My Sister Gets Married

Voice Card  -  Volume 15  -  John Card Number 6  -  Sat, Jul 21, 1990 08:20 PM

An EYEWITNESS account of THE WEDDING OF THE CENTURY including selected adventures with Zoey the Atomic Physicist...

Months before the vows were due to be taken, newspapers across the state were already calling it the wedding of the century. It's not every day that a (locally) prominent TV journalist marries an up-and-coming legislator, in an election year and just after the 100th anniversary of Idaho statehood. Over a thousand people were invited including Governor Andrus, the Congressional Delegation, various Supreme Court Judges, half the legislature and most of the press corps. Since I had other duties to perform, Roger was summoned as the special envoy representing Archipelago.

The festivities were scheduled to last for THREE DAYS at a luxurious dude ranch high in the rugged Sawtooth Mountains. The Boise Symphony String Quartet would be there and my sister had arranged to have a fancy carpet leading down a flight of stairs and into a meadow. To make her entrance even more challenging, she selected a wedding gown with a full train. There was much speculation (and prenuptial wagering) as to whether or not it was possible to make it down the stairs without tripping, tearing, snagging, or in some other way violating the solemn nature of the procession. And would it rain? Would there be clouds of mosquitoes? Would a fight break out between the Democrats and the Republicans? Would there be enough liquor for the journalists?

A week before the ceremony, guests began arriving from as far away as London and Tokyo. Some of these accumulated in Idaho Falls, and it was my special privilege to welcome Zoey the Atomic Physicist. One of my first (and most challenging) pre-wedding assignments was to show her around Idaho Falls all day long on the 4th of July while simultaneously keeping her entertained.

Since this was also the Idaho Centennial, there was an unusual number of hobbit-like festivities: parades, freshly washed tractors, potato queen beauty pageants, wild west shoot-outs, etc. But Zoey was immediately attracted to a mini amusement park which featured a mechanical monster of a sort one would expect to find only in the bottom-most pits of Hell, a fiendish contraption with an ominous name: THE OCTOPUS.

I tried to distract her with cotton candy and ferris wheel rides, but to no avail. Zoey made it clear from the start that the Octopus was the only feature of Idaho Falls that offered the slightest chance of genuine amusement, and she made it equally clear that a REAL man would not hesitate to accompany her. I tried to explain that I had not been on that ride for over twenty years, and had taken a solemn vow never to do so again, but it was no use. I was already under her spell; my meager powers of reason were no match for her formidable arsenal of feminine charms. In short, I allowed myself to be lured into the very arms of the Octopus.

As the grinning, hunchbacked attendant strapped us into one of the eight canisters, I began to have serious misgivings. One of the most disturbing things about carnival rides is that there is NO ESCAPE. Once the infernal engine springs to life there is no stopping it. If you realize that you have made a grave error and wish to disembark, no one will hear your request to STOP. And if you scream at the top of your lungs "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE GET ME OUT OF HERE!" the attendant will only goose the machine further.

Slowly at first, but with increasing vigor, the arms of the Octopus began to spin. I suppose from an engineering standpoint it's all rather interesting. Not only do the canisters spin around like chunks of lumber in a tornado, they also rise high in the air and then all too suddenly plunge earthward. It is this plunging motion that most efficiently separates a man and his lunch, and I soon began to regret the cotton candy I had just eaten, now hovering precariously halfway between my stomach and my clenched teeth.

I was in severe pain at this point, but still more or less in control of my faculties. I was desperately reviewing everything I had ever read about motion sickness, and wondering what Kung Fu would do in a situation like this. And then our canister began doing something MOST unpleasant, something I had not anticipated.

Zoey, you will remember, is a physicist and thus has rather a deeper insight than have I into the workings of things that spin. Unfortunately for me, she also possesses a cast iron stomach and a distinctly malevolent set of impulses, the result, no doubt, of a sinister and violent childhood. At any rate, she shifted her weight somehow, and to my horror, our cannister began to spin like a centrifuge, or to be more precise, like a blender INSIDE a centrifuge.

"But weren't you already spinning?" you might ask. Yes! Like a flywheel! But in addition to this PRIMARY spinning, there now began a much more deadly SECONDARY spinning, in a fashion unmatched by any of the other canisters. And of course we were still rising and PLUNGING as well. The resulting sensation, I fear, goes beyond mere words. Nausea, after all, is essentially a one-dimensional concept, whereas my stomach was by now well acquainted with all THREE spatial dimensions.

An awareness began to grow in a dim corner of my mind that Zoey was actually CAUSING this "extra" spinning. It is not easy trying to communicate through clenched teeth while inside a human blender that is free falling inside a gigantic spinning centrifuge (especially when the blender is set to "Purée"), but I managed to gasp "I don't like it when it does that." Zoey's response? "Wheeeeeeeeee!"

In less time than it would take a dentist to perform a complete root canal operation, the ride was over. It was rather embarrassing being carried through the turnstyle, especially since the occupants of the other seven canisters were yawning and popping bubble gum, but somehow I made it. I insisted that we try a new ride called "the tree." This ride consisted of Zoey sitting under a tree while I lay down with my head in her lap. This much more pleasant ride continued until, at last, the tree stopped spinning.

And then it was off to the races. As Paul will testify, I have become rather attached to our local horse racing arena, but Zoey grew up around Belmont and Aqueduct and could scarcely conceal her amusement at our quaint little track. She was especially amused to hear the traditional trumpet call coming over the loudspeakers from a record player. I explained that sometimes, when business was slow, the bartender would come out and blow the trumpet himself, but this failed to impress her. After a half dozen races and a half dozen dollars, we left for a surprisingly tasty dinner, and then the annual fireworks display, and then an evening stroll.

But I digress...

The next day, our bags packed and our tuxedos rented, we all set out. One caravan left Idaho Falls heading west while another left Boise heading east. Our road led through the twisted remains of an ancient lava flow, across a high desert plateau, through Sun Valley, and then up over Galena Summit and into the heart of the Sawtooth Mountains. The sky was that deep, almost purple color one sees at high altitudes, with nary a cloud. And snow glistened on the peaks high above the Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch as the two caravans converged.

We had assembled all available Cartans, indeed pretty much all of the relatives there were to assemble, but this was hardly enough to match even the innermost core of the Hansen clan. I should explain that these Hansens are a huge, extended, political family, Idaho's version of the Kennedys. We were not, however, allowed to use the word "Kennedy," as most Hansens are conservative Republicans (they agreed in return not to use the word "Sununu"). Fortunately, Joanie's husband-to-be, Jim, was part of the renegade Democratic branch of the family.

The patriarch of the Hansen clan, Orval Hansen, is a scholar and a former United States Congressman, currently a power broker in Washington D.C. His quiet manner is in direct contrast to the eccentric exuberance of his wife June, an English actress who still performs regularly and recently won the Helen Hayes award. She could be seen sweeping through the crowds in a sweatshirt that read "London Paris Rome Boise" (with a tiny Big Ben, an Eiffel Tower, a Coliseum, and a Potato).

The Hansens have five daughters and two sons, all of them idealistic and religious, but each selecting a different denomination. Jim is the eldest son; his brother John had just been married the previous weekend. Of the five sisters, I like Katherine the best; although we are poles apart religiously and politically, I recognize her as a fellow idealist (and enjoy her southern drawl). But all five sisters were charming and friendly. And these seven are the mere tip of the Hansen iceberg.

All in all, quite a throng; we completely engulfed the I.R.M.R. with its dozen cabins and huge central lodge. I had been rather skeptical of this whole three day party business, but I now see that it was a great way for two families to get to know each other.

The first major event, a very poorly kept secret, was scheduled for that very evening: a bachelorette party down by the natural hot water pool. After all the womenfolk disappeared, the young men gathered in the main lodge and grimly resolved to give them an hour or so and then crash the party. This gang of ruffians consisted of the groom, a lawyer and state legislator, his brother, just appointed assistant district attorney, two groomsmen, both lawyers, my cousin Dave, in his third year at Berkeley Law School, and yours truly. Not much of a threat. After a very feeble and disinterested war council, I suggested that instead of trying to disrupt the women's bacchanal, we should just draw up some papers and have them served.

But this scheme was voted down and replaced with a charge that involved a few war whoops and cannonballs into the pool. This accomplished, there was much splashing and a lively exchange of opinions on diverse matters all under an almost full moon. (Zoey later complained that it was all MUCH more fun before the men arrived.)

The next morning we all drifted in and out of the dining room for breakfast. Under normal circumstances, I am opposed to breakfast, having rarely encountered one that was worth getting up for, but these morning meals at the ranch were for me an almost religious experience. Imagine a table full of freshly picked berries, freshly baked blueberry muffins, plate sized pancakes, and a variety of exotic meat and egg dishes. We all grazed like cattle.

On this day various itineraries were offered, some for the faint of heart, some for the most courageous. Katherine, sounding very much like Joan of Arc, was in charge of the courageous group, and I agreed to follow her and a hearty band of hikers up to one of the highest nearby alpine lakes. There were seven altogether, three from the groom's side, four from the bride's, and after a spectacular day up and down, fording a stream, throwing snowballs in July, and sharing cookies on a cliff while tiny icebergs floated below us, we were all bosom buddies.

Zoey, meanwhile, received her very first horseback ride. She told me that there were cameras snapping from all directions, as the westerners eagerly waited for the girl from New Jersey to fall off or entertain them in some other way. But after the Octopus, "Shasta" made for a pretty tame ride.

We all returned in time for the wedding rehearsal. The ceremony was more elaborate than I had anticipated, downright complicated in spots, and with furrowed brows and nervous giggles, the bridesmaids all practiced going up and down the rickety stairs in high heels. I was set to open the ceremony by escorting my grandmother and great aunt down the aisle, and so, using two attractive young women as surrogate grandmas, we went up and down the stairs doing Las Vegas style high kicks, much to the consternation of Father Mike.

Then came the sumptuous rehearsal dinner, a western style barbeque with all the trimmings. Afterwards, on the veranda, we all gathered round to hear a series of toasts. The father of the groom began with a long and eloquent speech about two great houses coming together, an historic union, a marriage that would take root and send branches out in all directions, ultimately making the world a better place. My father, who had not been forewarned that he was required to make a counter-toast, stood and said that he hoped that Joanie's marriage would be as long and successful as his own had been. Then there was another eloquent and moving toast from the best man, and then the maid of honor burst into tears, but one of the Hansen sisters rushed to her side and read a funny poem called "The Sisters Five" in which all five sisters welcomed Joanie to the throng and offered to help her complete Jim's "training." And so, amidst laughter and tears, we all drifted into our beds and awaited the fateful day.

The next morning dawned fair and perfect, just as all the others had. But now there was definite change in the social atmosphere, an increase in activity and a new sense of purpose. Various people could be seen scurrying in and out of the lodge carrying containers of one sort or another, each on a different mission. Command central was set up in one of the rooms of the lodge. It was here that my sister's enormously complex costume was built from the ground up, while she stood somewhere inside, surrounded by a hive of anxious female attendants, many of whom had been drinking heavily the night before.

At one point I was ordered to carry in a stack of coolers filled with flowers, and then dismissed. A little later I was summoned to help with the inflation of innumerable balloons, and dismissed once again. A great yellow and white canopy sprung up next to the veranda. The musicians arrived in a van. Chairs appeared down in the meadow and the infamous carpet was unfurled and cascaded down the stairs just as it was supposed to.

At last my sister was wheeled out into the lobby. It took four or five minions to move her from one place to another, but she seemed unconcerned, almost anesthetized. The photographer began issuing orders; my sister would be wheeled into place and then various permutations and subsets of the wedding party were led into position, immortalized on film, and dismissed.

The guests began to arrive, first a trickle and then a flood. There was some consternation about the lack of open kegs; apparently an executive decision had been made that the kegs would not be opened until AFTER the ceremony. The governor arrived, his voice hoarse after ten straight days of campainging. Inside the lodge, a great table filled to the ceiling with wedding gifts. Zero hour was fast approaching. The guests began to take their seats. My shoes were killing me.

A hush fell over the crowd as the priests appeared in full regalia followed by the groom and his best man. They crossed the meadow and stood waiting at the foot of the stairs. The music began in earnest as the wedding party proceeded solemnly down the stairs, first me and our two senior guests of honor, the two groomsmen, one with the mother of the groom, the other with the mother of the bride, then the two bridesmaids, and then the maid of honor. The crowd held its breath; we were all safely down and seated.

And then my father appeared with my sister on his arm. She was now operating almost entirely under her own power, and glided down the steps without a hitch. Then began a complex series of ritualistic incantations. At one point I got up to read a poem. And then Katherine read something from the Bible. The couple knelt and all could see that the groom was wearing his best cowboy boots.

And then there was a big kiss and it was done. The various participants exited in much the same way they had entered, the kegs were opened, the champaign began to flow, and the rigid order of the ceremony gave way to a pleasant chaos. A buffet was spread out underneath the yellow canopy, and there was much toasting and chatting and chewing, and the constant cricket sound of shutters closing in hundreds of cameras, all melding into a warm summer buzz beneath the silent majesty of the Sawtooth Mountains. It was the only wedding I've ever been to at which nothing went wrong. It was flawless.

Later that afternoon, the bouquet was tossed, and then the garter, and then the garter catcher got to put the garter onto the leg of the bouquet catcher, and then the newlyweds rushed back down the stairs in a hail of ecologically sound birdseed and sped away.

The reception was still in full swing, but I managed to convince Zoey to slip away with me, her in her finest dress, me in tuxedo and sneakers, and we had a fine dinner in Sun Valley (accidentally spotting the elusive newlyweds in the process), and spent a little time alone before returning to the ranch. Eventually we wound up floating in the pool under the now full moon, with the Salmon river whispering in the distance and shooting stars flashing like fireworks overhead.

All that was left to do the next morning was to say goodbye a thousand different times and scatter ourselves to the wind. There was much hugging and waving and cars leaving one by one. My final memory of the ranch is seeing my father leaning against the desk in the lobby, with pale skin and trembling hands, signing one check after another. It took several more days to say goodbye to everyone, but Zoey was all too soon back in New Jersey.

In closing, I would like to include the brief poem I read at the wedding, by the great American poet, Robert Frost. Finding the right poem was far more difficult than I had imagined; I am forever grateful to Stuart for finding this one for me. (If you haven't extended the text field already, you may as well do it now)...

The Silken Tent
by Robert Frost

She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when a sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To everything on earth the compass round,
And only by one's going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.