I am at the age where jokes about growing old are a common occurrence.
Seventieth birthday celebrations have been plentiful among my siblings and cousins of my large and loving extended family.
And then there’s the weddings.
The first kid of our kids got married recently. When I was there, I looked around at the sea of younger people and said to my cousin,
“I think I’m the oldest person at this wedding.”
She thought about it for a minute and said, “ Yes, you’re probably right.”
There was an unspoken conversation going on in both of our heads. We missed our parents. We both cherish a picture of our two fathers, who were brothers, sitting on a window ledge posing for the camera at a family wedding. My Mom died just over a year ago. She would have been at the table with us. There was an empty seat to my right, but she wasn’t there.
Then, the band started playing the hora, and the two of us got up to do what we always do at weddings: we danced. The lively traditional circle dance was our “thang.” We kicked off our heels (much lower heels these days…but still) and joined the women. What joy! We more than held our own with fancy footwork as we twirled around the packed dance floor holding hands.
In fact, we outlasted some of our kids. Pilates pays off.
I had a sobering birthday this year. It wasn’t quite the big 50, but it was dangerously close.
I was at my nephew’s wedding. The first of the next-gen to tie-the-knot.
It was another first, too, the first big family celebration since my Nonny died.
She was the undisputed matriarch of our large family. Last one standing. Until last winter when she passed peacefully, the other side of ninety.
I thought about her as I was getting dressed for the wedding. I checked the mirror to make sure I had a nice, clean shave. Nonny was never a fan of the five o’clock shadow.
During the ceremony, I noticed my cousin was officiating. It kind of surprised me at first. And he looked older. There was gray in his long beard. We were born a few months apart.
Since when did we become the adults in charge?
The reception started with the hora. The music was loud, and the rhythm took on a life of its own. I was literally swept up in a sea of men dancing with outrageous purpose.
It’s a commandment to celebrate the bride and groom, and this crowd took God’s commandments seriously.
There were four distinct circles of men with clasped hands as tight as a vice. It took teamwork and cunning to get to the innermost circle, where the prize was a one-on-one dance with my nephew, the groom.
I had the help of my more experienced cousins, and finally, I was in. I grabbed my nephew’s two hands and began kicking my legs outward as we danced the wedding version of a Russian Kazatzky.
Pure bliss. Not bad for a novice.
My cousin got married, and I went to the wedding. He’s my older cousin, but not THAT much older. After all, marriage seems like a lifetime away for me. I just finished school, and my real life is just starting. Anyway, I can’t imagine myself getting married anytime soon. No way.
I looked out at the crowd. The hora was happening big time. My dad grabbed me, and we went off into the mosh pit on the dance floor. It was insane. It was exciting. It was…exhilarating. (Did I really just use that word?!!) Maybe I’m not such a kid anymore.
And then I saw them. My Bubbe’s two brothers. Honestly, I didn’t recognize them at first. But there weren’t that many old people in the room, and of course it was them.
Gray hair, thinner than I remembered them, smaller than I remembered them. And they were hugging. And they didn’t let go for a long time. And they were crying. And then they let go, embarrassed like, and then they were laughing. From then on, they didn’t stop smiling the whole night. I saw something special, and I still don’t know what it meant, but even thinking about it now, the memory fills me up with a warm, satisfied feeling.
I cried too, that night. I was thinking how much my Nonny would have loved to live long enough to see this day.
But she had her time. This is my time. Our time. Good times.