Just between me and the tree
All that time.
All that planning.
The pressure. The deadlines. The choosing. The tasting. The picking. The deciding. A year and a half of planning culminated in a nine hour celebration for the Millers of DePere and the Muellers of Hales Corners as our children became husband and wife.
This father of the bride tried absorbing as much of it as he could this past weekend, watching as all the moving pieces snapped into place and all of the key players hit their marks. "Will you cry?", the woman at the hotel asked me Saturday morning as I checked us in hours ahead of the mass. The very question had me tearing up, right there in the lobby. If I was THAT sensitive there and then, what would I be like with my daughter on my arm at the start of that walk down the aisle? What then of the welcoming toast, were dad is supposed to set the tone for the night while wearing his heart on his tuxedo sleeve?
Perspective came in wondrous ways. Seeing the joy in my girl's face as I saw her for the first time in her gown--tears were the furthest thing from my mind. Then came the gentle reminder as we guys were lining up, the groom's dad putting a band-aid on his son's freshly-cut thumb just moments before the biggest walk of their lives, as if this husband-to-be was still his five year old son. You never stop being a parent. Not then, Not ever.
Then, it was our turn.
I figured the tears would flow as the music would swell, but the realization hit me: all eyes are where they should be and this moment should LAST. A huge grin held off any waterworks and I kept muttering, "Slowly" as we sauntered to the altar. It was her day. She was the star of this walk and it should be a leisurely stroll. I tried to make it last as long as I could.
The ceremony. The pictures. The reception. All of it was a blur. There was one more thing for this old man to do--the welcoming toast, the one that I couldn't get through without busting up no matter how often I tried or where I practiced, be it behind the wheel, on the bike or delivering it to my wife's basement wine collection from the treadmill. Speaking in public isn't my strong suit on a good day, and the butterflies were condors as the DJ handed me the house mike.
The temperature of the room evaporated any potential tears. The warmth and joy among those gathered made it easy to speak happily of new life and old friends, of tonight's guests being tomorrow's resources for a couple that I'm sure are going to make a fantastic husband and wife. At least, that's what I THOUGHT I said. It still was an out-of-body moment and I'll have to see the video to make sure that got all of those pithy thoughts in.
The party rolled on, and Saturday night became Sunday morning. There were ham and rolls to pick up and a brunch to host for the new in-laws and others close to the happy couple. More laughs. More memories. Then, a fresh round of goodbyes and a kitchen to clean. I wrapped up as the kids took off to pack for their honeymoon and my wife napped. As I was closing the galley I happened up on a near-empty bottle of champagne. Just enough to fill a juice glass, the kind from which my kids used as soon as they were able to be weaned off their tippy cups.
I walked out on the deck and had a seat, facing the willow tree that served as silent witness to all that happened in our back yard over the past years of my daughter's life: the deck dinners, the graduation parties, the high school bonfires, the impromptu baseball/football games pitting kids against dad. It held the tire swing that we used to spend hours with, and stood not far from the play set that we'd abuse until dark.
It was then that the tears finally spilled forth. Just between me and the tree.