ATLANTA There are times when I can't help but think of the climactic scene from the movie "Moonstruck." The finale is the mod equivalent of Shakespearean comedy: All the loose ends are tied up, the characters reveal their true selves, the family is reunited, and the Happy Ending is finally achieved. All to the strains of "O Soave Fanciulla," the love duet from Puccini's "La Boheme."
It's life as it should be and sometimes actually is. The family's whole world has been turned upside down only to be turned right side up at the end. Having rejected Our Heroine (believe me, she wasn't right for him nor he for her), the suddenly former fiance is stunned to discover that she's the one who has rejected him for of all people … his long estranged brother. And the happy lovers make a perfect couple.
The faces of the cast swirl away in golden, glittering light as the champagne is uncorked, the glasses filled, and a lump of sugar dropped into each one. The former suitor and now brother of the groom just sits there, at a loss. The grandfather of the family presses a glass of champagne on him, but he just holds it, nonplussed. But not for long. Then he is reconciled and softly repeats the toast: "To family!" For he's family, too, if not in the way he'd once anticipated.
I am thinking of that scene from "Moonstruck" as I give a dutiful lick-and-a-promise to my worn dress shoes, preparing to attend the wedding black-tie optional of my great-niece seven floors down in the ballroom of a plush hotel in Atlanta. This isn't an end but a continuation: More than half a century ago, I was the ringbearer at the wedding of the bride's grandmother, my big sister, in the living room of our house on Forrest Avenue in Shreveport, La.
A generation later, I would be there to celebrate the wedding of her daughter, my niece. I can remember my mother, who had a beautiful falsetto voice when on rare occasion she felt relaxed enough to use it, singing Yiddish songs as we drove to her granddaughter's wedding.
Funny the one thing that'll stand out, looking back on some family event, and become central. And will make you so grateful you were there for it. Like my mother's singing in the car. You can never anticipate what serendipitous little detail will lodge itself in your memory and, to you, become central. And it makes you so grateful you were there for it.
I'm about to tie my tie and head down for the main event when the phone rings. It's my Cousin Sammy, who may not be the oldest surviving cousin but is the senior one present for the joyous occasion. "I'm in trouble," he says. For a moment I think the worst and prepare to dial 911.
"It's nothing like that," Sammy assures me, as if he can read my thoughts. It seems he's brought his tux, but between his carpel tunnel and the unfamiliarity of getting all gussied up, he's had to call for help. How's he going to manage the bow tie? And those tiny studs that have to go through the little buttonholes in the always overstarched formal shirt?
Sammy explains that he would have called the grandfather of the bride, my brother-in-law and the competent one in the family, but George had already gone downstairs for the wedding photographs. So he's turned to me. Can I help?
"Sure," I say, my voice full of false confidence. I can never get into a boiled shirt myself without a struggle that seems to take forever; how am I going to help Sammy? "I'll be right there," I say. "No problem." You gotta have faith.
On the way up to his room, I think back to the summers I used to spend in Chicago, the capital of this now far-flung family, and how Sammy and his younger brother Jerry would let me tag along with them. I can remember the cool morning breeze that woke us on their sleeping porch, and how you could hear Aunt Rose fixing cereal in the kitchen of their South Side duplex, and getting ready to March Around the Breakfast Table with Don McNeill, your radio host.
How well taken care of I was. And now I could do some small service for Sammy. What a privilege. As it turns out, it's a lot easier to help another man into bow tie, studs and all the rest than have to dress yourself. We're done in no time. Sammy, if I do say so myself, now that I'm an experienced valet, looks grand in his tux. Then it's time to celebrate. We'll soon be dancing the hora.
Funny the one thing that'll stand out, looking back on some family event, and become central. And will make you so grateful you were there for it.