Eric O. Scott —  July 12, 2013 — 9 Comments

The Stone Pavillion in Tower Grove Park. Photo by Brennan O’Keefe.

We are walking down a side street off of Grand Boulevard in south St. Louis, my parents and I. City ordinances typically prohibit the amount of sushi we have just consumed, and absolutely forbid following such gluttony with gelato. But we eat it anyway. It’s a Tuesday, which is unusual for us; we normally have dinner together on Wednesdays. But tonight is special.

“I was just talking about it with Kenny,” my father says, referring to his closest friend. “About the people who were there. It was a completely different universe back then, huh?”

My mother shakes her head. “Not that different…”

“Well, do you remember who was there? Tim and Nancy, Becky, Kenny, Al Lambert-”

Mom cuts him off. “Al Lambert was not there. He hadn’t been around for months by then.”

“He absolutely was,” says Dad.

“No, he was not!” says Mom.

They stop to argue in the middle of the sidewalk, right next to the First Church of Divine Science. They give each other annoyed glances, but they’re chuckling all the while.

“How much you want to bet?” asks Dad.

Mom pauses, thinks about just how right she is. “Twenty.”

“Twenty bucks,” he echoes. They pinky-swear on it, and we’re finally free to move on towards the truck.

Despite the bet, neither of them claims to know where they kept the wedding photos in order actually prove or disprove the presence of one Alvin Lambert. I suspect neither of my parents is sure enough of their memories to commit to an archeological expedition for the photos of their wedding; after all, thirty years is a long time to remember.

*                *                *

My parents were married in 1983. It was not a big wedding; they held it in Tower Grove Park, only a few blocks away from the sushi restaurant where we celebrated their anniversary. They rented the only pavillion in the park with an electric outlet so that they could bring dad’s stereo for music, and the catering was provided by Lee’s Fried Chicken. Mom claims the catering van had a plastic chicken leg mounted to the top, which is one detail I’ve always had some trouble believing.

Dad’s uncle Lark, who had a Missionary Baptist church, did the preaching and the marrying. I think this was a choice borne of practicality and frugality, just like dad getting married in his old gray suit instead of a tuxedo, or having the chicken van handle the food. They didn’t have much money. It wasn’t a perfectly sculpted dream wedding, and they knew that; knowing my parents’ character, I suspect that the ramshackle elements of the wedding were a point of pride for them. They’ve always thought of themselves as more Onslow and Daisy than Richard and Hyacinth.

It was a Christian wedding – because what else could they have had, back then? – but my parents had already been involved with the occult for a few years at that point. They had been going to Golden Dawn meetings since the late 70s, and from there had ventured into Wicca, joining Pleiades, the coven my family is still in today. Most of the elders of my coven were there – not really elders back then, of course. They were barely older than I am now; kids, really.

Did it bother them going in? They had only been Pagan for a few years at that point, I guess; I doubt they could have seen more than a couple of handfastings at that point. And I don’t think the idea of having just a handfasting would have ever been an option for them. Paganism might have been a major part of my parents’ lives even then, but it’s never been the entirety of their identities. It’s not as though they were snakes shedding a skin, after all. They were still the people they were before they found the Golden Dawn and Pleiades. Paganism was an additive, not a substitution.

Almost every day I find myself thinking about how my parents and their friends managed to make those first few brave steps into the Pagan world. I think about all the obstacles they had to negotiate, all the trouble and effort, the plain damned improbability of it all.

And perhaps I think about it even more this year. Not just because of my parents’ 30th anniversary, but because of the impending developments in my own life. I proposed to my girlfriend at Beltane this year, at Tower Grove Park, the same place my parents were married. Now we’re facing many of the same questions my parents did: what sort of wedding to have, which relatives to appease, wondering when we’ll actually have time to do it. (My girlfriend – fiancé now, I suppose, though the world is still strange to my tongue – is probably going off to Central Asia to do her dissertation research in the next year. Whether that means we get married sooner or later is anyone’s guess.) She comes from a very Catholic family, and we haven’t had that talk with her parents yet, and that conversation scares me to death.

These are different problems than my parents faced, and yet very much the same. I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I know how my parents dealt with these things when they were my age – I doubt any child ever knows. That’s the story of the species.

I talk here mostly about my childhood as a Pagan, as a product of Pagan parents and a Pagan community. But that can’t be taken in isolation: this person I am, these beliefs I hold, these words I write, they all trace back not just to the religion my parents practiced, but to their working-class childhoods, to the troubles they had with their families, to the chance meetings that became decades-long friendships. I am not just their religion; I am their anger, and their hopes, and their failures. I am the thousand tiny coincidences that shaped them and therefore shaped me.

It is a tapestry whose handiwork I can only just begin to see, much less understand. As for me. As for everyone.

*                *                *

We are in the truck, driving away from the anniversary dinner. It’s the hottest day of the year, and work is terrible, and the waiter never did bring us an extra dish for the soy sauce. But we are full, and we are happy, and we are going home.

I don’t think anybody ever fully understands their parents; I surely don’t. It’s too complicated a relationship, too full of memory. But thankfully, understanding is not a prerequisite for gratitude, much less for love.

Thirty years is a long time. Happy anniversary, mom and dad.

Certain names obscured to protect the guilty.

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Eric O. Scott

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Eric Scott writes fiction and creative nonfiction from the unique perspective of a second-generation Wiccan. He earned his MFA from the University of Missouri - Kansas City and is a current PhD candidate in Creative Nonfiction at the University of Missouri - Columbia. He has published in a number of magazines and anthologies. He serves as a Contributing Editor at Killing the Buddha and writes the Real Pagan Geek blog at PaganSquare. His first book, "The Lives of the Apostates," was recently published by Moon Books. He once played guitar in a Taoist glam rock band.
  • jamie

    What a wonderful story!

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Love the reference to “Keeping Up Appearances!”

    • Eric Scott

      Two points to you, my friend!

  • Ursyl

    Happy anniversary to your parents!

  • ChristopherBlackwell

    I have often wondered at the expensive elaborate wedding ceremonies with catered food that is barely a snack and wondered why.

    Most of our ancient ancestors did not have such ceremony when they got hitched and yet some of them had far longer marriages than we see today. Why not borrow some ideas from them.

    I used to belong to the SCA and my group had monthly feasts simply by having each member bring their one dish, mine was alway freshly baked bread and cheese. We always had plenty of food and no one was out of pocket that much and no one person was stuck with the clean up. Seems o me the wedding feast could be accomplished that way.

    I n the one hand fasting that I did, the lady made up costumes for her and her man and their little boy. She and he wrote their own vows and she and the priestess designed the ceremony.That keeps the cost down considerably. With the money saved you might even have enough for a honeymoon.

    Anyway, best of luck.

    • Tauri1

      “I used to belong to the SCA and my group had monthly feasts simply by having each member bring their one dish, mine was alway freshly baked bread and cheese. ”

      That is the way that folks here in TN do weddings: pot luck usually at the church’s fellowship hall. I think the big weddings came about as middle-class folks decided to imitate the rich folks.

      • ChristopherBlackwell

        It may well be. Seems awfully expensive and with lots of tension, which to me seems so unecessary. One should not have to impress friends and family , one just needs them there for support and celebration

    • Deborah Bender

      I write in defense of the social customs of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Every social occasion does not need to be a potluck. Traditional British and American customs of hospitality (by traditional, I mean the forms described in etiquette books) are based on reciprocity over time. If someone invites you to a dinner party, they provide the food, drink and decorations and are responsible for cleaning up. You, the guest, are supposed to write a thank you note promptly and invite them to a similar party at your home within a few months. Some people bring wine or flowers to a dinner party as a gift, but if you bring a cooked dish to a dinner party, it’s an implied criticism of the quality or quantity of your host’s cooking and that is an insult.

      The customs for a middle class Anglo style wedding are that the groom’s parents host a dinner party for the wedding party a day or two before the wedding, aka the rehearsal dinner. The bride’s family provides the wedding feast or reception, and it should be considerably more than snacks. If they don’t have the resources to feed the guests without help, they can ask family and friends to do some of the cooking, but that’s not the same as expecting all the guests to contribute to a potluck. The guests reciprocate by giving the couple wedding presents and by inviting them and their families to future weddings in the guests’ families.

      Where this system goes off the rails is when the betrothed couple think of the wedding as an occasion to show off, or a means to extract a lot of expensive presents from the guests, instead of an occasion to provide true hospitality to people who care about you. True hospitality concerns itself with making sure that guests are comfortable and enjoy themselves. Spending money to make the wedding beautiful is fine if you remember that a wedding ceremony is a celebration of connection between two people, their relatives, and their friends, not an ego trip. Also, divorced people who remarry should not expect lavish wedding presents the second or third time around, since presumably they already have the goods they need to set up a household.

      The wedding Eric describes would be perfectly fitting to the rules of traditional etiquette IMHO.

  • Raksha38

    Congrats to your parents on their anniversary and to you on your engagement!