“I’m on my way…” said the Travelocity gnome.
And so am I. After a crazy (read: hectic), stressful (read: brutal), downbeat (read: depressing) series of hours, days, weeks, months, I think I’ve finally come out the other side.
I’m on my way to a wedding in Hamburg, Germany. Traveling solo—but isn’t that what I’m used to?
Dancing shoes packed. Check! Dresses for each of the events. Check! Manicure, pedicure, color and cut. Smile in place. Check!
A German wedding begins with the Polterabend—or as the happy couple has announced it:
It’s the breaking of the porcelain. Bring your own plate! Bring good luck to the marriage!
Last night I was remembering a wedding I attended at the age of 12. Cioci, my godmother, had invited me to come along with her family. I guess she always knew there was a storm cloud that followed me from place to place. It hovered over me, casting a dark shadow and spewing drops of rain that fell in the form of tears.
At this wedding—a traditional Polish wedding—there were all the traditional Polish foods—gołabki, pierogis, kielbasa, kapusta! Men wore their Sunday suits with white shirts and ties. Black pants, always. They peeled off their suit jackets as soon as they entered the reception at the Polish-American hall. It was a hot, steamy day in Connecticut.
The women wore floral dresses with lacy petticoats. (Mini-skirts were a couple years away.) I had a dress just like this one—the same kind of chintz that became popular for draperies in the Laura Ashley days. It was a hand-me-down that didn’t fit me quite right. I was self-conscious of that and my weak posture reflected as much.
What I remember most was the band, the music, and the dancers. As soon as the accordion sounds of the first polka filled the air, dancers poured onto the slippery hardwood floor. I sat quietly at the linen-covered table, sipping my glass of water as the dancers circled the room, smiling, bouncing, petticoats revealed, and soon, sweat dripping from their foreheads in the New England summer heat. No air conditioning. Just lots of beer.
Contrary to the infectious joy that weddings and polkas generate, I felt overwhelmed with an unexplained sadness. Before the first song had ended, I had fled to the ladies’ room where I sat in a stall and let the tears flow.
Before long, word reached Cioci and I heard the door swing open, bringing with it the sound of the polka music beyond and then, the tap, tap, tap of kitten heel pumps crossing to the tile.
“Linda, is that you? Come out, please.”
I unlocked the stall and did as she asked. If you knew me then, you’d have seen a shy, young girl standing with eyes cast downward, clutching and unclutching her fists in a self-soothing action that didn’t quite work.
“What’s the matter, Linda? Why are you crying? she asked.
I was speechless. I had no explanation. It was just a part of me that blurted out unexpectedly, but especially when I was surrounded by happiness.
I craved that happiness. I wanted so much to feel that laugh-out-loud bliss that I saw in others.
“Do your parents beat you?” she asked.
“No. No!” I said.
We left the ladies’ room and I returned to the table and my glass of water for the rest of the afternoon.
In those days, feelings of depression were unexplained, unlabeled, and never to be discussed for fear of being branded “crazy”. One simply made the best of it, which was usually the worst of it, and left a child like me with a stomach ache and a tear-soaked pillow at the end of the day.
This wedding celebration will be different. There will be dancing and beer and smiles all around. I can’t wait.
I’m on my way…