27 November, A Day I’ll Always Remember
I adored a beautiful boy once, he was born on the 27th November 1955, I met him in July 1972 and if truth be told he was the first boy who impressed me. I had a crush on him for years, he didn’t really notice me all that much, but, our stars did align and our paths crossed occasionally. He died tragically of a drug overdose, shot up into his arm days before his birthday in 1978, a few months after I got married.
My father found him with the needle stuck in his vein, the tube tied around his already cold, blue arm. He lay there curled up on a threadbare mattress on a cold parquet floor in a Spartan bachelors flat. A talented boy who’d hated the futile Guerrilla war he was conscripted to fight. To anaesthetise his revulsion and antipathy he found solace first in a glass pipe and then in pink, crushed Wellconal, coursing through his veins, always fighting his dragon. He’d just returned from a stint on the Angolan border. Authorities call it collateral damage. He was just cannon fodder in a futile, brutal war. I couldn’t mourn his death but, would never forget his birthday.
Decades later, with much water under the bridge, on 27th November, 2017 my beautiful boy got married in Mexico. Forty two years later I thought with sadness of the lost life of a beloved friend but, could also celebrate with joy my boy's marriage. The start of a new exciting adventurous life for him and his fair Emily.
From all corners of the globe we gathered, friends, family, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles to celebrate, sing, dance and pour, like fragrant precious oil, our love and devotion upon this lovely couple.
I always knew he’d turn out fine. My third boy, born on a Sunday evening while my parents babysat his two excited brothers at home. With his umbilicus tightly wound around his little neck and his exhausted heart dipping and stressed it was at breakneck speed that my gynaecologist rushed to a waiting theatre to deliver him. From the moment I set eyes on him I was in love. Perfect he was.
“And the child that is born on the Sabbath day is bonny and blithe and good and gay” from the poem Sundays child is full of grace. That is my Joe. A child of fire and light. Passionate, obstinate, opinionated, kind, gentle with an old soul, he is an angel but not angelic. If asked to mention one characteristic of this child everyone would say “his smile”! It’s open, free of malice, anger or irritation.
I was delighted when he invited me on a date night on my first evening in Mexico, he’d reserved a table in the French Restaurant, and he knows his mother’s penchant for fine dining. I got all dressed up, had my hair carefully coiffured. His knock came as the hour struck, he gallantly took my arm as we slowly made our way to supper. I braced myself as I knew this would be one of the last occasions we’d have to talk, reminisce and laugh about his growing years. It was poignant and very special. He told me how much he loves Emily, excitedly sharing their future plans and expectations.
All too soon the 27th dawned. While Emily spent time with her Mom and her bridesmaids Joe and I had our last chat. He rehearsed his speech, wrote sweet messages on Emily’s shoes, sent her notes of encouragement and listened while I told him what I expect from him as her husband. Only a few things. Love, respect, forgiveness and once again to love without inhibition, unconditionally and in spite of the shortcomings life throws at us. Full Stop.
Emily is an organiser par excellence. She’d worked ceaselessly to ensure that every detail was perfect, that every member of the wedding party had their instructions down pat and with empathy and care she made us all feel loved, welcome and comfortable. This surely would be a day to remember. There were no nervous outbursts, tears of frustration or disappointments. Joe had his instructions in black and white, runners were on duty to carry messages while Emily pampered and spent precious last moments with her Mum. I felt so privileged to be part of the preparations, their excitement electrifying and sweet. I wore my” Mother of the Groom” T shirt with pride. With my puffed up chest I might’ve looked like Dolly Parton at times, so what!
Before dashing off to do the boys' buns and plaits Lise spent 90 minutes painstakingly pinning my hair up in a chignon, it looked beautiful and I felt remarkably pretty knowing my hair was perfect. As I slipped into my dress, hurriedly bought in a tiny boutique in a narrow street in the heart of Firenze, my prayer (besides hoping the dress would fit) was that he will make tiny, beautiful, sweet Emily happy and that they’ll always be best friends and soulmates. Like my new bright yellow shoes marriage might look fashionable, beautifully crafted with the best intentions, expertise and care, but, it comes in the wearing that they chafe, forming blisters and later callouses softening the leather until we’re able to slip into them like a pair of favourite old slippers, keeping us warm when life is cold, uncomfortable or lonely.
Impatiently our family gathered for the Van Heerden group photographs, it was when Joe and his groomsmen, Aaron, Christian and Dirkie rounded the corner and came walking down the long passage that I literally gasped. Like Wyatt Earp, his two brothers and Doc Holliday walking down that dusty street in Mexico, from the movie Tombstone. All black coats flapping, hats shading eyes, boots stomping, spurs tinkling and guns at the ready. A testosterone overdose. When Joe and his posse rounded the corner with such confidence looking like film stars my breath caught in my throat as tears welled in my eyes. He is a man, my son. The photographs are testament to our happiness, the power of forgiveness, respect and love.
We all took our places at the required hour, draped on Jaco’s arm I was escorted to my seat. We took our seats and in a while watched as Emily made her way up the path in the golf cart, how she slipped her hand through the crook of her Dad’s arm as he walked her down the aisle. Tears flowed freely as he wished her well, kissed her cheek and gave her away. To fill those shoes will take guts, strength of character, the instinctive knowledge of a father and the unfathomable love of a parent. Emily looked radiant!
Tim Young, Joe’s friend, mentor and colleague was the marriage officer (when asked, Tim jumped at the opportunity and did an online Marriage Officers course) and did a splendid job. With good humour, sound advice and compassion he invited them to make their vows and promise eternal love to each other. They did a remarkable job, weren’t lost for words and never tongue tied. As the pink sun set over the ocean we saluted a beautiful couple wishing them everything of the very best.
Once the earth cooled and the sky turned navy blue we sat down to listen to speeches made honouring their lives, friendships and eccentricities, we laughed and shed some tears recalling their early years, Emily spoke eloquently of her love for her family, her deepest respect for her Mom and Dad and honoured them for their unfailing loyalty, unconditional love and support.
Joe thanked his Dad, Kobie and Marsan for their love, support and generosity. In a heartfelt moment Joe thanked me for my input in his life. Undeservedly he opened his heart and honoured me for my dedication. Pride filled me for this amazing young man and his guilelessness, unabashed confidence as he mentioned important people who’ve made a huge impact on his life. Thanking them for their loyalty, support and love when he needed it most.
Emily’s bevvy of beauties, Amy, Mart-Mari, Caitlyn and Caity took turns and told of childhood escapades and student shenanigans. They’re all accomplished, strong, beautiful women who Emily can count on when she needs to.
I had the opportunity of welcoming Emily into our large family which I could do unreservedly and with confidence knowing we’re all going to get on like a house on fire! Duane and Cindy-Lou I give him to you. We thought of those who couldn't be there and I had the honour of reading special messages from Aunts, friends, Grandparents who would've loved to be there but couldn't.
We had a delicious supper on a balmy night with stars as our lanterns, when the band struck up we danced and did the Boere bop, showing off our two steps, it was magical, my four girls all looked radiant in their beautiful evening gowns, pretty sandals and done up hair.
At the end of the evening, happy guests formed the guard of honour, with sparklers glowing Emily and Joe had their send-off, in drips and drabs some of us drifted off, me to happily take the littlies to bed, the young ones to the bar and later some for a body surf or skinny dip in the warm waters of the pacific, while two sat up until sunrise reminiscing a great hunt.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the wonderful friends who supported Joe when he was a struggling student, an immigrant, and every time his heart broke, when he experienced failure, when he was at his lowest ebb and I was thousands of miles away and all I could do was pray, when my encouragement, assurances and faith in him fell on deaf ears. Thank you Penny for your unfailing friendship, you were the “mother” (note the apostrophes) when I was desperate. You are a rock. You made it to Mexico I am so grateful for that, you are a true friend, thank you. To all the friends, family and partners thank you for making it to Iberostar Playa Mita, I know you had to sacrifice of your valuble time, holiday time and precious family time to be there. To his childhood friend Dirkie, who flew across continents to be there, the quiet wise one, always by Joe's side. Brothers in arms. Thank you, you remind him of his roots.
Thank you to the groomsmen and bridesmaids who took the whole shebang in their stride, for flying in from all over the world, thanks to a childhood friendship or because you love Emily and Joe. As you get older and more sentimental, like me, you’ll realise how much it meant, your commitment to a friendship will never go unrecognised.
Lastly, thank you Emily and Joe, you made it possible for me to see my beautiful grandbabies, spend time with them and to get to know Daniel and rekindle my relationship with Neil, who’s such a big boy now. To spend time with you all, away from the coalface, in beautiful tropical surroundings is always magic. I treasure each moment frame by frame. I am happy and delight in you both.
27th November will be my Yin-Yang day now, a little bit of sadness at a young life lost, but sprinkled copiously with much joy, peace and thankfulness as the bigger picture of my life has revealed.
I Carry Your Heart With Me
By e. e. cummings
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate (for you are my fate,my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
P.S I did not take any photographs at the wedding, leaving it to the very accomplished professional photographer Juli Labrecque and her assistant. With Emily's kind permission I post a few photographs as reminders of a perfectly beautiful day.
Juli Labrecque Photography - Saskatoon