Friday, August 10, 2007

A Wedding, A Big Birthday, and a Sad Loss

from Jacqueline

There’s something about being at an English wedding that always makes me feel like an extra in a movie written by Richard Curtis – funny that it took an American to see right through to the essence of our rituals on this side of the pond (Curtis, by the way, wrote both Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Love, Actually). Last Saturday my lovely God-daughter, Charlotte, married her fiancé, Gordon (Charlie and Gordie, to just about everyone who knows them). It was a wonderful day, complete with tears, giggles, out-loud-laughs and enough kilts to flatten England if they were thrown all at once. Charlie and I are very close, in part because her mother is my oldest friend – since we were eleven years old – and her dad was one of my best friends when I was about sixteen. I claim some responsibility for fixing them up when we were all seventeen, so Charlie is like a daughter to me, in a way.

I’ve written here before about the rhythm of life, be it in the course of our days, or in the events throughout the years which bring us together, for better or for worse. As writers we draw upon those events, those milestones in the rhythm, and we develop character through the lens of passing time, and – especially for mystery writers – our plot will take a blade and shear through the rhythm of life to cause chaos, which we then sort out through the character and smarts of our protagonist. Luckily there was no chaos on Saturday (though the groom apparently lost his kilt socks at one point), but I felt that sense of rhythm, not least when the father of the bride placed his daughter’s hand in that of the man to whom he was entrusting her for the rest of her life. (Fathers of daughters reach for your Kleenex). The minister - a lovely woman who had us all in the palm of her hand with her easy manner and grace - asked the question, “Who giveth this woman?” Tim, Charlie’s dad, lifted his daughter’s left hand, and kept it grasped in his own – a “mind just gone blank” moment. The vicar smiled, and whispered, “It’s time to let her go now.” Then Charlie kissed her dad on the cheek, and said, “Thank you, Dad,” and it was all Tim could do to stand back and step back to his wife’s side without weeping. In fact, that was the point at which this writer wished she had worn waterproof mascara.

Photos at weddings often look the same – the standard posed shots of groom, bride, mother of the bride, and so on, but I love those shots that are just a bit different:

Here's the lovely Charlie ...

Here are her parents in a clinch ...

And here she is, laughing with her new husband ...

Hot on the heels of the wedding – my mother’s 80th birthday. My mother still goes dancing three or four times each week, with her regular and forever partner – my Dad. They foxtrot, waltz, salsa, quickstep and jive with the best of them, and they also walk each day, keep a large garden and generally don’t sit down much, except to read. If that’s the recipe for a good life, I’m all for it. My mother is also something of an advocate for those of a certain age when they become invisible. The elderly often become invisible in all sorts of situations – in shops, in hospitals, in any place where people gather – and my mother has her own remedy when dealing with hospitals. The last time she had to go into the hospital, she took in a photo of herself in her younger years and left it on the table by her bed. “That’s me,” she would tell the nurses and doctors. “I may look old, my skin may be wrinkled, but the mind is just as sharp – so treat me as if I were that person in the photograph.”

And finally, I cannot let this week’s post go by without a few words about the Baiji, the Yangtze River Dolphin, a gentle creature for whom home was the teeming Yangtze River, and who has just been declared extinct. I first read about this almost mystical creature some 16 years ago, in the late Douglas Adams’ terrific book, “Last Chance To See.” Cataloging the story behind a documentary of the same name, Adams wrote about creatures that were so close to extinction, that nothing less than immediate action was essential. The chapter on the Yangtze River Dolphin was so scarily poignant (and hilariously funny, I might add - and only Adams could pull that off) that you could not fail to wonder why more wasn’t being done. If you have never read this book, find a copy somewhere, because Adams' recounting of the sound engineer’s attempt to record ear-blowing levels of noise below the river’s surface will have you in stitches (it could be sub-titled "Hot To Buy A Condom In China") – and weeping for those poor creatures. His clever use of humor made our imminent losses even more urgent, so don’t be put off by my description. Make no mistake, man killed this lovely creature, and there are plenty more on the list of species ready to follow.

Sorry about the slightly misplaced photos - my mother does not look like a Yahngtze River Dolphin - but I cannot get them in the right place!

Back home to sunny CA on Monday - have a lovely weekend.


  1. Hi Jacqueline,

    I guess we're up before the rest of 'em!

    I liked the picture you painted, of a bunch of craggy faux-highlanders all tossing their kilts at the same time! Visions of Carry On Up The Khyber!


  2. Thanks, Rob - and I might even be able to add the photos soon, not sure yet.

    I am up early because I am in the UK - eight hours ahead of CA, five hours ahead of NY. At home I might still be asleep!

  3. J,
    Your passage on developing character through the passage of time is so perfect it will make into the classes I teach on writing. With proper citation. At least for a while. Then, I might forget to mention that I wasn't smart enough to come up with something so well phrased.

    Glad you're back in the sunshine of California safely.

    Jim B

  4. from Jacqueline

    Hey Jim, I'm not quite back - flying home on Monday. And thank you for your response to my comment on character and time - it came out of nowhere and will now have me thinking for some time!

  5. Thanks for another wonderful post, Jacqueline! All those whirling kilts: did they have skirling bagpipes too? :-D

    The photos are wonderful. Charlie looks radiant, and the scenes just glow with happiness.

    Your writing, as usual, is highly evocative. I've turned my cousin Annie at home in Australia into another Maisie Dobbs fan.

    Travel safely,

  6. "As writers we draw upon those events, those milestones in the rhythm, and we develop character through the lens of passing time."

    Agree with you & Jim's comment.

    There are child prodigies in many creative endeavors (Mozart, anyone), but few in writing.

    Gotta go, now. I, too, have lost one kilt sock.

  7. Why do weddings always make people weepy? I think it must be some kind of toxic chemicals in the peau de soie. Or too much flower pollen.

    Lovely post, Our J. Sounds like you're having a fabulous time with friends and family. Have a save journey home.

  8. Very best wishes to Charlie, and happy birthday to your mum. And I hope your trip home is safe and cozy, Our J! This was lovely to read.

  9. Thanks, all, for your comments. Yes, I've had a lovely time and have even been doing more background research for two books I'm working on. Of course, spending time mooching around in the bookshops is a must!

  10. Jacqueline - thanks for such an eloquent portrait of the weekend's events. I pictured it in my mind's eye before I ever saw the pictures.

  11. Pure Poetry, Jacqueline. As always. Thanks for sharing your family and friends.

    Did anyone else notice how much Charlie resembles Cornelia's back cover photo?

  12. Thank you, Candace and Carol - and I'll have to look at Cornelia's author photo again!