Thursday, June 24, 2010

Remembering One of the Great Honours of My Life

A decade ago, on this day in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, my best friend Nathan got married. His engagement came as a surprise the previous October. The way he broke the news to me was like this: "Will you be my Best Man?" I was stunned, because the last email I had gotten from him was that he was planning to break up with his girlfriend. I was busy with my last semester of college and preparing for my move to Washington, D.C.

I was thrilled that he asked, because it has been a dream of mine to be a Best Man at least once. Before saying yes, though, I asked, "What about Andrew?" He had always been close to the oldest of his three younger brothers. I thought for sure that he would ask Andrew to be his Best Man, so I was stunned when he asked me. I had my own reservations about the marriage, but I had also never seen Nathan so in love before, so his girlfriend appeared to be a keeper. He told me that he had a special role for his brother Andrew, who had been recently ordained to the office of Priest, thus able to officiate the wedding. Andrew had his own reservations about the wedding, made worse by the fact that he was newly ordained and already asked to officiate a wedding. He had no experience with marriage, though was in a relationship with his college girlfriend of a few years.

The picture above is of me giving unsolicited Best Man advice to Nathan, with his brothers looking on. I said something corny that got everyone to laugh. They were expecting something profound, but what they got was a joke. Hey...it's not like I had any relationship experience or advice to give. The reason we are all wearing dated or mismatched plaid suits / shirts is because Nathan's dad wanted to horrify Nathan at the Wedding rehearsal. I did not realize that his father and brothers had planned this, but I happened to have a few clothing items that did not go well together, so I proudly wore it. When we walked into a restaurant after the rehearsal, people stared at us and I boldly said, "Don't mind us, we're Mormons!" Nathan's family was embarrassed for people to think of them as Mormons, so they brushed off what I said. However, because we were dressed so horribly, I wanted the people to associate Mormons with relics of the 1970s (bad fashion designs! Seriously ... butterfly collars and bellbottoms?).

Above is the getaway car that I had a local florist decorate in the European style. Since this is unheard of in America, I happened to have a picture of a car decorated for a wedding in Berlin (from my visit there in 1997) that I showed to the florist and she did a good job with it. One thing people should know...I have taste and standards. No toilet paper and shaving cream for me, or tin cans dragging on a string from the rear bumper. I wanted a decorated car that would catch people's attention and perhaps even start a trend in our country. A floral bouquet on the hood of the car, with ribbons to hold it in place did the trick.

For the rear window, I had made a photo collage, featuring two photos of the couple that I had taken during my Labour Day 1999 visit to Seattle to celebrate Nathan's 25th birthday and to meet the girlfriend he had already thought about marrying. In retrospect, the sign was probably too "busy" and could have done with less. However, I kept finding wedding images to add to it and once finished, I had it laminated. When I visited Nathan and Lisa in San Diego two years ago, I was surprised to see that they still had it. Nathan has never been the sentimental type to save things, so I was impressed that they kept it. I thought for sure that they would've gotten rid of it soon after the wedding. Perhaps they did when they moved to Italy last year.

As part of my Best Man duties, I organized a Bachelor "party" at the Bullfrog Brewery in downtown Williamsport. Those in attendance were the groom, his brothers and father, a Navy buddy (whose wife was the Matron of Honour), and me. I had everyone roast Nathan with a good, but embarrassing story about him. Leave it to Nathan to tell everyone an embarrassing story about me! This "party" was rather tame (no alcohol, and certainly no strippers). I received compliments for keeping it under control. However, it helps that the groom shares the same values as me, as I wouldn't want a wild bachelor party with strippers either. I like the idea of a group of friends getting together for a meal with friendly roasting and gifts specific for the groom. Afterwards, we cruised the downtown for some fun...which we found at a mini-golf course. Everyone (except me) managed to get at least one hole-in-one, while the groom managed to get two holes-in-one.

Because there wasn't a lot of room in my car, Nathan's youngest brother (who was 15 at the time) had to return to the motel with his father instead of joining his brothers at the golf course. I always felt bad about that situation. Last year, when I returned from my sister's wedding to participate in the YAPS church service at the Puyallup congregation, David showed up and we all went to a mini-golf course. I managed to get a hole-in-one on one of the toughest holes. More importantly, though, I realized that the universe was letting me relieve my guilty feeling of seeing a dejected David drive away with his father when he really wanted to hang out with his brothers on Nathan's last night as a single man. David has always looked up to his brother. Hero worship is how his mother describes it. Nathan never understood why his youngest brother idolized him so much, so I tried to explain it to him, since I have that hero-worship tendency, myself.

One of the most incredible things about Nathan is that on the day of his wedding, when we ate lunch at the nearby mall, he wanted to see the movie Chicken Run that was playing in the theater. I nixed that idea because it would have cut too close to the wedding time and we still had to get back to the motel to change into our tuxedos. There were too many variables that could happen if we were in a rush (accident, police pulling us over, getting lost, etc.). Besides, I still had a Best Man speech to practice.

The wedding party was small. Just one Best Man and one Matron of Honour. No groomsmen or bridesmaids. Nathan's grandmother served as the ringbearer. Brother Joel filmed the wedding on a camcorder, while brother David played an endless song on the violin. The wedding was outside, centered on a gazebo at the Thomas Lightfoote Inn in Williamsport (the bride's hometown). I experienced deja vu seven summers later when my other best friend got married in a garden wedding that featured a gazebo at a bed and breakfast in Red Bud, Illinois. Part of the wedding included a stay in the honeymoon suite at the inn.

I had met the Matron of Honour during my visit to Nathan in the spring of 1999. When I visited again that Labour Day, I had told her that I believed Nathan was serious enough about Lisa that he would marry her. She didn't believe me. At the wedding, she told everyone that I knew before she did that they were going to get married. She has a great personality, really funny, too. She poked fun at me for the way I held her bouquet when she had to fix her dress and again when she saw my hands shaking as we waited to be called into the reception area. I was nervous about that speech! The biggest responsibility of the Best Man duties.

The picture above is another of the Best Man responsibilities...taking the ring from the ringbearer to give to the groom. I seemed to take forever, because I was afraid that unsnapping or untying the string would launch the ring into the air. I always worry about embarrassing little details like that! Fortunately, nothing happened.

The official Wedding Party photograph. I'm the short dude. When I arrived at the location, having safely delivered the groom to the wedding, he disappeared for a moment. The bride's mother saw me without the groom and nearly had a fit. She asked me where he was and I didn't know. I had other things to take care of but she insisted that I go find him because she had warned me earlier that she would hold me personally responsible if the groom failed to show. Since I knew Nathan pretty well, I knew he wasn't going to leave his fiancee jilted at the altar. His future mother-in-law was being unreasonable. Its funny to see how frayed nerves and stress can make people irrational in their fears. Frankly, I did a great job...especially when I nixed Nathan's crazy desire to see a movie the afternoon of his wedding.

The above photo is the moment of supreme importance to the Best Man. The Best Man speech! After Nathan had asked me to be his Best Man, I bought a guidebook about it so I could understand what was expected of me. I worked on the speech all afternoon, whenever Nathan left me alone to process my thoughts. The biggest problem was that while waiting for the wedding party to be introduced at the reception, the mother-in-law approached me and said that my speech was not supposed to be a speech, but a toast. She said thirty seconds was the maximum, then the D.J. would cut me off. I panicked. I had rehearsed a two minute speech. How could I reduce it to thirty seconds just minutes before the festivities began?

Nathan told me to go with the two minute speech, despite what his mother-in-law insisted. I asked the D.J. if he would really cut me off after thirty seconds, like I was at the Academy Awards or something. He reassured me by saying, "I have never cut off a Best Man speech. Ever." That's a relief. I guess the mother-in-law was afraid of what I might say. People who know my blunt honesty tend to worry what I might say when given a microphone and a captive audience. However, I take my responsibility seriously. I wanted to give the best tribute to the couple that I possibly could. My goals were to make the guests laugh as well as cry (in a touching way). I scored on both counts. The biggest laugh was when I said something like: "I knew Nathan was getting serious about this relationship when he asked me for relationship advice. Usually, I'm the one asking him for advice!"

After the speech (in the photo, you can see that I have in my hand a notecard, which had five key word prompts to help me remember my memorized speech), I was able to relax, finally, and enjoy myself. One guy, who looked like a muscular jock type with a gorgeous friend of Lisa's on his arm, came up to me and complimented me on a great speech. I was impressed that people liked it.

A few months after the wedding, I typed the speech (based on my recollection) on special paper and framed a copy of it (along with the above photo) for Nathan and Lisa.

With my duties as Best Man officially done, I was able to relax and have fun. Nathan panicked when no one stepped up to the plate to be the second Blues Brother. His brother Joel asked me if I would join him in a lip synching, inflatable guitar strumming rendition of "Soul Man", so I figured, why not? When the D.J. announced a special guest appearance by the Blues Brothers, Nathan told him not to do that since he couldn't find a second person. It was great to see Nathan's surprised reaction when I jumped out with his brother and played along to the song. Joel really got into the performance and truly upstaged me. However, I'm sure that Nathan did not expect introverted me to do such a thing. It was another one of my gifts to the couple, from the Best Man.

All in all, it was truly a great experience. I will likely never be asked to be a Best Man again, since all of my closest friends are married, so I am grateful that Nathan asked me to serve as his Best Man. I consider it one of the greatest honours of my life and one of my proudest moments in life. At some point during the reception, I told Nathan, "I'm sad that I won't be considered your best friend anymore." Nathan replied, "But you'll always be the Best Man!" When I visited him in San Diego two years ago, he had invited another shipmate of his over for a Memorial Day barbecue. He introduced me to the other guy as "the Best Man" and I was touched that he still uses that title for me.

Someday, when I get married, I admit that selecting a Best Man from my two best friends will be tough. I've known Nicholas the longest, but Nathan counts our friendship to 1984 as well (since his family had eaten at our house after church one Sunday), even though we met as sailors in 1994. Nathan and I share an incredible spiritual bond and his extroverted personality brings out the best in me. On the other hand, Nicholas has remembered every birthday of mine and is more reliable. However, he has served as Best Man to one of his closest friends while Nathan has never been a Best Man and is likely not to have that honour. Nathan and his wife have a young son and daughter, who would be perfect as the ringbearer and flower girl. Thus, at this point (far before I'm even in a relationship leading towards marriage), I would want both best friends to be a part of the wedding party. I'd also want my Washington, D.C. semester roommate to be one of the groomsmen, as well. Who knows at this point? All I know is that serving as the Best Man is definitely something every guy should experience at least once. I'm grateful that Nathan gave me that honour. Here's to a Happy First Decade Anniversary! Followed by many more.

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