Dun dun dun....
After roughly 20 months of engagement, my (insane) sister and her fiance finally got married in St. Helena, CA (northern Napa Valley) on May 17, 2008. The drama started well before that, tho, this being my family after all.
The plan was that my brother Joe and I would drive down first thing Wednesday morning. Vacation days were filed for, hotel reservations made, flights coordinated with other family members. The Sunday before, my sister called me to say that her (second!) wedding dress was finally going to be in on Monday morning, but she was going to overnight it to me in Seattle and have me drive it down so she could save the CA sales tax. So if something went wrong, she asserted, then we couldn't leave on Wednesday because we'd have to wait for the dress.
This will continue to be a theme for the weekend: my sister expects everyone to dance to her tune, to be the actors in the play of life that she's directing, and ghod help you if you forget your lines. Also, my sister *defines* the phrase "penny wise, pound foolish". Sure, she spent $7000 (!!!) on a second dress (!!!), but it was worth saving ~$600 to risk not having it. Yeah. Have I mentioned that she's insane? Because she's insane.
Anyway, I told her that I would be happy to take her dress down, but I was leaving Wednesday morning whether it was there or not. On Tuesday, I asked her for a tracking number; she told me she decided not to send it. Hoookay!
The drive down was awesome. We'd done it before last Thanksgiving, so we knew what to expect. We did the usual stops: Portland, OR for some superb pastries at the Pearl Bakery (and also a new white shirt at Nordstrom), Carl's Jr. and Sonic in Grant's Pass, OR. No In'N'Out on the way, though. :( The big decision was how to go from I-5 into Calistoga, CA (where we were staying): take the shorter way through the mountains, or drive down to the south end of the valley and drive all the way back up? Back at Thanksgiving, we took the back roads through the mountains out of the valley, and while it was great fun in the light of day, taking twisty unmarked back roads at night after 12 hours of driving is not my idea of fun. However, I'd previously reviewed the route on topological maps, and it seemed fairly tame, and it was all CA state routes, so I expected them to be marked. It was still a little light when got to the exit off I-5, so I decided to take the shorter path.
Could not have timed it better: we had an amazing drive through the golden hills of California surrounded by the most gorgeous sunset. I can only hope some of my pictures come out.
Wednesday night was just awesome; my two brothers and I went out for a quick bite and some beer. It was great being able to hang out with them. I don't get to do that nearly enough.
The bed-and-breakfast that I was staying at with some other family members was The Craftsman Inn. This was something I'd very much been looking forward to. I <3 the whole Craftsman aesthetic, and having a huge breakfast waiting for me every morning on that huge, elegant kitchen table was icing on the cake. It delivered, too: homemade granola, homemade yogurt, fresh fruit, bacon, sausage, and a variety of entrees. My favorite was this cross between french toast and bread pudding, with peaches and blueberries in the middle. Will have to try to replicate that. YUM.
Thursday was spent doing things like taking clothes to be pressed, and trying to organize things for Saturday. I found a great place for my mother to get her nails done while I waited. Never was I more happy to have an unlimited data plan on my cell phone.
We also called my cousin, and my sister's godfather, Gary, to make sure he had directions to the B&B. He was also staying at The Craftsman Inn because there was a room for 3: him, his new wife, and their son. This was a bit of drama in its own right. Gary wouldn't come unless his son could come along, even though no other kids were allowed. If he wasn't my sister's godfather, then it wouldn't have happened, but my sister wanted him there, so she said he could come along. The reason that he needed to bring his son was because they couldn't get in touch with his wife's sister, so there'd be no one to watch his son. Anyway, we call Gary, and he tells us, oh!, they did finally get in touch with his wife's sister, so they're staying with her, and don't need the room. Wow, thanks for the short notice! Hope we can find someone else to take the $300/night room on one day's notice! Oh, and even though there now is someone to watch his son, he's still bringing him to the wedding. Stabbity.
That evening, my sister called us and said that we were all going to go to dinner at The Rutherford Grill, and we should meet at 6:30. We arrive at the appointed time and... no other family members are there. We call, and, oh!, we were supposed to meet at the house she was renting. Did she not mention that? Oops! It also turns out she hasn't made a reservation. I ask how many, and she says 18. She just expects one of the most popular restaurants all of Napa Valley to seat a party of 18 with no notice on a random summer night. *sigh* By some miracle, we actually do get seated after not too long, but it's at two separate tables of 9. Sure, it's the first time the two families are meeting in person (my sister also held out for the longest time in giving Dave's family's address to my mother), so why not have it at a crowded, noisy restaurant and seat the two families at separate tables! That's perfect, right?
Thursday night was supposed to be a night out for all of us around my sister's age (so, no parents). The plan was to meet at her house and the boys would go somewhere, and the girls somewhere else. We decided that there was quite enough alcohol at the house, so we would all stay in. My brother Jeff decided that it was a smashing plan to get rip-roaring drunk on a liter of vodka. My mother and I ended up staying up most of the night to make sure he didn't, you know, die. That wasn't fun.
Friday was the wine tour, organized by my sister. Now, you'll note, this is the second event planned and run by my sister. She insisted on doing nearly everything herself because a wedding planner would cost too much. Yes. I ballpark her expenses for this 70-person shindig at around $80,000 (!!!!!) and a wedding planner would be an unbearable expense. Oh, and because she's such a perfectionist, and no one else could get things right.
Right. The wine tour. We hit three nice wineries, and got to be a little social with our new family-to-be. My sister, though, did not quite grasp that trying to shuttle 20 people in 6 cars between 4 locations would take slightly longer than one could do it on their own, so by the time that we got to the last winery, she had to leave to get ready for the rehearsal. After that, we went back to the B&B for a short rest. I went shopping to pick up some wine, and the cheese platters that we ordered, then got dressed for the rehearsal. It went mostly fine, after the church representative finally understood which parents were the bride's and which were the groom's. We only had to explain it 3 times.
The rehearsal dinner was quite a treat. *rolls eyes* The caterer was late, and took forever, but the food was very good. My sister had done up the backyard of the house she rented, and it was very pretty. The party, however, was the stiffest event I'd been to. No one was talking, no one was introducing people; it just wasn't any fun. Bleah. Oh, and apparently, the caterer had previously shown up with the food earlier... a whole week earlier! Whoops! Fortunately something else came up, so all that food didn't go to waste.
Saturday was the grand event. It went mostly smoothly, despite the surprise priest. The new associate pastor had just started there, and this was his first wedding. My sister had never met him before the wedding. So that was interesting. The dress she chose for the ceremony was nice, but not really flattering.
Oh right, the dress. Or rather, the dresses. Now, the reason she had two dresses is because this dress that was finally ready was supposed to be ready about 6 weeks previous, so the other dress was a last-minute purchase in case the one she really wanted never arrived in time. She was upset that she didn't have any options she could trust on which dress was better, so once she had the other dress, she decided to just wear them both: one for the ceremony and one for the reception. The reason she had no opinions, though, was because she wouldn't let anyone even see pictures of the dresses beforehand, because that would ruin it. I still believe that she fails to see any correlation between those two decisions.
The wedding was at 1, but the reception wasn't until 6:30. What my sister expected all of the guests to do between, I don't know. My mother decided to hold a small wine and cheese gathering for the families in between, which turned out to be one of the favorite events of the weekend for many of the guests. We were busy getting my picture taken with the other family members, so we weren't there for very long, but I was told that it was a hit! Everyone was relaxed and friendly, introduced themselves and explained the relevant bits of the family tree, and had a great time talking with everyone. It was a party!
The reception was at the Calistoga Ranch hotel, a super hoity-toity place (you should check out the room rates for a laugh), right up my sister's alley. We were told that the family had to be there at 5:15 for photos, so we left early to get there on time. We arrived, and it turns out, oh!, the wedding party is running behind, but they'll be down shortly, and we should wait by the pool bar until then. It turns out that most of the other family members are all hiding out in the gym by the pool because it's air conditioned. Anyway, a half hour later, the happy couple are finally ready to start taking photos again, so we are all to be shuttled up to the wine cave. Yes, we can't walk there, they take us on golf carts. All the women in their frilly dresses were just thrilled to find that out, BTW.
Of course, we were not the only ones to arrive early; many guests did also. My sister was just outraged! Don't you know that you never show up early! If the invitation says 6:30, then you never arrive before then! Harumph. And when some people tried to enter the wine cave, my sister screamed out "Don't go in there!". Because that wasn't part of the script, you see. She had to be the first one in.
Before dinner, though, was hors d'ouvres on the lawn. This was actually really nice, but it was less a hit with all of the ladies wearing high heels. One of the neater things was being run by the maid of honor. She was taking polaroids of every one who came, affixed it in a memory book, and had people sign the page that their picture was on. I'm sure it will be a great memento.
And I don't want to be all negative here. My sister's other dress (the one that arrived late) was absolutely stunning. And we were overall having fun. The food was wonderful, the scenery was picture-perfect, and the weather was quite warm but very nice. Dave's family was a little shy, but cordial. We got along just fine; there's a lot of similarity between PA and WI sensibilities and background. People were overall having fun. If you weren't privy to all the behind-the-scenes family drama, you probably wouldn't have noticed much wrong.
Well, except for the scene at dinner.
The Ranch had a wedding coordinator to handle the details at dinner. She told my sister that there should be three speeches at the reception: the best man, and one by each father. This was not the tradition we were familiar with, which was one speech only by the best man, and maybe a greeting by the bride's father. My sister was not to be deterred, though, so the three speeches were scheduled. My father gave an outstanding, very short welcome speech, and the best man gave a decent, if slightly inebriated, toast himself. For whatever reason, the groom's father didn't give his. I found out later that they talked him out it. If only that had stuck. Later on, he apparently changed his mind, and started talking about his wonderful son. About how he was born. About him growing up. About him going through grade school. He was completely soused, and drunkenly rambled on and on, for about 20 minutes. It was painful. His daughter was sitting near him, encouraging him to wrap it up, but he was not to be deterred. He was not to be outdone by my father.
It was at this point that Gary (also drunk) took the microphone out of his hands.
Now, to his credit, he was witty. "Hi, I'm Gary, Elizabeth's godfather, and it's my job to protect her." Lol! I don't know what else he said, though, because my head was in my hands at that point, just hoping no one starts throwing punches. We were all stunned. There was nothing we could do that was not almost guaranteed to make the situation worse. We just had to watch the train wreck play itself out. Fortunately, it did not come to blows, Gary sat down, and Dave's father wrapped up a few minutes later.
Relieved, the happy couple tried to move the party along and move on to the cake cutting. This was interrupted by my brother Jeff yelling out: "You can't cut the cake yet! The mothers are in the bathroom!". Yes, Dave's mother was so horrified by her husband's speech that she ran into the bathroom in tears, and my mother went after her to calm her down. After a few minutes, they came out, and the rest of the evening went on as planned, but yikes. That's the sort of thing I can laugh at now only because it wasn't my wedding.
More on the food, the drive back, and the trip to The French Laundry, later in the week...