Five Weddings and Six Funerals
This spring and summer, it seems, has been a succession of weddings and funerals. I want the weddings to win but the funerals keep coming. One week in May I went to three funerals in six days, all at a distance so, just in terms of the driving, I felt spent at the end. A wedding that took place the weekend before was all there was for balance. This weekend was a wedding on Saturday and a funeral on Sunday. As if scripted by the universe, Saturday was a gorgeous sunny hot day, the likes of which we have not really seen yet this summer, and Sunday was cold and rainy, the likes of which now seem commonplace to us in the Northeast.
The wedding was for the daughter of a friend of mine, Judy, who died of cancer ten years ago. Judy and Tom had built their own house on a big piece of land in the interesting little town of Royalston, Massachusetts. That was back in the seventies and after, Tom became a timber framer, raising frames near and far, and, on that land there, he has since put up several more cottages so that the place looks like an early settlement. Quaint shingled cottages are hidden here and there, all like something out of Chaucer, giving the feeling of a village. They also raised their two children here, Lydia and Taj, Taj’s name being a contraction of “Tom and Judy.” Lydia, for whose wedding we were gathering, has become a sculptor, of the modern persuasion, so, as we parked in the field and wandered toward the house where tents were set up for the wedding, we stopped in the field to admire some of her work — tall ceramic towers, layered, stacked like pancakes as they rise up from the ground, some teetering and bending, some straight as steel beams. Rare sunlight and shadows from the trees all around played on the sides of these creations as we admired them.
In the middle of the field, between two fruit trees, Tom had constructed a wedding arch out of new timbers and woven the carved rafters with white silk. He and the groom-to-be had also constructed an outdoor oven, a “forno,” as Tom calls it. Tom is of Italian descent and his artful cooking speaks strongly of that heritage, mixed with the counterculture cuisine so familiar in these parts. For emphasis and perhaps humor, he built a little mock temple around the furnace and finished it off with Roman pillars and other Italian decorations. I don’t know about Italy but I think I can safely say there is no more beautiful forno in all of New England. The fire was stoked when we all arrived, bread sticks were emerging, later there would be pizza. Inside the house, Tom was putting the finishing touches on the wedding cake he had made for Lydia and Josh. Tom’s new wife, Deb, also worked and helped make the wedding what it was. When we all arrived, Tom and Deb and Josh and Lydia were all still in their t-shirts and shorts, getting everything ready. Like everything else in their world, it was a homemade wedding. In time, they went inside and dressed for the ceremony, Tom and Josh in jackets and ties, Deb in a long azure dress and Lydia in a white wedding dress she had ordered online from China. It was beautiful. On cyber, she had supplied them with 35 different measurements and the result fit her like a glove. Gorgeous embroidery of birds and flowers wandered down the front from neck to hem. Soon, they emerged, thus dressed, from the handbuilt house and walked up the path to the arch, music supplied by friends. The sun shone, everyone present shone. When asked, we all cried out our support for the new couple.
After, at a long table under the tent, we filled our plates with salads and the offerings of the potluck plus barbecue and, later, pizza. In time, Tom carried out his cake, a four-layer, tiered affair, simple, covered in white icing and topped with the traditional figures of bride and groom — an emblem that toppled over in the refreshing breeze that blew through the open tent. The cake, an unbelievably light carrot cake, was cut and shared. When the food ran out, like magic, more appeared. The afternoon sun angled down, the music swelled. Even though gone for so long, and even though so much that was new had been added here, Judy’s spirit was everywhere I looked. She would have loved this day.
The next day, under threatening skies, I drove south, again to Massachusetts, this time to Northfield, the town where my husband Paul grew up. Two weeks ago, his aunt (she was actually his father’s cousin) Lucile had died. Lucile was one of Paul’s greatest friends and at times his defender as he navigated through his difficult early years. She was also a great friend to me, especially after Paul died. I actually had known her before I knew Paul as she and her sister were neighbors to me and my first husband up on Bolton Road, named after their family, and it was on Bolton land that my first husband and I had built our first house. So for me, Lucile was a connection that went back more than thirty years. Lucile was round and jovial with laughing brown eyes that bored right into you. No secrets! She made that clear without ever saying it. She lived her life with gusto and made everyone else want to get up and follow. It was almost as if she had walked through her life, clapping her hands and singing, a line of followers behind. Her last years had been a battle with cancer. At her death, Lucile was 89 and she had made it plain that she was tired and ready to go. That was just like her. She was outspoken and had her opinions about everything, unafraid to express them. As I drove, I remembered her laugh, a musical soprano lift that sometimes ended in a “well!”
The service was at the Unitarian Church on the main street, next door to the house where Lucile had lived with her sister for more than twenty years, having moved down from the farm on Bolton Road. We all parked as close as we could get and hustled inside under umbrellas. A woman dressed in turquoise was front and center, her back to us as she played Bach on the ornate pipe organ, the pipes painted a faint lavender and embellished with Victorian designs. I settled into one of the dark-stained oak pews in the back. It was a largely elderly crowd. Lucile had never married but she had helped her sister, Mary Jane, raise her two children who loved her like a mother so they were there along with their children. Lucile had been the librarian in Greenfield for many years and after she retired she worked hard on matters of local history, her passion. Many who had been associated with her in those endeavors were there and spoke of her. She was an archivist. She had a strong sense of family. She was a wonderful friend. She was hospitable and a gracious hostess. She pulled the (enormous) family together almost single-handedly and was the only one who understood all its various branches and offshoots, a monumental task, to say the least. She was jovial, a caretaker, loved history and mystery. She was sharp and insightful. She loved to laugh. I nodded at each utterance and wept shamelessly at the remembrance.
The first time I ever really met Lucile, she and her sister had invited us down for dinner and after we ate, she conducted a s