absent the aid of a giant Federal bureaucracy to give me the information while I sit at the keyboard, I have been forced to resort to other, extralegal means to determine how much rain fell on us this weekend. I was weeding the garden on Saturday, using a five-gallon plastic bucket to hold the weeds I pulled between trips to the compost pile. The bucket had an inch of water in it just now.

The rain really came down last night, metaphorical buckets of it, and it turned to snow as it blew east over the mountain passes I plan to cross tomorrow. Right now, the cops are requiring chains on all vehicles going over Donner Pass. I imagine fishtailing tomorrow over treacherous mountain passes in my pickup. Hi, Mom.

Every year, more or less, it rains on the Bay Area in the month of May. Every year, more or less, a good soaking rain prompts the evening news to run interviews with people in the street, who say "it never rains this late! Come on, it's May already!"

We actually get, in an "average" May, about half an inch of rain. The above-mentioned federal bureaucracy that supplies that figure doesn't say whether that "average" is a mean or a median. Either way, it means that it's not unusual for us to get more than half an inch of rain in May.

Ten years ago today, Becky and I were watching the skies rather nervously. It was a rainy May, and our outdoor wedding was planned for the 20th. We had something like a hundred invited guests, and while we could have fit them into the building we'd rented for the reception, it would have cramped our style a bit.

It rained May 18, just a little bit. On May 19 it cleared, and we spent the whole day outside putting together the table centerpieces: little two-inch pots of herbs which (for some reason) Becky decided needed repotting into four-inch pots before they were put into baskets and covered with Spanish moss. (In retrospect, this may have been a project intended to keep me busy.)

This was a wedding for which the bride did everything but the cooking. She sewed her own dress - a white modified cheongsam - and those of the bridesmaids and Allison, our flower child. She dyed everyone's shoes. She made the little box affixed to Zeke's collar in which he'd carry the rings down the aisle, with the flower girl on the other end of the leash. She put together the wedding favors: bags of cooking spices from Penzey's, each in a little muslin bag (which she sewed) tied with a ribbon (by guess who) to a small card with a poem about spices and life and a recipe (which she selected and printed out.) I had suggested we cater the thing by handing my dad some tongs, a few bags of charcoal and forty or fifty pounds of hot dogs. She gave me one of those looks. She assembled the floral sprays for the walls of the Brazilian Room. She put together a stereo system on which we would play the mix of wedding music I was assigned to compile. ("Cheaper than a DJ, and we'll still have it afterwards." I did help with the shopping on that one.) She worked late into the night on May 19, doing some crucially important task or other that no one else would note. Curling ribbons into bows, or ironing shoe tongues, or something.

I woke at three or three-thirty the morning of our wedding to the sound of rain nearly breaking our windows. I went back to sleep.

Day broke with a slight mist, and we were too busy to worry about it. We drove to the wedding in separate cars, not out of tradition but because of division of tasks. The grass was wet when Allison, Zeke and I got to the site, and a few drops fell. I set up chairs outside anyway. As the first guests started to arrive, the looming clouds broke up. The sun came out just enough to dry the patio, carefully staying behind a cloud so as not to shine in our guests' eyes.

Becky didn't do all the work. We hired a caterer after all, and a bakery for the cake - though I did prune the redwood twigs used to decorate it from a tree in the park around the corner. Becky gave me a few other things to do, as well. I made the mix tape. I shaved.

And I wrote the vows, a couple days beforehand after we'd argued bitterly over some stupid thing, realizing as I stormed down the street that any wedding vows we could agree on in anger would probably serve us well. Our friend Mark Gorrell, a Universal Life Church minister, read them as the sun tried to burn through the dwindling clouds:

Will you, Becky and Chris, maintain balance in your life together, remembering when to differ, when to speak with one voice, when to support one another, when to challenge one another, when to sing together, when to be silent together, and when to listen one to the other?

Will you, Becky and Chris, honor one another in your marriage, seeking neither dominion nor submission but equality, nurturing and feeding each other, each allowing the other to grow, treating one another as your chosen partner in your journey through your time on earth?

Do you, Becky and Chris, by the power inherent in you as man and woman, pronounce yourselves husband and wife?

We did. We still do.

On May 19, 1995, we realized late in the day that Becky wanted a spray of flowers to carry down the aisle. We had nothing. We drove in a hurry to a garden I'd planted outside my workplace, and there a Cleveland sage was in full bloom. But if we'd cut stems and carried them home dry, the flowers would fall off before the ceremony. I had been doing a little weeding in that garden the week before, and had been using a five-gallon plastic bucket. It had about an inch of fresh water in it. It rode home full of sage in the cab of the pickup truck. Becky carried it the next day, brilliant purple corollas against pale gray leaves, its heady herbal aroma still clinging to her as we danced to a Mexican waltz.

We have a large hedge of that sage in front of our house now. It flowers more profusely each year. On a day like this, when an average May rain freshens the leaves before the sun comes out, our wedding sage is redolent enough to perfume a whole block. Or a whole life.

Posted by Chris Clarke at May 9, 2005 10:48 AM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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When Becky came into sight in that cheongsam, I nudged Joe and said something on the order of, "Wow, look at Becky." He was silent for a moment and then said, "She looks stunning!"

Now, not everyone here knows Joe, or what it takes to get that kind of remark out of him. But I think it's the only time in nearly 32 years I've ever heard him use that word in its metaphorical sense.

As I was reading your post, I said over my shoulder, "I'd forgotten Becky made her wedding dress. Holy shit, and the rest of the dresses too."

Joe said, "Of course. She would."

She does know about the Slutface Award, right?

Posted by: Ron Sullivan at May 9, 2005 01:35 PM
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Beautiful story -- I like how the rain weaves in and out through the whole thing.

The best weddings I've been to were ones where not only the bride and groom but also their friends took part in things like decorating, dress-making, photography, music, and catering. They were celebrations not only of the couple, but also of the families and communities that surrounded them. Wonderful.

Posted by: Rana at May 9, 2005 01:45 PM
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That was another excellent piece of writing.
Thank you for sharing the story.
Your wedding vows are impressive and lovely.
My best to you and your bride on your tenth anniversary.

Posted by: carpundit at May 9, 2005 03:19 PM
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Ron, before someone here takes well-intended but unnecessary offense on Becky's behalf, I think you should 'splain the Slutface Award.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at May 9, 2005 03:31 PM
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Wow, what a lovely and romantic day. I hope you enjoy your anniversary and many more happy anniversaries to come.


Posted by: GrrlScientist at May 9, 2005 03:31 PM
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Your description reminds me a great deal of my own wedding, for which my wife and I just celebrated our seventh anniversary in April. Ours was also a do-it-yourself affair, in a gorgeous garden setting in Lafayette. The rain was also a worry, being prevalent during the previous week, but that day was just perfect.

Thanks, that brought back a lot of great memories.


Posted by: Mike Anderson at May 9, 2005 03:36 PM
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Hey, I recognize that song. It's on the Lone Star soundtrack.

Lovely post. Happy Anniversary!

Posted by: leslee at May 9, 2005 04:15 PM
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Blimey, I got goosebumps just reading this post. No small reaction, considering I know I'll never walk down an aisle to get married. Well, not to a woman anyway.

Great stuff, Chris.

Posted by: Jay at May 9, 2005 07:19 PM
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It's a cruel fate that prompted me to write about the Russian Sage in my own yard today. To say nothing of my shallow snarkings about our wedding (which, I hope you'll forgive me for thinking was better than yours, despite your wonderful description). Thank you for putting me to shame.

Posted by: CMD at May 9, 2005 07:54 PM
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As someone incapable of truly loving a woman, I'm envious Chris, both of the relationship and of your poetic phrasing in writing about it.

Posted by: OGeorge at May 9, 2005 08:30 PM
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I'm truly happy for you. So much life and somehow you've navigated it and grown stronger together, at least as best as I can tell. Congrats.

Posted by: susurra at May 9, 2005 09:30 PM
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great story chris, and very nice vows. having spent several years in living situations where rain wasn't always welcome i understood immediately your beginning remark about being snug. now that i am fortunate enough to live in a rain ready house and garden i love the sound of it. we welcome rain now because it fills our rainwater tank.

best wishes to you and becky on the anniversary of your wedding.

Posted by: dread pirate robert at May 10, 2005 08:35 AM
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OK, the history of the Slutface Award:

Some years back, at a Cook-In with a bunch of friends, I was sitting on a porch eating and drinking and chatting, which is what a Cook-In is for. One friend, a chronic overachiever (for which trait we're all grateful) was recounting the history of the ginger cheescake she'd carried on the plane from LA, along with five or six other dishes and wine. As usual.

She's been stressing because she'd had a mishap with her combination microwave-convection oven in the last few minutes of making the cake. She'd given the cake a nother minute or two of baking time, but had accidentally pressed the Microwave button, and a second later looked to find her cheescake boiling. Just for a few seconds, but.

She asked a few people online if she should bring or toss the cheesecake, and everyone said, "Bring it, and we'll taste it and see if any harm was done." So she did, and it disappeared in a trice; the texture was very slightly off, but you had to be trying to notice.

So we were discussing it, and she started talking about making it. It had a crust of chocolate cookie crumbs. She mentioned baking these cookies...

"Wait," Charlotte (a local foodie) said. "You baked the cookies? You didn't buy those perfectly nice flat chocolate wafers from the store?"

"Huh? No, I baked them of course, from scratch..."

"Youuuu SLUTFACE!" Charlotte expostulated. "Um, I mean that in the nicest possible way of course."

We had another Slutface Award later for a Cook-In participant who'd brought her own green coffeebeans and her own coffeebean roaster so we could all have after-dinner coffee...

When, a few years later, Joe and I had Becky's Hallowe'en cookies, shaped like coffins with little frosting people in them, each person individually different, and learned that not only had she made the cookies (in several steps; the coffins had half-lids...) but had made the cookie-cutters, Becky got the Slutface Lifetime Achievement Award.

With Oakleaf Cluster for drafting her little brother into the assembly process.

Posted by: Ron Sullivan at May 10, 2005 09:55 AM
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A couple of wedding pics would be good.

Posted by: Rita Xavier at May 10, 2005 09:56 AM
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Best wishes and congratulations on your anniversary. What a beautiful tribute to a life lived well together.

And yes please, make with the pics.

I blame you for making me even more schmoopy than usual.


Posted by: Space Kitty at May 10, 2005 12:12 PM
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What a beautiful post - an done that brought up a lot of happy memories for me too. Congratulations to both of you.

Posted by: beth at May 10, 2005 07:31 PM
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Happy 10th Anniversary, Becky and Chris, and thank you for a wonderful post. Those of us unlucky enough to have not "known" you guys ten years ago appreciate the recap.

Here's to ten more years of maintaining that precious balance we all seek, and ten after that, and ten after that, and...


Posted by: ronniecat at May 12, 2005 06:32 PM
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What ronnie said, doubled. I'd admonish you to remember that "ten year" != "tenure", but somehow I get the sense that you already know that, and will keep on working as though you were probationary.

Mrs. Fort Harrington and I will be fishtailing *our* pickup truck into the Sierras this weekend, and there's yet another storm forecast. You *sure* this is a normal May?

Posted by: Sherwood at May 12, 2005 10:38 PM
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