On Luxury, fine dining, and my aunt and uncle’s fairy-tale ending…
I have been to quite a few weddings in my life. I am familiar with the uncomfortable looking dresses, the crunchy hair styles, the tears of joy, and the drunkenness. I have stood on tip-toe to see the bride and groom kiss on the altar. I have twisted and turned on dimly lit dance floors. But none of my previous experiences diving to catch bouquets could prepare me for my uncle’s wedding in New York City.
When my uncle, Mike, left our tiny village of Saint Anthony, Minnesota, we knew he wasn’t gone for good. He left behind his ten older brothers and sisters to become a corporate big-shot, as my grandma would say, working on Wall-Street and later moving to Boston to attend graduate school at Harvard. He moved away when he was twenty-five and I, his oldest niece, was twelve. To this day, he opens up his mailbox four or five times a year to find a fat envelope containing a letter from me and each of my five siblings and my mom. He always responds to us each individually. “Congrats on the new job, Carolyn…Don’t let your sisters drive you crazy, JP. I know mine did…Tommy, I love the comic strips that you drew, but I don’t quite understand them.” Whenever he comes to visit, he pretends that he knows exactly what is going on in my life and asks to hear about it. Like my classes, friends, cross country team, and job truly interest him. I can’t leave anything out or he will say, “You have a boyfriend now! Why didn’t you put that in the letter?” For the record, Mike still says that my letters are the best out of all of my siblings.
When I met Allison with her cascading dark curls and her contagious laugh, she was immediately the coolest aunt-to-be ever. She shook my hand, looked me in the eye, and said, “You must be Lizzie, the one who is going St. Thomas just like your uncle Mike did as an undergrad.” She then proceeded to name off all five of my younger siblings in order and some quality about each one. “Anne is the one who knits scarves. Do you have any red ones in stock?” “There’s Tommy with his signature puppy and blankie.” “Wait, that’s only five, where’s James, the tall one?” Mike explained that he made Allison a spread sheet of all his family members and several aspects of their personality, so she could keep straight his ten siblings and their spouses and children. How corporate of them. Allison charmed and frightened my family. We had never met someone so well-dressed, so drop-dead gorgeous, and so utterly successful in every aspect of life. She is the only person who can beat Mike in a game of Monopoly. She is perfect for him.
I did not believe that I would be able to attend the wedding. I was bracing myself for the college debt to come. New York was out of the question. That’s when Allison and Mike came for a visit. My sisters, Anne and Carolyn, and I had written letters about our recent successes at state speech. Allison and Mike asked to hear our speeches saying that whoever gave the best speech would receive a special prize. This was not uncommon; those two speak competition as a language. Besides, Allison brought a box of mini cupcakes, which must be the “special prize,” right? We each performed, and then they turned to each other and turned to my mom exchanging smiles. Allison had a sneaky expression; “The prize is that we are taking one of you to New York City for the wedding!” What? My mouth fell open, speechless, just like a cartoon character. I really wanted to go to that wedding. Also, how mean was it to base such high stakes off a competition with my own sisters? Especially without telling me the prize before-hand. I would have tried harder. Then Mike and Allison’s serious expressions gave out. “We’re kidding. All three of you get come.” That’s my jaw really became unhinged. Who are these generous weirdoes?
When we received our invitation in the mail, it didn’t come in an envelope. It came in a box. On the box was a wax seal impressed with the initials, A and M. Inside the box was a carefully constructed fairytale book. Paper colored a deep purple was bound together by a stick and gold ribbon. Later we would hear the story of Allison’s mom picking up sticks in New Jersey because where can you find sticks in the New York City? I carefully opened the book to reveal a story about a boy journeying to New York and meeting the girl of his dreams. “Once in a while, right in the middle of an ordinary life, love gives us a fairytale…”
November could not come soon enough. I told all my teachers that I would miss class about a month in advance. I debated my outfits for weeks. Mike emphasized the fact that I should dress well. On multiple occasions. What did he mean by that? Obviously, I’m going to dress well for a wedding. I decided to bring a selection of my favorite knee-length dresses that my friends approved of. My dad picked me up and took me to the airport.
First of all, trips with my family normally consist of squishing eight people into a minivan for twelve hours. Secondly, someone always gets carsick. This was not like that. Instead, I got to sit comfortably in my own seat on a steady airplane that brought us there in a timely three hours. I talked excitedly with Anne and Carolyn the whole way; “supposedly, Allison has two wedding dresses. How does that even work?” But, everything became silent as we approached massive skyscrapers that looked close enough to touch.
We arrived in New York City on Thursday afternoon. We walked into the Bedford hotel, which was the tallest and skinniest hotel I have ever seen. My mom had made sure to reserve the deluxe room with a kitchen to accommodate the five of us. Apparently, there was a bit of a language barrier. In New York the word deluxe translates to a futon squished in the corner and the word kitchen means a mini-fridge hidden inside the closet. My mom scratched her head; “I thought there would at least be a microwave.” A hotel guy knocked on our door to deliver a metallic golden bag from Mike and Allison. The card said, “Welcome to the Big Apple,” and inside were two giant chocolate and caramel covered apples with an apple themed cutting board. We munched on the sweet and sticky apples and chuckled at the elaborate gesture. That night, my sisters and I had total freedom to roam the city. My parents were going to the fancy rehearsal dinner. We turned down the street and started to wander to see what we could find. My sisters suggested the Chipotle down the street. “Look where you are!” I exclaimed gesturing to the buildings that blotted out the sky, “we are trying something new and that’s final.” We turned another corner. Alfonzo’s Lazagna. The food was delicious with smothering sauces and melting cheese and crackling bread. The dessert choice required no debating. “We will have the tiramisu,” Anne announced with an air of luxury accompanying the extravagant words. “Yes, Tiramisu would be lovely.” Sorry to say, the way that the three of us devoured that rich creamy dessert—fighting each other off with our forks—was dreadfully unlady-like.
The next day was the wedding. Allison and her bridesmaids were getting hair and makeup done in
the penthouse of the Plaza Hotel in the heart of New York City. Rumor has it that the wedding party checked in right after Lady Gaga checked out. The plan was for Allison to make a grand entrance down the hotel’s red staircase in her radiant wedding beauty for my uncle to behold for the first time that day. When Allison stepped through the doors to make her descent, she was already smiling widely and had tears glistening in her eyes. Mike was turned the other direction when Allison touched his arm. I’ll never forget the way he smiled when he turned and embraced her. It was a special smile that only occurs on wedding days. A smile that says, you are my perfect future, and I can’t wait to start my life with you.
They took pictures for hours. Everyone glowed from the inside out. Tourists started to congregate outside the courtyard and take pictures of their own. I think that they thought my uncle and his bride were some sort of celebrity couple due to the location and the grandeur. I wouldn’t be surprised if the name, Megan Fox, was suggested. Allison does have that gorgeous dark hair. Little did these tourists know that they were actually snapping photos of my uncle and soon-to-be aunt. My uncle who came from fly-over state. My uncle who used to babysit me and play capture the flag and do push-ups while balancing me on his back . My uncle who would yell “choke-slam!” when watching wrestling on TV. To me, he isn’t a celebrity. He’s my uncle Mike.
The hour of truth arrived. Beautiful people assembled inside the golden church on Park Avenue. Floor length dresses were everywhere. Red and gold and silver. The mother of the bride was dressed in a champagne colored ball gown and a delicately jeweled matching jacket. I looked down at my flimsy knee-length dress that was perfect for high school graduation but felt almost insulting to wear at an event of this caliber. Sorry Mike, you tried to warn me. I leaned over to my sisters and whispered, “I should have worn my old prom dress.” I wasn’t joking. Finally, the ceremony began. Music played. Professional photographers dashed silently across the floor like mice. Allison processed down the aisle followed by the long train of her gown. The two families appeared completely different, but it didn’t matter. Allison cried when she and Mike exchanged vows. So did my grandma. My little cousin held up a sign; “And they lived happily ever after.” All this occurred with the sounds of the hustle and bustle of New York City in the background.
A bright red trolley was waiting for us outside. I pulled my sisters to the uncovered second tier while Mike and Allison drove behind in an old-fashioned taxi cab. When we arrived, we were directed up the stairs to a balcony that overlooked the main hall. On the balcony was a full bar and about ten tables each with different appetizers. I tried shrimp, cream cheese stuffed peppers, bacon wrapped scallops, mini-pot pie, a tiny bowl of mac-n-cheese (even though that was probably intended for the kids), and what I assumed to be various Asian dumplings. Waiters were almost as multiple as guests taking glasses and refilling them with skilled precision. I yelled happy conversation with a couple of my relatives over the roar of festivities.
Down in the main hall, the tables were decorated with tree-like centerpieces with glass ornaments hanging from the branches and candle holders that were over three feet tall. There were gold sequined table cloths, floating candles, crystal plates, white draping curtains, and an array of white flowers, but the decoration that impressed me the most was on the dance floor. Allison and Mike’s initials appeared once again, this time written on the dance floor in light with some sort of hidden, high-tech, projection thing. My dad made sure to remind me a couple dozen times that my wedding is not going to remotely resemble this type of extravagance. “In fact, you might as well just elope,” my dad half-joked, “or become a nun.” Suddenly, the band started to play announcing that Mike and Allison were about to enter the hall. The wedding party assembled into two lines holding lit sparklers above their heads to welcome the newlyweds.
Dancing commenced. Salads were passed out. We ate, then we danced some more. The band was incredible. They played contemporary music with singing and choreography. One of my uncles commented that the evening felt like a concert that just so happened to have a wedding party in attendance. I ordered the salmon, which was served with mushroom, tiny garlic potatoes, and a lite creamy glaze. I ate every single bite. Thankfully, I resisted the urge to lick my crystal plate. My uncle Joe, Mike’s best man, got up to give a toast. He has been away, like Mike, for several years studying abroad in Italy to become a Catholic priest. By nature of his studies, he suddenly became an excellent public speaker surprising everyone in the family. He told stories about Mike’s childhood with twelve siblings: wearing patched hand-me-downs, finding fork marks in his food, dressing up in his older sisters dress-up clothes and heels. “He has gone from eating free hotdogs at the car dealership to fine New York dining. He has gone from wearing my sister’s cloppy shoes, as dad called them, to wearing whatever men in high society wear these days.” I looked at my grandpa who was wearing his superman bowtie. He was laughing with contented nostalgia.
Carolyn, Anne, and I explored the hall. We took silly pictures in the photo booth, sampled the home-dipped chocolate candy bar, tried to spot the source of the mysterious projector lights, and admired the proud displays of our grandparents wedding pictures until it was midnight: time for the after party. We went back up the stairs to the balcony where there was a Belgian waffle bar and a DJ. Bananas, strawberries, blueberries, chocolate chips, peanut butter, whipped cream. I wished I wasn’t already so full. Allison appeared in her second dress, a fun and flirty knee length version of the first, and I felt more at home. The party and the dancing continued throughout the night until we took a complementary taxi back to our hotel.
After the wedding, I had a few other New York City themed adventures; I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, climbed the Statue of Liberty, shopped on 5th Ave, and watched Mary Poppins on Broadway, which was incredible by the way. Then, I went back to the regular routine of school on Monday like nothing happened. But, something definitely did happen. I gained a new aunt, a new confidant, a new role model, a new member of my crazy family. I witnessed an important occasion in the lives of two people who are very special to me. No, I still don’t see them very often. However, I still send letters to their apartment in New York City where they are living happily ever after.