For This Generation, Marriage Is Bold

June 10, 1994|By ELLEN GOODMAN

Casco Bay, Maine -- The afternoon wind sweeps up from the cove in time to clear the uninvited mosquitoes off the ceremonial grounds. Gradually, the people who have come to this island by land or air, and finally by sea, begin to collect on the rough grass beside the white tent.

As the mother comes out of the house to join the others, a hummingbird enjoying the unexpected bounty of flower

arrangements whirls away. Suddenly it occurs to her that the cat has taken off for parts unknown.

In the shimmering afternoon sun, she finds a place among the parents who share the informal front row. Only now do the lists, the wedding flow charts, the transportation details that rivaled D-Day, drop from her consciousness like anxiety about the weather.

Just a day ago, this mother and her daughter had gone for a walk along dirt roads brimming with lilacs. The older woman, rarely at a loss for words and sometimes at an excess of words, struggled to find something to say to the younger.

She wanted to give her woman-child some words of wisdom to wear like an amulet against and for the future. Something old, something new, even something borrowed. But everything she thought of was too much, too little, too early, too late.

So it was the daughter who said the right thing to the mother. For us, the young woman said, marriage isn't just the next thing we do. For us, for our generation, it isn't natural or expected. It's bold. And we know that.

Of course, the mother had thought then as they walked home together from the beach. How could this pair not know it?

They are the first of their mid-twentysomething friends to wed, the first child of their parents, the first among the grandchildren, the first among the cousins. They are even the first wedding ceremony performed by their generous and gentle friend who calls us now to bear witness to this joining.

Now, the mother of bride, a phrase that sounded to her like some absurd creature fluttering anxiously in an old movie, looks around her and thinks about boldness.

The people here are not names on some generic guest list. Together they form a village. The couple's village. What is that old saying? It takes a village to raise a child. It's true. But villages these days are not traditional tribal zones where every one stays in one place or even in their place.

The two young people pledged to wed are the creatures of marriages and remarriages. Their tribe was created and recreated by parents who tell themselves they are stronger at the broken places. And hope to God their children are too.

The family trees that these two so carefully wrote out for us don't just bear aunts and uncles and cousins. They branch out through much of modern life. This morning, small half-siblings on both sides greeted each other like child anthropologists trying to devise some proper title for their relationship.

Nor do the dearly beloved gathered together share the same rituals handed down through generations. The wedding dances in their village include the hora and the polka. The attitudes run from Old Testament to New Age. The culture includes both hunters and vegetarians.

And yet these children of diverse roots have chosen to make a life together. These first-hand witnesses of disruption have chosen union. They have brought together kin and friends from diverse backgrounds and ZIP codes. They carry to this place the confidence that they are a loved center of this small world. A center that will hold. Bold indeed.

Behind the mother, at opposite ends of this old, sprawling, farmhouse, two young people who have optimism in their future and great holes in their jeans appear now. Through the alchemy of white lace and black tuxedo cloth they have transformed themselves into something else: A bride and a groom.

Arm in arm they walk down the makeshift aisle. Soon, through the magic of vows that include a promise to ''try and understand each other'' they are transformed again. Husband and wife.

Rings are exchanged, a glass is broken, a kiss is shared. The mother who has prepared for every wedding day eventuality short of a typhoon, finds herself incredibly without a Kleenex. And here, on this ground, a new village held together by old emotions celebrates everything. Love, joy, boldness.

8, Ellen Goodman is a syndicated columnist.

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