Monday, July 28, 2014
Twenty-three years ago today, on a typically fog-shrouded San Francisco summer day, before 105 people, a few of whom actually crashed the ceremony at Golden Gate Park’s Rose Garden and reception at the Cliff House, I exchanged marital vows with my best friend, Verna Mercedes Wefald.
I am flooded with memories without having to watch the video, shot by my friend, Brad, who is now the director of technology at San Domenico School in San Anselmo: Struggling to tie my bowtie and swearing, “I don’t need this shit,” before my brother calmly stepped in and hooked it together; stretching the plastic runner across the grass with my father before the ceremony; gazing at Verna as she nervously recited her vows. We’d written humorous and serious ones. In one I promised to only buy three unique ties a year and she vowed not to always eat off my plate.
Verna looked—as always—gorgeous, and I couldn’t believe how blessed and fortunate I really was. Quiet and determined, she was a perfect complement to my gregarious and obnoxious side. And she was passionate about politics and dance and exercise. And fun to be with.
Our ceremony started nearly an hour late, because of a mix up with the flowers, but by then it didn’t matter. After nearly losing it over the bowtie, I was basically relaxed and excited. And just a little nervous.
More memories: my great-uncle Norman shouting out, “Don’t do it,” as Verna and I signed our wedding license in the park after the ceremony; my mother downing two glasses of champagne on an empty stomach at the reception and giggling her way through the cocktail hour, which is sadly ironic now given that she has severe Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, wears diapers, and can longer walk or even feed herself.
The reception was a non-stop party filled with endless dancing to classic rock, Dom Perignon (for Verna and me), delectable entrees, a carrot and chocolate wedding cake, and both of us being hoisted high in chairs as people circled us to Hava Nagila and other Jewish melodies.
After our final song, Stevie Wonder’s Jungle Fever, we retired with several members of the wedding party to the upstairs bar at the Cliff House. An hour later, I was ready to leave and be alone with Verna. She didn’t want the magic of the evening to end. When we finally got home, we shared a bath and I pulled out at least 100 bobby-pins from Verna’s hair in what was one of the most romantic moments of my life. We reminisced about the entire day as I piled up the pins on the edge of the tub.
For the next few years we celebrated our anniversary with dinner at the Cliff House. In 2009, not quite seven weeks before we found out her cancer had returned, Verna and I sipped drinks in the remodeled Cliff House and then walked down the hill for Taco Tuesday at the Park Chalet, where we celebrated with Miguel, Maya, and Verna’s father. It was the last time we went out for our anniversary.
Just a year later, with the original wedding party, except Verna’s mother, in attendance, we renewed our vows outside our two-bedroom townhouse. Miguel was the co-best man; Maya was one of two flower girls. Verna recited her vows and then had to sit during the outdoor buffet we’d sponsored on the street near our home. By seven o’clock she was asleep for the night, exhausted by the cancer that had riddled her body with constant pain.
Five weeks later Verna was gone and July 28 would never be the same.
I started today by saying goodbye for a week to Maya who is with family outside San Luis Obispo and ended it by playing nine holes of golf with Miguel. I ache for Verna, but I am still very blessed.