My eldest younger sister recently announced her engagement. She then quickly announced her wedding date, shortly pursued by the wedding itself. The whole process didn’t leave a lot of room for your classic wedding traditions, like bridal showers or planning an actual ceremony.
This arrangement was perfectly fine by me. As a dude of the male gender, my philosophy regarding family weddings is to stay out of the way beforehand, show up looking mighty fine, and leave before it’s time to clean up the aftermath. Being the only son – and the oldest – in a gaggle of sisters, there was plenty of girl-enthusiasm to take up any slack.
But about six days before The Day, the bride tested my dedicated lack of involvement. That’s when my sister – let’s call her “Mrs. Payne,” because that is her new name – bestowed me with a Wedding Responsibility. She asked me to give a toast.
Now don’t get me wrong – of all the Responsibilities being doled out in Mrs. Payne’s waning days of spinsterhood, giving a toast was the one for me. I may not be the numero uno choice for finding a caterer, or booking a photographer, or bearing the rings, or planning a bachelor party, or keeping quiet during the rehearsal. But I sure know how to whip up a piece of writing on short notice.
Crafting the perfect toast would be a piece of wedding cake. All I really had to do was figure out what I wanted to say about my sister – something deeply meaningful and heartfelt, while at the same time sincerely mortifying. And what I wanted to say about her fiancé, Mr. Payne, whom I had met only once, and that while he had altitude sickness and too much green chile in his Tennessee belly. And about weddings and marriages in general, despite being myself neither wedded nor married. And keep it quick and punchy, all while discovering a unifying theme to hold the whole thing together.
All those tasks are what I do best. So I did the other thing I do best: I opened myself to receive true inspiration whenever it struck. And I know better than to rush inspiration. So I did not even put pen to paper, lest I frighten off the skittish muses.
I stayed wide open during the drive to Albuquerque for the event. I remained receptive while all my other sisters’ boyfriends worked to prepare the venue, leaving my dad and me free to take a long bike ride, far far away. I made myself an empty vessel for bright ideas while taking the soon-to-be brother-in-law, Mr. Payne, out for beers.
By bedtime the night before the wedding, I knew I was on the right track. I had a beginning. It went like this:
“I’d like to propose a toast.”
Classy. Solid. Nothing elaborate or intricate. My audience would know precisely the purpose of my oration, which is an outcome they probably teach you in public speaking classes.
I brushed my teeth, mulling over second lines. I texted our sister Kara to see if maybe the muses had mistakenly visited her instead of me. And then – like a burning bush plummeting out of heaven – inspiration struck for the next bit:
“To my little sister—”
Yes! I could address the toast directly to the bride and groom! Oh ho ho, I was made in the shade. The rest would flow like wine from a wine box.
To my memory, the rest of the night is a whirlwind of eraser dust and exhaustion. But before dawn, I had a toast:
“To my little sister: I always knew you could be a pain with a capital P. And now you’ve made it official. Congratulations.
“And to Mr. Payne: I always wanted a brother. But my parents, whom I love anyway, failed to give me one in four valiant attempts. I look forward to getting to know you better, and finding out what’s so great about fart wars, really.”
And then I said some stuff about love and support, and cultivating your own happiness, blah blah blah, it’s not important because I didn’t get all emotional while reading it and I totally didn’t even cry so what’s it to you.
Ultimately, my one Responsibility was a success, because no one even remembers what I said. After all, people only remember the things you muck up at a wedding. And it turned out that I was way ahead of the game with my midnight writing. Mrs. Payne wrote up her vows that morning, when she had nothing else to do besides hair and makeup and cry and redo makeup and keep her dress unwrinkled. Whereas I, unburdened, was free to think about maybe finally shopping for my wedding clothes.
This Fool’s Gold originally appeared in The Durango Telegraph and Four Corners Free Press.