Twenty years ago, my life changed forever.
I woke up and started the day much as I have for most of my adult life – by taking my Brown Girl for a walk. I’ve had a few furry friends over the years, but all of them have been the same loyal companions day in and day out. There is something wonderfully grounding in starting the day with a creature that stays by your side and loves you no matter what.
From that early and ordinary start, my day would be like no other I had. It was to be full of symbols, however. I felt linked through time to so many moments in history, so many places in time. Wedding days are rife with symbols.
I’ll admit, I geeked out on traditions that exemplified the spirit of a happy wedding. I had my “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” I looked up the tradition behind certain flowers and I wanted good omens, positive vibes, moments to connect the day.
We got married on the same day as my parents. I wore my mom’s dress. My dad and I walked down the aisle to “As Time Goes By” from Casablanca, and Sleepless in Seattle. I was so proud to walk with my dad, as his health had not been good at all and I was grateful he was there to hand his princess over to the next guy taking care of her.
My mom carried daisies, just as she did on her day. I even had my cousin throw confetti down her dress after the ceremony, just as he did all those years ago. (He was only 3, and was disappointed he missed throwing his handful with the adults as my parents left the church. She bent down for him just before she got in the car, and he tossed it right down her dress. I remembered her showing me the envelope of it, one day as she was reminiscing.)
We incorporated personal symbols too. Our first connection, our first date, was with our dogs. It was important they be a part of our celebration, so they played key roles in the ceremony. His Doberman was our ring bearer, walking with my stepdaughter down the aisle; my Chocolate Lab was my flower girl, led by my goddaughter.
My hubby had no one from back east able to come out to Vancouver. We had a picture of his mom on a reserved seat right up front, in her honour. His best friend was busy with young kids. His sister was moving that weekend in Montreal. And yet he was all about me having time with my people.
- My longest-standing girlfriend came all the way from Ghana with her family so she could be my Matron of Honour and her daughter (my goddaughter) could be a bridesmaid. She brought a coin for me to carry in my shoe as a token of good fortune.
- my best girlfriend in Canada designed T-shirts for our family to wear that weekend, and delivered them personally from Calgary.
- all my aunts and uncles were there (it turned out to be the last time that my dad would be with all of his siblings)
Everything was done outside, at Brock House in Point Grey, Vancouver. Thankfully Mother Nature was kind and we had a pleasant day. We didn’t spend money on a photographer as we were keeping expenses low, but a friend took a beautiful group shot and my dad thankfully couldn’t resist snapping a few frames. This was before the days of smart phones – we had Instamatic cameras for guests to be put out on the tables, but no one remembered to do that. (I didn’t have a wedding planner, either.)
Dancing was another big part of our life, and our wedding. Hubbie and his daughter did a lovely cha-cha, and my dad and I danced to the Platters. For our dance together, I changed into the dress I was to wear on our destination wedding in Jamaica (I wore it there 13 years later).
It all went by too fast. I remember moments, but wish there were more. A few people had to leave before I had much of a chance to chat with them. And of course Hubbie and I hardly had anything to eat. The buffet looked lovely, though.
We did get some cake, and we took the remainder back to the hotel and had some at midnight. I wish there were more photos of that cake – the best one we have was when it was in our fridge before the wedding, as Hubbie decorated it.
Our wedding day didn’t go quite as planned. Neither did much of the twenty years that followed – we learned very quickly to roll with the punches the Universe threw at us. There were hard times, and sad times, and plenty of happy times too. The best part, the part for which I am most grateful, is that we had each other throughout all of it.
I am so very fortunate. I have a soulmate. My guy is someone who committed twenty years ago to stick it out with me, and he has been true to his word. I had no idea then just how much I could love him for it. I’m beginning to get an idea now.
Not to mention… boy, have I had a lot of great cake!
*One final note: For anyone reading this who has yet to be married, here are my top tips:
- If you don’t hire a wedding planner, get someone reliable who isn’t in your wedding party to be your point person for the day and keep things on track.
- Tell your photographer the shots you want – people and moments you want to have pictures of. Then tell them they need to stay on time with the schedule, so your guests aren’t kept waiting.
- Make yourself a “bucket list” of moments for the day with your partner (each and together) and keep it handy on your day – a hug from Granny, a moment just the two of you, etc.
- Don’t try and include everything in one day – it’s impossible. If you have the luxury, spread the festivities over a few days. If not, go back to your bucket list to narrow it down.
- Stop, at least twice during the day and just breathe. Take it all in, and be grateful.
Ninteen years ago today, I got up with my best pal and went for a coffee. It was a big day, and she knew it. After all, she had been a big reason for the day being so important. If it hadn’t been for her, I might not have embarked on one of the best decisions of my life.
We had a glorious walk in Stanley Park to start the day, and later she sat beside me as I wrote my vows. That afternoon she was there too, all decked out, as I set out to form a new life. I’m so glad she was there. One always wants one’s best friends to be a part of momentuous occasions as well as everyday life.
You see, my best friend enabled me to get a first date with the man who would be my husband. We did a double date, us two girls with him and his best friend. I knew right then there was something special between us. We all stayed close and became a kind of family for many years.
Today I have another best pal, as the one from all those years ago is gone now, but her spirit lives on. We walk every morning, and most evenings too. She reminds me every day to stop and smell the flowers, take in the moments that make life special. She listens to my ramblings and supports me through thick and thin.
Can you guess who I’m speaking about? It’s my Chocolate Labrador Retrievers. The one from nineteen years ago was named Satchmo, as she was a great singer of the blues and a lover of life. Her successor is Ella, the queen of jazz (and a friend of Satchmo’s in another life). Both of them have been the best companions anyone could ask for, and they helped me to be a better person.
Satchmo was the dog I had when I met my hubbie. He had a wonderful Doberman Pinscher named Paul (after Paul Simon – do you see a theme with our pet names?)
Our first date was to take our dogs for a walk, something that immediately endeared me to this man who seemed an unlikely candidate to hook up with for the long term.
His dog was very well-trained, as they both went to school to learn about training assistance dogs for people in wheelchairs. I was told to hold a chestnut in my hand for a while on the walk and then Hubbie threw it in the bushes down the slope to the beach. “Find it!”, he said to his Dobie.
Paul leaped over the edge of the slope and crashed his way through the brush. When we reached the bottom of the hill we saw his trotting back towards us, looking very proud. He sat ramrod straight in front of us. “Thank you”, said Hubbie, with his hand out. Paul spit out the chestnut, which had been marked with an x for verification. How impressed was I?!
It took almost 3 years for us to tie the knot, going through the trials and tribulations of life along the way. But our dogs were there with us – I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
When Satchmo went blind from a congenital defect at age 8, Paul helped her walk straight by nudging her on the sidewalk and he protected her in the park when we saw other dogs. They became soulmates just like Hubbie and me.
And now, almost 22 years after that first afternoon walk, having shared memories across the country and back with two more dogs and a little girl who is now married, we are still going.
I am so fortunate to have experienced so much love. Even more fortunate to have found my soulmate with whom to share all that love. But more than anything, I am grateful for the Brown Girls in my life – they have taught me how to love and live well, and given me more love (and laughter) than I could ever have imagined.
There is an old Harry Nillson song called “Me and my Arrow”, from a movie called The Point. I remember the tale and the song, every morning as I walk. I try to cherish those friendships appropriately.
Here’s to living the life your dog expects of you.