After another few hours on the road I safely arrived on the Ritsema Homestead on Monday afternoon. To celebrate the long awaited return of the favourite Ritsema offspring my mother invited the whole family over for dinner on the deck with barbequed pork chops, pasta salad, corn on the cob and for dessert cheese cake and ice cream. Mmmm. It was a short and sweet visit with my family but there was a promise that hung in there that I would see them again soon.
After a few days of rest on the Homestead I traveled on to Sauble Beach where the wedding of all weddings took place. Roll out the red carpet, lock up the children, and release the ducks, my beloved friend and old roommate, Andrew Stroud, got married! I arrived at his house on Wednesday night three days before the wedding ready for any task I could help out with. The first order of business was to embrace the groom to be in the biggest hug I could squeeze out and wish him all the blessing in the world. We gathered around the kitchen table and together with his parents and sister we fell into conversation, mostly about the wedding of course but we tossed in the odd story about days passed. Andrew and I were itching to get at the piano and sing together like we did in our university days and after the conversation died off we did just that. We sang for what seemed like hours going through all our favourites and trying our hand at some new ones. Sitting with Andrew on the piano bench singing and laughing is what I was looking forward to the most, one last sing along with Andrew before he becomes married.
Thursday was a hell of day. We all woke up at the crack of dawn and before I knew it I was thrown into the kitchen with Andrews sister Shannon as her and I put the finishing touches on the wedding cake. Shannon made an amazing lemon buttercream wedding cake that mirrored Andrew and his bride Alysha perfectly. It was s single tiered cake with four duck ponds all connected with hop-a-long rocks, reeds, water lilies and a pair of ducks. As Shannon and I slaved away in the kitchen elbow deep in butter, fondant, icing, sugar and lemon juice Andrew and his best man Ben took frequent naps, cleaned the house, ran around with door mats around their shoulders as capes, mulled over wedding details and tux arrivals. As Shannon put the last perfectly molded fondant rock in the duck pond we all jumped into the car, loaded up the cake and went to town to deliver the cake, pick up tuxes and one of the groomsmen Cabes. After a few more errands around town involving a stop at Tim Hortons for some much needed Tim Bits and coffee we returned the house to take care of more wedding details and to enjoy each others company and throw ourselves into frequent fits of laughter.
As the evening slowly turned into night and the house grew quiet Cabes, Ben, Andrew, and myself sprawled out on the living room couches talking about the good old days, chatting about our summers, and sharing plans for the near future. It felt so familiar to be with the boys again, having fellowship and growing in friendship with one another. It wasn’t long until the clock chimed bedtime and we sluggishly made our way to the basement. Like one big slumber party we sprawled out on the basement floor and furniture and after a few giggles we fell asleep.
Friday. The day before the wedding. We were woken up by the thick and joyful anticipation of the events that would unfold the following day and with the realization that Andrews wedding was 30 hours away and there was still plenty to do! I leaped out of bed and busied myself in the kitchen making pancakes for the family. I even caramelized some banana’s for an added pastry chef flair. After breakfast the boys and I sat out on the front porch watching the down pour of rain love on the trees and rich green growth surrounding the Stroud Family Homestead. We didn’t say anything to each other. We sat and absorbed the gentle whispers of rain on birch leaves and breathed in the sweet fresh wet air. Humming birds bravely darted between rain drops and drank from the feeder giving us some amusement. Andrew tapped away at the dance list, Ben was engulfed in a devotional, Cabes plunked away at his ukulele, and I scribbled in my journal. With the falling of rain so did the temperature and I scooted inside to make us all a round of hot chocolate. We all took a break and went inside to warm up and gather more to do lists for the day to come. Andrew and I rehearsed the song I was going to sing at the wedding a few times and as we all gathered out onto the front porch once again a bouncing and joyful car pulled up the driveway. More friends!! Kristen flew out of the car and ran up the walk way and jumped into our arms. Caleb quickly followed and we soon found ourselves in a bouncy, screaming, laughing, group hug. After getting our newest visitors settled into the basement we sat around the kitchen table telling stories, eating lunch, and laughing!
The rehearsal dinner was a rude slap in the face to all of us that Andrews wedding was really happening. How could this be? How could my dear friend Andrew be getting married? It didn’t seem real. We did a dry run of the wedding twice and helped decorate the church and then it was off to dinner at a quaint little restaurant called “The Kitchen.” The parents and aged folks sat at one long table and us young whipper snippers sat at another. We told embarrassing stories of Andrew and Alysha and ourselves and laughed, and laughed, and laughed.
Trying to catch a wink of sleep the night before the wedding was almost impossible. We were all happily tucked into our sleeping bags when Andrew got up and sat in the middle of the floor on a ten foot squared throw rug, wide awake, heart pounding excitedly. If the groom can’t sleep then none of us will. We all hopped out of our sleeping bags and huddled on the rug together whispering loudly and giggling trying to think of ways to relax. I decided to lead the group in a few yoga exercises to reverse the blood flow and energy. It was going very well and we all seemed to be relaxing until I led them into ‘table’ position, which is just standing on your hands and knees. Keep in mind there were eight adults on a ten foot squared throw rug trying to do yoga at 1:00am. It wasn’t long until the giggles turned into chuckles and then full out laughter as yoga hour turned into a silly game of Twister. Confident that my soothing voice and natural maternal authority would put everyone to sleep I continued to instruct my silly friends into the ways of yoga. As we all stretched into the center of the rug the yoga circle became a rugby scrum and somehow I ended up on the bottom. We became hopelessly entangled and burst out laughing. Suddenly the gruff and annoyed voice of Shannon sounded from the top of the stairs and said, “Some of us are trying to sleep, can you keep it down?” That sharp warning shattered our laughter and we quickly untangled ourselves from the scrum and sat on the rug with our hands over our mouths muffling the remaining giggles. Before we all rolled back into our sleeping bags we laid hands on Andrew and prayed over him wishing him peace, sleep, strength, joy, and an eternal foot hold in love with God and Alysha. As the Holy Spirit hovered over us we folded into our sleeping bags and finally fell asleep.
Saturday, August 11 2012. It’s here! It’s finally here! Andrews Wedding Day!!!! Everyone was awake at the crack of dawn and we gathered up stairs for breakfast. We started the day off right by huddling on the couches and breaking out into song. We sang through half of the Sister Act 2 soundtrack and danced around the kitchen. It was a hoot and was a chance for us to shake out most of our wedding jitters. Andrews parents, Bob and Gina, made us a feast of omelets, orange juice, and coffee and we fueled up on a hearty breakfast. After we were all dressed in our Sunday best and the vehicles were packed with gifts, groomsmen, guests, and a cello we made our way to the church.
If rain on a wedding day is good luck then continuous rain 3 days prior to the wedding and on the wedding day must be really lucky! Andrews favourite animal is the duck and it was a perfect day for a duck. It was as if all the ducks in Grey Bruce county were giving their blessing on Andrews wedding.
However, on the way to church a cop pulled us over! I was so mad. The road to the church is a 4 lane highway and the flow of traffic was a robust 85 to 90 km speed. Bob legally and carefully passed the cop cruiser at 88km which was a much slower speed than the yahoos that were flying by at 100km and Mr. Cop flicked on his lights and dragged us to the side of the road. How dare he pull us over, on Andrews wedding day! Doesn’t he know how important this day is? Doesn’t he know that I am Mama Jo!? As the cop talked to us it was clear he was just bored and was acting like a door knob just because he had the authority to. He let us go with a warning and we cautiously got back on the road. Mr. Cop had now made us late and I told Bob, “Step on it Bob and get us to the church on time. If that cop flicks on his lights again we will race him to the church and I will let him have it! I’m Mama Jo and no one messes with Andrews wedding day!” Thankfully Mr. Cop ignored us and found another poor soul to pull over. We got to the church on time and so did everyone else and after going over a few last minute details the celebration began.
The bridesmaids and groomsmen floated down the aisle in a vision of dapper blue. Andrew stood at the front of the sanctuary giddy as a goat on top of a mountain. Alysha walked elegantly down the aisle in long graceful strides escorted by her father. She looked stunning! Beaming with joy and love and blushing a little. As she came down the aisle I thought to myself, ‘This is a great day!’ This is a great day! A special day! A day of unhindered celebration, joy, and love! The ceremony was simple, elegant, short, sweet and to the point. After the minister announced Andrew and Alysha as husband and wife the crowd erupted into applause and I took my place on stage to sing them a blessing as they left the church. I was so honoured to be apart of the wedding and to witness such a wonderful occasion.
With the hard part out of the way it was time to party! The rain cleared just in time for pictures and we all went down to Georgian Bay to take advantage of the photo op. While the wedding party did their pictures the rest of us silly guests had our own photo shoot. We found a break wall of boulders and without thinking twice I kicked off my shoes and nimbly made my way across it. It was such fun! The evening followed with a delicious meal, fantastic conversation, lots of laughs, mild embarrassment to the new married couple, and dancing, LOTS of dancing!
When Andrew and Alysha left the rest of us stayed behind to take down and clear out. Exhausted we arrived back at the Stroud Family Homestead and collapsed on couches, chairs, and spare room on the floor. Bob made me an exceptional double rum and coke and the boys shared a bottle of whiskey. We relaxed and leaned heavily into the night reflecting on the day and smiling proudly at our Andrew. He’s all grown up now.
It was a fantastic day, full of life and thick with the presence of God. I am so happy for Andrew and Alysha. May they be blessed with many, many, many years of marriage filled with happiness, tears, challenges, triumphs and the energy and wisdom to keep up with it all.