Tag Archives: wedding

With This Ring

Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art

Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art


I hit one of those grief loops today–the portals through time that sweep me back into another moment from another life.

As I was washing my hands in the kitchen at work, a memory came back to me from the day Richard and I moved into our house back in the fall of 2003.  We were unloading a truck filled with my stuff (mostly boxes of books).  Our paths crossed in the garage as he was walking into the house and I was walking out.  I saw his left hand gripping the corner of a gigantic cardboard box and for a fleeting second, I imagined that I saw a shiny gold ring there.  A simple wedding band.  The image seemed so real, in that instant, that I stood there kind of dumbstruck.  He paused as he walked past me and gave me a funny look.

“What?” he asked.  I laughed and shook my head to clear it.  “Nothing.  Just daydreaming.”  He leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.  Then he said, “I love you…and you didn’t have to say it first this time.” And he went on his way.

I was usually the “I love you” and he was the “I love you, too.”  That moment–sweaty and stinky and tired in the garage– made me so completely happy.  We were starting our life together, blending our stuff.

I guess that moment was prescient–seventeen months later he did wear a simple gold ring on that finger.  We picked out our wedding rings while sitting on the side of the bathtub in our house, the night before the ceremony.  Big Gay had brought a black velvet tray of them from our jeweler friend, Tony.  Richard wasn’t much for jewelry.  He didn’t even think he would wear a ring.  But it was important to me to give him a token, so he chose a simple gold band.  There was no time for engraving.

The next morning, under a white tent in our backyard, I put that ring on his finger.  The minister bound our hands in his silk stole for the blessing then whispered to us, “You’ve tied the knot!”

Richard agreed to wear the ring for the rest of the day because I enjoyed the sight of it so much.  He kept it on into the night.  In between IV meds, he joined the rest of us out on the deck where we sat telling stories in the dark.  He kept it on when we went to sleep, past midnight when his drugs were finished running their course.

The ring was still there the next day, on his finger.  It stayed there for the eleven days that we got to call each other husband and wife.  He never took it off.  After he died, I took it off his finger and put it on mine.

That’s the memory that came back to me today–the imaginary vision of a gold band when he was so strong and happy, and the memory of the gold band when he was dying…and happy.  It’s hard to believe that we found a way to be any kind of happy in the middle of the end of his life.  We did.

So I dried my hands on a paper towel and went back to work.  If you passed me in the hall and wondered why I had that strange look on my face, this is why.


Something Old, Something New

Jamie paintingToday I spent eight hours on my feet volunteering at a consignment sale.  The significance of the date didn’t hit me until 7:30 p.m., when I went to write a check for the two tubs of summer clothes and sandals I had bought for my kids.  March 5, 2014.  The ninth anniversary of the day when Richard and I said our marriage vows.  I wrote about it last year in “The Artist At Our Wedding.”

Part of me is glad that I was too busy today to dwell on the date, to mark every hour by remembering what I was doing at that exact time on that day in 2005.  I spent this day in the YMCA gym sorting clothes, checking for stains, running back and forth, tossing shoes into the right box, making conversation, making new friends.  

 Last night, I tagged my own items to sell.  It makes me sad, every time, to pin and price the clothes that my darlings wore.  The yellow dress Vivi kept clean through the Easter egg hunt last year, when her hair was still long and trailed behind her as she ran around Nana and Papa’s garden.  The orange and yellow Hawaiian shirt that Carlos wore at Cocoa Beach on the day we went to see the Mars Curiosity Rover launched into space.  A pink sequined top and ruffled skirt that Vivi picked out for her first day of kindergarten.  Tiny shoes that never touched the ground.  Pajamas that had swaddled my nephews, passed down to us for our season, then passed along again.  That blue sun hat that Carlos hated, the one with the Velcro strap that was too strong for him to undo.  carlos hawaiian

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

I had that talk with several other mothers today–how sad it makes us feel to say goodbye to the clothes from our kids’ yesterdays. But it just isn’t possible to hang on to every precious thing.  I try to remind myself that they outgrow their clothes because they are healthy and strong.  Changing is a part of being OK.

A wedding anniversary.  One life ended.  Another life begun.  I wouldn’t have these children if that March 5th wedding had ended in a happily ever after.  Would I notice the bluebirds as much?   I often wonder what it would have been like to have children with Richard.  But I don’t have much time to chase that wonder because I am so busy living THIS life.  That something old.  This something new.  This always borrowed.  This beautiful, sometimes blue.


Here’s one thing I love about having a space for writing:  I am surrounded by my books, which are filled with ideas, and that comes in handy at times like RIGHT NOW when I really feel a desperate urge to write but cannot think of a damn thing I want to say. Every spine of every volume reminds me that all writers have a moment (or year) when they get stuck.  Misery loves company and these writers are good company because they made it through.

I reached over just now and picked up a slim gray book of poems by Raymond Carver called “A New Path to the Waterfall.”  I bought this copy for myself in the spring of 1990.  A professor of mine, on whom I had a huge crush, had loaned me his copy earlier in the year because he thought I might like it.  I did.  I loved it and I loved him and that’s OK to confess now because I’m 45 and it feels sweet, not embarrassing, to remember that time when he and I would talk about books and painting and the ways of the world.  I was 21 and really looking to have my heart broken a few times.  Just to check, I googled him and his smile still made my tired old heart go pitter pat.  

carver_gallagherOne thing that drew me to this book of poems when I was 21 was the tragic story of Carver’s life.  He died in 1988 from lung cancer at the age of 50.  But he was supposed to have died 10 years before that.  Carver tried his best to drink himself to death but managed to get clean at 40.  He called the rest of his life “gravy” (and there’s a poem by that name, too).  In that last best 10 years, he made a life with Tess Gallagher, a fellow writer.  When they learned that he was dying, they married so they could call each other husband and wife.

Well.  That rings a bell.  These poems that I loved when I was a heartsick 21 year old girl mean even more to me now that I also know what it is like to promise “til Death do us part” when Death is practically a guest at the wedding.

So here is a lovely poem, written by Ray in the days between his marriage and his death.  After he died, Tess gathered all these last poems and assembled “A New Path to the Waterfall.”  His gifts to her; her gift to him.  


From the window I see her bend to the roses
holding close to the bloom so as not to
prick her fingers. With the other hand she clips, pauses and
clips, more alone in the world
than I had known. She won’t
look up, not now. She’s alone
with roses and with something else I can only think, not
say. I know the names of those bushes

given for our late wedding: Love, Honor, Cherish—
this last the rose she holds out to me suddenly, having
entered the house between glances. I press
my nose to it, draw the sweetness in, let it cling—scent
of promise, of treasure. My hand on her wrist to bring her close,
her eyes green as river-moss. Saying it then, against
what comes: wife, while I can, while my breath, each hurried petal
can still find her.


Most Like an Arch This Marriage

Tintern Abbey, East End Columns via Wikimedia Commons

Tintern Abbey, East End Columns
via Wikimedia Commons

This is the poem that Fartbuster selected for our wedding ceremony.  I remember when he read it to me the first time, as we sat on a purple velvet settee in The Bookmonger, in Montgomery, Alabama (one of those treasure trove used books stores that has gone the way of the dinosaur).  He read it to me, sotto voce, from a book of John Ciardi poems and I felt honored to be marrying a man who was so wise and sensitive.

Most Like an Arch This Marriage


Most like an arch—an entrance which upholds
and shores the stone-crush up the air like lace.
Mass made idea, and idea held in place.
A lock in time. Inside half-heaven unfolds.
Most like an arch—two weaknesses that lean
into a strength. Two fallings become firm.
Two joined abeyances become a term
naming the fact that teaches fact to mean.
Not quite that? Not much less. World as it is,
what’s strong and separate falters. All I do
at piling stone on stone apart from you
is roofless around nothing. Till we kiss
I am no more than upright and unset.
It is by falling in and in we make
the all-bearing point, for one another’s sake,
in faultless failing, raised by our own weight.

Oh, twenty-six year old me…honey, honey, honey.  Bless your heart.  Or to quote Jake’s last line to Brett from The Sun Also Rises:  “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

It was pretty to think so, to think that ours would be the kind of marriage like an arch, leaning in to the point of falling, but catching each other in the all-bearing point.  Raised by our own weight.  Isn’t it pretty to think so?

Wellllll…What words did this young poet have for me when we were finally alone together after the wedding?  Granted, we had been living together for a couple of years, so it’s not as if I was expecting a pulse-quickening night of romantic discovery.  And we were staying in a local chain hotel before driving to Charleston the next day for the real honeymoon.  But this is what I got from my new husband, the erstwhile poet.  

He flopped out on the bed with the basket of snacks sent by the caterer and started grazing.  I shimmied out of my wedding dress then went to the bathroom to pry off my foundation undergarments.  I wasn’t feeling shy–it’s just that my cousin, Shannon, had poured about 2 pounds of birdseed down my back as we left the reception and most of it was valiantly contained by my foundation undergarment.  I figured it would be a kindness to the maid if I unleashed all that birdseed on the tile floor instead of the carpet.  So off I went to the bathroom.  When I came back out, shed of the birdseed and my single girl inhibitions (as IF), Fartbuster was still snacking and had turned on the television.  To Beavis and Butthead.  beavis and butthead


I looked at him.  I looked at the TV.  I looked back at him and he finally noticed me standing there.  I said, “REALLY? Beavis and Butthead?”  And this was his reply, gentle reader:

“C’mon!  It’s a NEW ONE.”

Poems are pretty.  John Ciardi’s vision of marriage is a lovely one.  Marriage does require bending towards each other, trusting that the other half of the arch will meet you in the middle.  The trust that grounds marriage is a falling towards, leaning over, reaching out.  If your partner isn’t there when you do that…you fall flat on your face.

But to tell the god’s honest truth?  Falling on your face isn’t the worst thing that can happen.  As the old Japanese saying goes:  “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”

Happy Anniversary, Fartbuster!

yellow rosesIt’s April 22, y’all!  Happy Anniversary to Fartbuster, wherever he may be.

We married in the backyard at my dad and stepmother’s house on a perfect spring evening.  Now, don’t be picturing some trailer park hoe-down.  Their backyard is SWANKY.  Boxwood hedges line a lush clipped lawn under soaring pecan trees.  Beside the midnight blue lagoon of the pool, bright clouds of pink and white peonies dance beneath a tumbling waterfall of yellow Lady Banks roses.  A yellow and white striped tent sheltered the buffet–cornbread and tomato bisque, pineapple sandwiches, and all sorts of Southern delights.  Sunflowers dotted the tables that were scattered around the pool.  My fairy stepmother is a genius at making things beautiful.

She planted 500 white tulips for the wedding.  But you know how it is with gardening…the Earth works on its own schedule and cares not for the plans of gardeners.  She called me about three weeks before the big day.  I could hear ice cubes tinkling in a glass of bourbon and the flick of a lighter.  She took a long inhale off her cigarette and said, “Heeeeeeey, Love.  You know those tulips for the wedding?  They’re GORGEOUS.  And they’re a teeeeeeensy bit early.  I swear, if your Daddy would let me use the pistol I’d walk out there in the backyard and shoot every one of their goddamn heads off.”

It’s fun to sit here today and think back to the wedding.  In the wake of the bad times that came five years later, some of the details of that day were overshadowed, but they deserve their due.  My mother made my dress for me and it was exactly what I wanted–a French lace bodice, eight layers of tulle for the skirt, with beaded medallions and seed pearls scattered here and there.  Wally played “Ode to Joy” for the processional and “Zip a dee doo dah” for the recessional.  My brother lugged chairs and tables and anything else that needed lugging.  The ladies of the garden club arranged flowers in silver punch bowls, crystal vases and anything else that would hold still.  Jan baked both cakes, lemon with white butter cream frosting in a basket weave and chocolate fudge with sugared grapes.  My sister made table arrangements of sunflowers and stattice and sent me off to the spa for a mani/pedi/massage.  She even wore dyed to match shoes and I still owe her an apology for that.  Mandy came down from Baltimore to read a poem.  Rhoda sent over a spray of green orchids.  Laura performed the service and would accept only a bouquet of peonies as payment.  So many people, so many hands, such light work.  It rained, then it stopped and everything was fresh.

The focal point of the backyard is a magnificent pecan tree, so that was our cathedral.  My stepsister had married in the same spot the spring before.  We called it “The Marrying Tree.”  Later, after two divorces, we renamed it “The Tree of Doom.”  When my sister got engaged a few years later, Daddy and Gay said, “Don’t even THINK about it.  We’ll cut it down ourselves before we let anyone else get married down there.”  They ran off to Vegas and are happy as larks.

I would show you pictures from the wedding, but I packed most of them up after the divorce and put them in the attic at my dad’s house.  I didn’t want to throw them away because they chronicled so much love (from the people who made the day possible), but I didn’t want them around me.   It might be time to dig them out.  I’d like to see my great Aunt Eula again.  She was always so dear to me.  When it was time for wedding day portraits, I had one taken with my grandparents (with whom she lived in a little spinster apartment) then I asked Aunt Eula to pose for a picture with me.  She lit up in her little pink dress and pearls and said, “I’ve never had a picture with the BRIDE!”  Later, when I threw the bouquet and they asked all the unmarried ladies to gather around, Pop hollered, “Get up front, Eula!”  She was about 80.  I did my best to throw it right at her.

In all the fuss and hubbub of that day, there are two moments that stand out in my mind, because they relate back to that idea of “When people show you who they are, believe them.”  There were so many words exchanged that day, and Fartbuster and I had chosen the words of our ceremony very carefully.  He said the vows….but they were just talk.  After Laura pronounced us married and invited us to share a kiss, I reached up to fling my arms around my new husband’s neck.  He held my arms down.  In the picture, he’s holding my arms down like I’m a lunatic and I might hurt someone with all that joy.  That was his first action to me as my husband–tamping down my enthusiasm.  When the pictures came in weeks later and I saw the awkward way he was pinning my arms to my sides, my heart was heavy.  But I buried that feeling and took what I got.  For a while.

I rarely think of that moment anymore.  This next one, I think of frequently.  It’s another case of a man showing me who he was and me believing him.  I can’t convey how hard everyone had worked to put together this wedding.  It was a feat.  A miracle.  A gift.  At the moment when Wally started playing the opening notes of “Ode to Joy,” my Daddy took my hand and tucked it into his arm.  We stepped out on the porch and I got my first look at the finished product…my wedding that I had dreamed about for so long.  I was overwhelmed by the moment.  It was my wish come true.  I whispered, “Oh, Daddy!  It’s perfect!”  He patted my hand and said, “So are you, Sugar, so are you.”

Some people hold you down.  Some people lift you up.  

The Artist at Our Wedding

Jamie paintingThere are 3 watercolors hanging in my dining room, each signed “Jamie Calkin March 5, 2005.”  The first is a meditative scene under the white tent.  Just two wrought iron chairs sitting side by side atop a Persian rug, the river flowing in the background, everything poised for the wedding to begin.  The second depicts the wedding ceremony itself, the same tent now filled with about 30 friends and family members, bride and groom seated together, a pair of massive tulip poplars soaring above the scene.  The last painting is a scene from the reception, our blue kayak buoyed by white balloons, drifting around the pool while a cellist plays.

After Richard’s doctors told him that they could give him no further treatments, he surprised us all when he said, “I want to go home and I want to marry Ashley.”  Oh.  OH!  I told my sister, my stepmother and a couple of dear friends and damn if they didn’t manage to put together what we ended up hailing as “A Wedding In a Week.”  I mean, BOW DOWN, wedding gods, these ladies had it nailed (and one of them is only a lady in drag shows!).  My friend, Andrea, called me the day after Richard announced that we were getting married and said, “I only need to know two things–what flavor cake do you like and do you want to wear a tiara?”  Everything else?  HANDLED.  Those days of planning something happy were a magical respite from the quiet panic of leaving the hospital and flying home…well, to die.  We knew it but we weren’t saying it so let’s get married in the meantime.  Andrea even gave me a pair of rose-colored glasses to wear to the spa on the day before the wedding.  She understood–her mother had died when she was only 20.

We had swanky catering, a string trio, an Episcopal priest, wedding finery, a Cecelia Villaveces cake…all in a week.  The clerk of court even brought the license to the house with a witness so Richard wouldn’t have to go out.  All because someone knew someone who knew someone who loved us.  Magic.

When my friend, Katie Calkin, said, “Jamie wants to give you a painting for your wedding,” I was so touched.  I thought she meant that we would send him a photograph from the wedding and he would paint it for us.  But Jamie works in the moment, in plein air, with his watercolor kit, a stack of paper and wide open space.  So on the morning of March 5, 2005, when I peeked out the bedroom window to check on the hubbub in the backyard, I saw Jamie sitting in the grass, leaning against a crepe myrtle with his kit spread out around him.  That was the first moment that brought me to tears that day.  Why?  Because Jamie was so happy.  He radiated joy, an artist in his element, on a sunny day, doing what he loves best.

Katie and I had known each other through work for a couple of years, but the first time I met Jamie was at a planning meeting for a quilt project in memory of their son, Abraham.  Abraham was born with a heart problem.  He spent his entire brief life in intensive care, swaddled in love, but his heart just wasn’t strong enough. In the aftermath of his loss, the people who had loved him wanted to mark his life.  It turned out that several of the Calkins’ friends were quilters, so they hatched a plan to honor Abraham and ease the fretful hours of other parents with children in the NICU.  They lined up volunteers with the goal of making one crib-sized quilt for each day of Abraham’s life.  The quilts would be donated to the neo-natal intensive care units where Abraham had spent his life.  All they needed was 50+ people to make a quilt.  Never one to let sensibility overcome my rampant enthusiasm, I signed up to make a quilt right away…even though I didn’t know how to sew.

I learned to sew, along with a few others, and I made a rail fence pattern with fish called “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Starfish.”  Katie made a quilt for her son.  Jamie made a quilt with dinosaurs.  Abraham’s grandparents made quilts.  Strangers made quilts and Abraham’s Aunties made quilts.  When the project was finished, the quilts were displayed in the hospital lobby for one day and we all got to marvel at the beauty of what love for this fragile boy had brought into the world.  Taking heartache and turning it into kindness.  The first time I saw Jamie, he was hollow and it seeped out of his eyes.  The morning of the quilt show, I saw him smile.  The morning of our wedding, I saw him at peace with the world.

Seeing Jamie there in the sunlight on my wedding day gave me hope.  Not that Richard was going to get better.  Not that we would live a long and happy life together.  It simply gave me hope that I would make it out the other side.  There was Jamie, like a messenger from some other day in the future, when I might be able to sit in the sun and feel at peace with the world.  wedding march

He and I exchanged letters that night that crossed in the mail.  I thanked Jamie for giving me hope that I could be happy again.  He thanked us for including him in the day and confided that he had felt Abraham there during the ceremony.  I hope he was there and I hope he had two pieces of cake.

Katie was one of the first people I talked to after Richard died.  I told her that he had been thinking of Bermuda, a place where we had been so happy.  I said, “Abraham would be three now–old enough to learn how to swim.  I hope he and Richard are at the beach today.”

jamie pool painting

I’ve been thinking about Katie, Abraham and Jamie a lot this week because I stumbled upon a blog called “Being Everlee’s Mom.”  It’s an exquisitely written record of fresh heartbreak.  The author and her husband lost their infant daughter, Everlee, last month.  I’m so glad that she’s writing.  The only way out of grief is through.  It helps when you can look around and see other people who are a little farther down the road.  They turn back and wave to you and say, “This way.  Follow my voice.”

Please visit Jamie’s website to see more of his work here.