This I Believe

Alicia - Water Valley, Mississippi
Entered on November 26, 2007

This I Believe

Three weeks before the date, and my fiancée and I are finalizing plans for our wedding. We already have a seven-month-old daughter, so the white dress is out. He’s long since ripped up his Southern Baptist roots, and I was raised in a non-religious household. Instead of usurping a church for the day, we’ve decided to power-wash our privacy fence and build a backyard altar from bales of hay. I schedule a meeting with our officiant, the internet-ordained homosexual son of a preacher, to discuss vows that don’t include the word “god.” I warn my grandmother, my mother, and my fiancée’s mother to expect something non-traditional.

And yet, I believe in the power and necessity of tradition. We’ve chosen to marry close to Samhain, the day most Americans recognize as Halloween. In pre-Christian Celtic tradition, Samhain, which translates as “summer’s end,” marked the eve of a new year. The greatest of the Celtic feast days, it was a time to commemorate the dead, and give thanks for bounty. All members of a family joined together to bake, put up winter meat, and preserve the season’s harvest. As the sun set, bonfires were banked against the early dark. Leaning in to the fire’s warmth, the adults traded honey mead and ancient stories.

As a dear friend and I map out the menu, I think of the Celts. The day before the ceremony, she and I will sweat in the steam of her kitchen. She’s cooking her family’s Key West gumbo, and I, my hybrid Missouri chili. We do not follow cookbooks. She adapts her recipe to the seafood harvest. My combination of peppers, the ratio of tomatoes, and whether I use black, pinto, or kidney beans depend wholly on the season and company. My daughter will watch from her highchair as I brown beef and, spoonful to spoonful, season to taste. She will learn to make this dish by doing.

Each fall, my fiancée and I collect pine cones and place them in wicker baskets around our home. This year, he slips the baby into a hip-sling, and they set out alone in the October sun, scouring our acre for both pine cones and fallen needles. He brings them back in a black plastic bag, sets her in the grass, and separates the cones for baskets. Shaking out the needles, he rakes them into a makeshift aisle. Tomorrow, he’ll take our German shepherd to the woods that skirt the property, in search of wood for our wedding bonfire. When the ceremony is complete, and all our guests have been fed, we’ll light branches against the coming dusk, pull our chairs around the fire pit, and pass a bottle of wine. Sharing stories of times past and of those to come, we’ll create our own tradition.