Monterey was beautiful last Monday.
I know because I was there with my new wife, Loretta, to throw a bouquet of flowers into the ocean. And while that seems a curious thing to do, it’s actually a tradition. Here’s what I mean:
I’m Irish – well, American actually. After coming to this country and starting a family Dad drummed it into us that we were American and should remember that. But since Dad passed away I think I slip a bit sometimes.
Anyway, my point is this, I’m American and, as such, most of my traditions are American – like the 4th of July and Thanksgiving. But because my roots are in Irish culture I hold some of their traditions as well.
And one of those traditions has to do with why the bouquet is sometimes not thrown at an Irish wedding.
But wait – I’m not telling the story right. Even though I’ve started at the beginning, I need to tell you the end first. The end of the story is this: Loretta and I got married three weeks ago at City Hall, in San Francisco.
The architecture there is stunning, and because San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities we know, it was the right place for us. We’d come into the city the day prior to take a room at the Hotel Majestic – a storied old structure that predates the big quake of 1906.
From there we met my brother Brian – my best man – in North Beach. As luck would have it that was St. Patrick’s Day but, as anyone familiar with North Beach knows, we were in the Italian part of town. Brian shepherded us toward a hopping little joint he knows called Sodini’s – but when we got to the Italian bar and restaurant the sign on the door said “Closed for a private party”.
Brian, being Brian, pulled someone aside – words, nods and knowing glances were exchanged – and then the door opened wide for us to step inside. The rest of the evening was spent eating, drinking, dancing and singing – and a finer bachelor/ette party I cannot recall. And though it might sound unconventional for the Irish to spend St. Paddy’s in North Beach, it’s okay – we were all Italian that night.
The next morning, the day of our wedding, Loretta and I rose early – earlier than usual – for coffee. It had been a late night but neither of us could continue sleeping through our excitement. We made our way down pre-dawn streets to the coffee shop as we spoke in anticipation of the amazing day to come.
Later, as a taxi took us from our hotel to City Hall for the ceremony, Loretta and I snapped photos of ourselves in the back of the cab like a couple of silly kids. It had been a long time since either of us had been in this kind of love, or headed for this kind of ceremony.
As we stood atop the majestic staircase in City Hall, and looked into each other’s eyes, and recited our vows of commitment, and considered the life we were about to embark on, I felt a calmness I had not felt in a very long time.
And that calmness surprised me a little. I’ve held the title of “married” before – but it didn’t end well. And isn’t it funny that we can judge a thing in our memory according to how it ended? What I found over the coming days was that I liked being married – a lot. And somehow I had forgotten that. It took quite a woman to get me back to a place of remembering.
And as this woman, who was holding her bouquet, stood in City Hall talking to my sisters – now her sisters – one of them told her of an old Irish custom. According to the custom, the bride’s bouquet is not thrown to the women of the wedding; rather it’s placed on the grave of the bride or groom’s deceased parent.
Loretta loved the idea when she heard it – and asked if we could do that with my Father’s grave since she’d not had the chance to ever meet him. Sure I said, but there’s a hitch: Since we had Dad’s remains cremated he’s not, well, in just one place – which, if you knew my wandering Dad, would make perfect sense.
Dad’s ashes are – how shall I say – here and there. There’s some on a hill overlooking his last home, and there’s some in a field below his first home. There’s some in a grave plot beside the chapel in his village in Ireland.
And some were cast into a beautiful stretch of azure water beside a path way that he and Mom once traversed. They’d often take quiet walks there and enjoy the company of the one they’d pledged their commitment to.
And it was this little stretch of water that Loretta and I visited last week.
We stood on a small bluff above the water and the rocks, and after my new wife spoke lovely words – tinged with a little regret of not having met old Jerry Gavin – she threw part of her wedding bouquet into the surf. A swirling eddy of seawater caught it, and it was soon escorted quickly out of sight.
That brings me back to the beginning of my story – throwing flowers. And the end was a lovely wedding.
But how stories begin and end is seldom the really fascinating part. It’s usually the middle that holds the real payoff – but this time, the middle comes last. Because here I am now, in the middle of a new life – with a new purpose and a new wife. And it now occurs to me that marriage is perhaps one of our most important traditions – American, Irish, or otherwise.
It’s an interesting word, “Tradition”. It comes from the Latin tradere – which literally means to transmit, or hand over, for safe keeping. And so I have handed myself over to Loretta, and she has handed herself over to me.
And I think when we handed some flowers over to old Jerry Gavin we might just have been asking him to do a little safe keeping for the both of us.