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Saturday, March 5, 2016

California Dreamin'

                                                                                                                        March, 2016

Dear Friends and Family:

When you get to a certain age, I guess its “normal” to start viewing the reruns of your life.  Today I thought how lucky I am to have had five incredible highlights in my adult life.  Here they are: 1. the day I married Juca, 2. the day our son Jeremy was born, 3. the day our son Michael was born, 4. the weekend Jer and Melissa were married, and 5. the beautiful weekend last September when Mike and Steph were married.  I’m not forgetting when our granddaughters Zoe and Maya made their debuts.  Those were high times as well.  

Last September Juca and I flew out to San Francisco, met our sister Helenita and brother-in-law Gilson at the airport for what was to be a magical weekend.  Everything about the wedding weekend was beautiful, unusual, and inspirational.  It all started with our car rental.  Mike had asked me to rent a minivan to help schlep people and things from the hotel to the venue and back.  I stepped up to the counter and spoke to the older gentleman filling out my forms when he asked me what the occasion was and where would I be going.  After explaining, he said that it seemed to him that I would need more room than just a minivan and that he was going to upgrade the reservation to a full size van….no extra charge.  Does something like that regularly happen?  I don’t think so.  Turns out he was right and the van was a great help. 

The wedding weekend centered around Santa Rosa, California; about sixty or so miles north of San. Fran. We found ourselves in Petaluma, smack-dab in the middle of the most beautiful rolling hills of California wine country.  It was certainly clear this was not Indiana.  Beautiful.  Everything about this wedding experience knocked my socks off.  It began with a rehearsal dinner at what may be the best Italian restaurant I’ve ever been to.  Listen, growing up in Chicago, I’ve been to a lot of them.  Nothing like this.  The meal was out of this world.  But being there with our whole family and meeting Steph’s family topped it all.  Let me say a word about Steph’s family.  What a bunch of fun-loving, warm, appreciative, sense-of-humored people.  It was an absolute pleasure to celebrate with them.  They said so many wonderful things about our Mike and thanked us so much for raising such a wonderful person that I was bursting with pride (but thinking about it I understand that we become the good people we are because of and in spite of our parents).  Toasts were made, stories told. It was a festive, no, joyous evening.  Just as the rehearsal dinner had been at Jer and Melissa’s wedding. 

The next afternoon we bussed out into the middle of wine country to a farm which was the wedding venue.  The family met for pictures and just before the ceremony we read the Ketuba (Jewish Marriage contract) to begin the proceedings.  Steph and Mike created a remarkable Ketuba that not only pledged their love and respect for each other but also spoke of making the world a better place and honoring and respecting family and friends.  It took Juca and I a couple of hours a few months earlier to translate the Hebrew text.  We each sat with a dictionary and were blown away by the beauty of the poetry and the depth of the ideas in that Ketuba.  While the family was gathered in that private place, all of the wedding guests were being bussed in from Santa Rosa and up to the top of one of the hills on the farm where the chupah (wedding canopy) had been set and chairs arranged.  We were taken by tram up to that wind-swept hilltop where a bluegrass band played as the wedding party marched in.  There were so many moments during the next thirty or forty minutes of the wedding that will stay with me forever.  Walking Mike down the aisle, Steph arriving in a magnificent wedding dress brought to the hilltop in a white pickup truck, Juca, Helenita, and all of the women in Steph’s family gathered by the side of the chupah reciting the Shehechiyanu (a prayer of thanksgiving), sitting in the front row looking at Mike and his bride flanked by his best man, Jeremy…that’s a picture etched in my heart, hearing the wedding vows that Steph and Mike had each written, so personal, so loving, so them.  It just seems right to me that those moments were the absolute highlight of the event, even though it kept on getting better and better.  Dinner on another hilltop outside in the California sun; toasts at dinner and a great rap song/toast sung by Steph’s mom and aunts.  Remarkable.

To top off the evening the party was held in what was called a barn, but it really was a beautiful party room with stage, dancefloor, etc.  Here’s the kicker.  Steph works in the music industry.  The band that played was (and called themselves) Jerry Garcia’s Other Band.  I can’t describe the thunder and lightning that was that band.  No one could help but dance to the music.  You just couldn’t stand still.  It was phenomenal.  What a night.

So seeing these reruns, thinking of all of the blessings that have come my way, my family’s way, kind of says to me that if I made my exit tomorrow (don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere) it would be OK.  That’s how good it has been.  Can you imagine being on that hilltop with Juca, Jer, Mellissa, Zoe, Maya, Mike, Steph, our family from Brazil, my cousins, our friends, Steph’s great family?  Regardless of belief, how could anyone help but whisper “Shehechiyanu, V’keyamanu, V’higianu La Zman Hazeh,” being thankful for life and living, and being present at that most joyous time?