Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Best Wishes In Michigan

So a friend of mine, G, eloped with her fiance last week in Yosemite. It was actually a planned elopement, with scheduled post-party in Michigan after their return.

This is a girl I met at an outing, and we've done a few things together. I can't say we're super good friends but she's very sweet, and when she asked me if I wanted to come to the post-party I said sure. I got my invitation in the mail, RSVP'd online, and last Sunday headed east, hugging the shores of lake Michigan.

G had told me it would take an hour and a half. By the 2.75-hour mark, I turned into a gas station for coffee. I arrived over an hour late - no, make that two hours late, because I didn't realize that Michigan is Eastern time. *sigh.*

I had never met G's family; all I knew was that the event was being held at a farm in St. Joseph. I'd wondered how a girl from Hyde Park found a farm/event-hosting place way over there, but I didn't dwell on it. I found the farm and turned onto a dirt driveway that led to a grassy path with "parking" signs pointing the way along a lovely tree-lined grassy road. Two paint horses stood in a small pasture to my right; I wound around a bend and saw a huge grassy expanse, with cars parked in one area. I parked my poor dented Honda alongside Lexuses and Audis and walked up the grass slope to the house.

G and her new husband hadn't arrived yet, and it looked like everyone else was a family member. People sat at patio tables, talking, and looked at me with curiosity. (in addition to being the only non-family member, I was also the only Caucasian.)

A funny story: G and I were having dinner one evening, and she showed me some recent photos of her and her dad. I kept looking at the photo, trying to figure out where her dad was, and then I realized it was the black man beside her. And at that point I realized G was black.

"You didn't know?" my friend Muriel asked when I told her about the party.

"See, there's this whole Lena Horne thing going on..."

"Oh, yep, yeah, I get it, she said." (Muriel is black.) "I had an uncle and it was twenty-three years before I realized he was a Negro."

So I dove in, shaking hands and introducing myself, feeling a little bit like I had gate-crashed a family affair. I was also picking up on a serious white-collar vibe (I later found out that there were more than a few doctors in the family), so I also felt a little rough around the edges.

I found a bathroom, and when I stepped from it onto the enclosed porch and looked down at the swimming pool, I saw him. My heart jumped.

I went to the yard and approached him. He came over.

"That's Buster," said a young man as I scratched the dog's ears. "He's fifteen."

Buster was a Shih-Tzu who'd had his hair cut for the event. I began to talk to the man, and discovered that he was a cousin of G's, and the farm was a family property, had belonged to the grandfather and been passed down.

"There's an orchard of apple and peach trees over there," the man pointed.

"For real?"


I was off, walking through rows and rows of fruit trees. Heaven. I'd worn casual slides with chunky soles, and occasionally they would twist, and I'd flail out to the side. I imagine that to anyone watching from the house I looked like I was suddenly possessed by Jerry Lewis.

I returned to the house and sat at a patio table with some elderly women. They were lovely and charming and welcome, and I began to feel like part of the family. Soon I was having a talk with great-aunt Helen, who was diabetic. I kept her Diet Pepsi filled, which made her happy. Of course, I was also getting my fruit punch at the same time. One aunt saw me and said, "Be careful. There is a LOT of alcohol in that, and you can't tell." Now, I'm a lightweight, so I can always tell, and I didn't think there was anything strong about the drink at all. Until I got up for aunt Helen's third DP and almost sat in her lap. Whoa, that was one stealth drink.

Helen educated me on the pros and cons of Ambien while aunt Renee had some great stories about her days working for Pan Am, including working at the actual Pan Am building in New York, escaping from Beirut during the war, and her husband's affair with a stewardess.

G and her husband finally showed. We chatted briefly, then G went to mingle and I went back to the aunts and had a great time. A cousin took photos and wanted me in a bunch of them, including one with the bride ("Kiss her on the cheek! Perfect!")

Food and beverages had been served all day by a catering staff, but I had to leave before the main buffet was served in the front yard. Things were running much later than I'd thought, and I was worried about traffic. I was making my goodbyes when a great-uncle grabbed me.

"I'm Bill! You look like a really nice person and I'm going to give you a hug!" He crushed me to his chest while his wife, leaning on her walker, gave me a long-suffering smile as if to say, "I'm sorry; he does this. There's nothing I can do."

"Roller Coaster of Love" came on, we discovered a mutual love for the Ohio Players, and then it was time for me to pry myself out of Bill's grip and head home.

Traffic was bad around Hammond, so it was a good thing I'd given myself some time. Now if only G can manage a way for me to marry into the family....

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