Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Wedding Brings Family and Friends Together

A day later than originally planned (see last blog) Bob and I left our house at 4:25 AM and headed for Pacifico where we would be leaving our car while we went to Tyler, Texas for James and Sharesa's wedding. Our plane left at 6:40 AM, pretty much on time, and we got to DFW around 11:00 AM. We picked up a Chevy Cobalt from Alamo and were on our way. We'd been told that the drive from DFW to Tyler would take about 45 minutes. Wrong! It took nearly two hours. We checked into our motel at 1:00 PM. When we learned that Tyler is a dry town, we drove to Coffee City, about 40 minutes away, for some booze. As it turned out, we never opened the bottle.

After a false start, we headed for Villa Felicita where the wedding rehearsal would be held the next day. It's a very pretty place, inside and out, and is a popular venue for weddings. Our only meeting with the bride had been via Skype, so we were very happy to finally meet the real person. We connected up with friends and family, and then joined the others in helping to decorate the villa according to Sharesa and James's wishes.

After the rehearsal, where we all got to take our positions and practice our lines, we headed for the rehearsal dinner at Villa Montez. We'd been told it was quite close by. It was then that we learned about Texas distances. The bottom line: things are much farther away from one another than one might think. We went back and forth, and round and round on the loop road around Tyler many times that weekend.

About 50 people showed up for the rehearsal dinner, which was held in a wine cellar type of environment. Bob and I, and Lee (my ex) and Mary sponsored the dinner, which turned out to be a very nice affair indeed. We all milled around for a while, enjoying the wine, beer and snacks that were offered, and met members of Sharesa's family and some of her friends.

Production of the dinner was an amazing phenomenon. The in-charge waiter took our orders: filet (cooked to order), chicken, fish (nothing had had to be ordered ahead of time) and before long it was all produced like magic, everything hot and perfectly done. No one could figure out how they managed it.

Sharesa and James had gotten gifts for everyone, a surprise to all, and these were all distributed after dinner.

Our trip back to the hotel, a Hilton Garden Inn, which was very nice, took a different route and didn't take as long as our trip there.

BTW: (By the time we left Tyler, I swore that the Villa Felicita moved from place to place just to confuse us.)

The following day, the wedding day, we were free until 5:00 PM, when pictures would be taken. The bride and others were busy with hair and makeup duties, so Bob and I headed to one of the birding destinations, Lake Tawakoni, that we'd found in the book that friend Bert had loaned us. It was quite a distance away, but the drive through cattle country was very pleasant. As it turned out, things have changed at that lake since the book was published. Access to the dam is restricted, as are paths close to it. So we walked along a little trail, and did see a few birds.

As planned, we met Biz and Tom for lunch at The Purple Pig, one of the many barbecue places in Tyler. We all ordered barbecue sandwiches and shared a plate of fried pickles. Biz bought a Purple Pig t-shirt for Sam.

When we got back to the Garden Inn Bob and I took a walk along the trail behind the hotel. We found some nice birds: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Carolina Chickadees, many Yellow-rumped Warblers, House Wren. It's a very nice, well-used paved trail.

We went back to the hotel around 3:00 so I could wash my hair. Bob headed for the exercise room while I fussed around getting ready.

We left for Villa Felicita around 4:30. By then it was raining. We all realized that rain is traditional for Henderson/Cohen weddings. It rained at West and Dani's wedding so it couldn't be held in the park as planned; it poured at Biz's wedding so we all got soaked going from the reception to our house; it rained at Bob's and my wedding so we all had to squeeze into our house instead of being out in the yard which we had manicured for the occasion; and now it was raining, with generous amounts of thunder and lightning, at James and Sharesa's wedding. Everybody's still married, so I guess rain is good luck.

A professional photographer took lots and lots of pictures. He was a little mixed up at first. All of the bride's and groom's parents had been divorced and remarried, and he a a little trouble sorting everyone out. "Can't tell the players without a program!" It was funny. We were beginning to understand why Sharesa had insisted on everyone in the wedding party being dressed in a particular way -- the significant men in tuxes (all gotten from the same place) and all of the bridesmaids and other women in black. The effect was quite spectacular. I'm looking forward to seeing his pictures.

My jobs, during the ceremony (which was performed by Sharesa's step-father, who wore a cowboy hat) were to light a candle (I had to be reminded) and to read a poem (which was actually a prose piece about marriage by Madeleine L'Engle, which everyone seemed to like).

After the wedding, there was a buffet and music. The flower arrangements on the tables were beautiful. Then dancing and fun. Rafe amazed everyone by "getting down" and dancing with Cliff and Biz. There were a few toasts while cake was being cut and served. Actually there were three cakes, including a "groom cake", all delicious.

When it was all over, we helped James and Sharesa dismantle their decorations in the place where the wedding had been held. James loaded boxes of the stuff into his truck. (Not a glamorous way for them to end the day -- honeymoon will come later on.)

The following morning we had breakfast at the Inn with Rafe, Ilze, Lee, Mary, Faye, Sheri and Joe. The breakfast and the service were pretty bad, but we had a good time with everybody. Everybody but us was getting ready to leave for home shortly thereafter.

After a short walk along the trail, we came back to the Inn and ran into James and Sharesa who were heading down for breakfast. (She was embarrassed because she hadn't had time to clean up before breakfast was over). We had a nice chat with them.

We said our goodbyes, and headed for Frankston, via the Purple Pig and a t-shirt for young Tom which hadn't been available the day before, and a visit with Dixie's mom ("Big Dixie"). We got a nice little tour of her house, and a tour of Frankston, which Dixie had promised us. It's a cute little town. Seems like everyone in it is related to Big Dixie. We picked up Mary Cox, Big Dixie's daughter-in-law, and drove south to Athens. We had a fried catfish lunch at the Athens Marina. It was excellent, as advertised.

We parted company after that. Bob and I stopped at the Athens Arboretum and walked the two miles of trails. It's a nice place, but is mostly a bird-free zone. We did see a few yellow-rumps.

We left there around 3:00 and headed for Dallas and the Hyatt where we had reservations. The drive on Route 175 was no problem, but we followed Fred's (our GPS's) instructions and wound up at the wrong Hyatt. :-( We got our first clue when they said we didn't have a reservation. It turned out that there's another Hyatt right at Terminal D at DFW.

We got directions from the hotel clerk and got back in the car. We called the correct Hyatt to ask about returning the car. They recommended doing it before checking in rather than waiting until the next morning since we'll be taking such an early flight.

So that's what we did. After a few moments' worry that we were on the wrong road, we found the Alamo place, left the car, and took the shuttle back to the Hyatt. It's a nice place, actually attached to Terminal D. Bob was furious that a WIFI connection cost $19.00 (we declined to do it) and there was no coffee maker in the room (we called and got one delivered).

We had supper at the bar -- we split a hamburger and each had a Shiner Bock (Texas beer). Just the right thing after all that lunch. We went to bed early for a 4:00 AM awakening.

We were back at home before noon. A wonderful, memorable weekend.

A Dear Friend's Death Changes Our Plans

We were all set to leave for Texas and a lunch with friends and relatives who'd planned to gather at the Villa Montez in Tyler, TX where the rehearsal dinner for James and Sharesa's wedding would be held the following night. We had our plane and hotel reservations, and were mostly packed when we got the news that our dear friend, Bill Goldstein had passed away, and that the funeral service would be on the day of our planned departure. Oh, my.

So it was time to look into changing our plans. There was no way we would want to miss the funeral and the chance to share our memories about Bill with others who shared our grief.

The first thing I did was call American Airlines, with whom we had our reservations, back and forth, to DFW. As it turned out, changing our itinerary involved only giving up some more frequent flyer miles. We'd used up 50,000 miles for the original tickets, and would have to give up 25,000 more to make the change. So that's what we did without giving it a second thought. How better to use those miles? Now all we had to do was change our hotel reservations and we'd be all set to leave a day later than planned.

A bit about Bill Goldstein, 84 years old when he passed away. Bill and Bob had had connections way, way back. Bill's and Bob's families were close when Bob was growing up. As a young man, Bill established a music school, The Livingston School of Music, named after the street on which he lived. Bill recruited Bob, who was a college student at the time, to teach piano lessons for him. (At the funeral we met a man who had taught tuba for Bill). When our kids were learning to play the piano, Bob went to Bill for beginners' piano music for them.

Several years ago, when Bob and I went to Bill's house to pick up some piano music, Bill asked Bob, "Do you still play tennis?" At that time, the answer was, "No. Not recently." Bill told Bob about the group he was playing with, and Bob soon joined the group for tennis a couple of times a week. This led to lots more tennis for Bob, with other groups. But as time went on, and Bill's dexterity began to go downhill, Bob and Bill rarely played in the same groups. But they still stayed in touch.

When I learned, through Bob, that Bill was an opera buff, I asked him if he ever learned of unused tickets being offered for sale. That began my own connection with Bill. He told me about Joan Cohen's Opera Salon which he had been attending for years. On his suggestion I enrolled in the class, which met throughout the year to learn about operas through lectures, videos and, later on, DVDs. Bill always saved a seat for me near the front of the class. He needed to sit in the front because his hearing was beginning to go.

I'd always enjoyed opera, and had subscribed to the Met back in the 1980's, and attended Philly opera productions off and on since then. So I was very enthusiastic about the class -- and still am. Joan's most recent series features "Donizetti's Three Queens" -- "Anna Bolena", "Maria Stuarda" and "Roberto Devereux". These are seldom performed operas which I would not have known about if it were not for her class.

With the advent of the Met's HDTV productions, Joan has offered classes to prepare students for the operas that would be presented. One of the recent ones was "Boris Godunov".

The first hint that something had gone wrong with Bill's health was his absence one day from opera class. At first I thought perhaps he'd begun attending the Tuesday sessions instead of the Thursday ones where we'd always met. But then I realized that he certainly would have told me of the change. On further investigation, we learned that he'd passed out, and had been admitted to Elkins Park Hospital, and would be heading for rehab soon. When we went to visit him at rehab, we learned that he'd been sent back to the hospital. He never left the hospital. A couple of weeks later his condition had worsened, and he ultimately passed away there.

Bill's funeral was attended by the many members of his family, including several grandchildren. Many of our friends and acquaintances from both opera and tennis worlds were present as well. All remembered Bill's grandson Josh, who had suffered with Duchenne's Disease, a form of muscular dystrophy. Josh, who was mostly paralyzed the last time we saw him, had given lectures and had written a book, designed to inspire others who suffered with handicaps. Josh had passed away a couple of years before, after a long fight with the disease. Bill's son, in his remarks to the assembled congregation at the synagogue, expressed the hope that Bill and Josh would now be together, looking after one another.

We did get to Tyler and the rehearsal dinner the next day. We were even able to help decorate the chapel where the wedding ceremony would be held on Friday night. So it all worked out for the best.

Recollections of James and Sharesa's wedding and of the reconnections with friends and family will appear in the next post. Life goes on.