Last year for July 4th the kids and I went to spend the day with the cousins at Ginger's in Felton, PA. This was an annual tradition and we were blessed to be enfolded into the family upon our re-connection with them. Jim couldn't join us, unfortunately, since he was still in Dubai. At the end of the day, once the fireworks had been set off in the driveway and nobody had been maimed or killed, we prepared to hit the road. Cousin Guy asked us to wait a minute, as he had some fireworks of his own. He then asked his Sweetheart, Angie, to marry him, right there in front of his whole family! She said yes- which brings us a year later to our vacation in Michigan.
Angie's home is in the Grand Rapids area, and she and Guy set their wedding date for July 3rd, with the annual 4th of July party at her, (now their) home. As the proposal suggested, they have been very family oriented with the entire course of the wedding plans- so to Michigan we have come for the party of the year.
Shortly after last July 4th Angie and I became friends on facebook and have chit-chatted back and forth as the year progressed. At some point she asked me to bring my camera to the wedding reception, which not only thrilled me no end, but was such a tremendous compliment. Jim and I talked it over and decided that a few more days in Michigan for a family vacation would not only make sense, since we were already going to be there, but it would be a lovely area of the country, new to us both, and therefore an adventure. And don't you know, Michigan began running these lovely "Pure Michigan" ads on TV, luring visitors to their beautiful state. We were hooked.
So plans were made, time marched on, and the day came for us to pack up the van and hit the road for Grand Rapids, Michigan! As we prepared to pack our van the day before departure, we discovered a huge fluid leak- our van would not be making the trip. After a brief pow-wow session and prayerful panic, (oxymoron, I know) we called our friends Mike and Amanda, who have one child and a 7 seat van, to ask them if we could swap our 5-seat Pacifica for their Sienna for the week. They agreed! Oh, praise God!
So again, it was time to hit the road! We left insanely early on the morning of Friday, July 2; the kids falling back to sleep as Jim and I took turns driving. Though it was a VERY long drive, we managed to get to our hotel in Grand Rapids just before 3 in the afternoon, giving us time to nap a bit before going out to look for dinner. Before going to eat, however, Erin and I were feeling the need to really stretch our legs after that drive, so we found a local park on a lake for a run. Everyone came along. Bekah brought a book, Jim and Isaac fished, and Kate joined us to run. As virtuous as it sounds, I do not recommend running any distance after an 11 hour car ride. Erin even pooped out, a cramp in her side like none she'd ever experienced. We got back to the room, ordered pizza, spent some time in their indoor pool, and called it a night.
The next morning at breakfast we found cousins! Ginger, Gladys, Brent and his family, as well as the Nelsons- practically family- were there. What a treat to begin catching up with them then. The wedding wouldn't be until mid-afternoon, so there was no rush. Before long the bride arrived, with bags in tow. Angie would be getting ready at the hotel since it was much closer to the church than her home. She said her hellos and went on upstairs. Soon Ginger got a call from her- she was in need of a hair dryer- the hotel dryers didn't work with the diffuser attachment! I had brought my own dryer, so Ginger and I went upstairs to deliver it to Angie and her hairdresser.
Now that breakfast was over we had several hours before going to the church, and Angie had sent us a suggestion via facebook which had interested us all. The Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park was right down the road from the hotel and looked rather fascinating on the website, so we gathered ourselves together and went to see what we could see. The special exhibit featured at the Gardens and Sculpture Park this season is Chihuly Glass. Glass sculptures in colors and on a scale which were simply amazing. Indoors and out, tucked into existing gardens or set apart in exhibits of their own, everywhere we turned in the Sculpture Park and gardens there were more Chihuly sculptures. Not to mention the permanent exhibits owned by the Meijer Gardens. The American Horse, for instance, is a must see; standing three stories tall and dominating his own area of the park, we were entranced. This was no boring museum tour that the parents were dragging the kids along into. Each of the kids was excited about what they were seeing and what was coming up next. Isaac especially was enjoying the gardens and sculptures; most especially the carnivorous plants room! We didn't dream that we would use up all of our free time there, but soon enough we had to start dragging ourselves away and back to the van to get to the hotel for wedding dressing. The photos we took can be seen here.
Back to the hotel, change of clothes, beautifying of the girls, and we were ready for the main event. Dressed in our best, we headed for the quaint little Hispanic church which Angie had chosen, in honor of her Cuban family and roots. The groom, Jim's cousin Guy, has made a lifelong career of the Navy, so he was resplendent in his uniform. A nephew, Ben, and a friend, Steve, also in uniform, would provide the arch of swords for the couple to walk through at the end of the ceremony. Guy and Angie's desire to honor Christ and embrace their family led to a dear, intimate ceremony which reflected the love which they have for one another and our Lord. I had my camera and fired off a few shots, but was touched to see Isaac also shooting away during the wedding. Our children were all actively engaged with the proceedings, which was such a blessing to see. They have not grown up with this branch of the family, and have rarely,… no, never, had family gatherings the way the Carlton branch does. Only newly introduced to, and immediately embraced by, the Carlton gang, there has been an intangible resistance on my children's part to fully commit, (or admit) to the family. This weekend would change that once and for all.
After the ceremony was done we were ushered outside for the traditional passing under the arch of the newlyweds. Grabbing a strategic spot from which to photograph the moment, with Kate and the other camera nearby at a different angle, we watched for them to emerge from the church. Standing tall and erect in their Navy dress whites, Ben and Steve looked the very definition of valor and discipline. At the precisely right moment they raised their swords, and Angie and Guy walked through, beaming from ear to ear. What happened next must not have been anticipated by our dear Bride. With a twinkle in his valiant eyes, Ben raised his sword higher, took aim, acquired the target, and with the flat of the blade- and a shout of "Go Navy!" gave Angie a swat on her behind that almost lifted her off her feet! Evidently this particular aspect of the tradition had not been explained in full to the now shocked bride of Master Chief Petty Officer Guy Carlton. (and I caught it all!)
The drive to the wedding reception wasn't long at all, and we soon gathered at a lovely Country Club to spend the rest of the evening. Appetizers and beverages were being served when we arrived, and the atmosphere was calm and refined. Being wine lovers, (connoisseurs?) Angie and Guy had chosen a marvelous selection of wines for the reception. With a camera in my hand, juggling a glass of wine and a plate of appetizers was nearly impossible, but I managed a few tastes. We were soon able to enter the dining room and found our seats. The newlyweds arrived before long and the celebration began. In lieu of gifts, the Carltons requested that donations be made to two hospice care centers which had cared for loved ones in the recent past. The DJ announced that for every $10 donation the groom would kiss his lovely bride. The donations began rolling in, and soon Isaac declared that Guy's lips were likely to fall off! Before dinner was served I went to a couple of tables to take photos of some of the couples. Dinner was marvelous, interrupted by donations and kisses, and we were warming to the party mood.
Looking around we realized that the photographer from the ceremony who had shot Guy and Angie entering the reception had disappeared. Angie then came over to let me know that not only was the cake cutting taking place soon, but there would be a second cake- a surprise to Guy- that she wanted me to be sure to catch. I had my orders! Given free reign with the camera I enjoyed going to everyone for photos candid and posed. Isaac was even running around with the second camera taking photos. We both shot the cutting of the cake, and Guy's Master Chief cake. Soon after dessert the dancing began. Not as easy to photograph, it sure was fun to watch! You can check out the album of photos here.
This is one family that enjoys one another and knows how to have a good time. It didn't take long for the dance floor to be full. Not many slow dances for this crowd; the beat was fast and the atmosphere electric. At one point I looked up and Bekah was out there dancing with Alexis, her second cousin twice removed. Jim, Isaac, Kate and Erin were outside on the deck having conversations with other cousins and I pulled them inside to join in the fun. I thought Isaac would be too cautious to hit the floor, but our little Boy Scout showed us he can bust a move! (Is there a badge for that?) Dancing and singing along to just about every song, Isaac had a blast. Kate and Erin soon joined the fun, and before long Jim and I were also dancing. Then it happened. The DJ announced a special request, and the first notes of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody floated through the air.
Oh, my, word.
Every guy in the reception, and a couple of girls too, struck a Freddie Mercury pose and sang- acted out- every word of the song! What a jaw-dropping, hilarious event to watch! And how sweet too; here's cousin Brent teaching his darling daughter just when to bang her head for the guitar solo… All of the boys with Mommas present serenaded them at the right parts in the song, urging them to, "Carry on, carry on…" Never have we imagined such a unifying activity to draw our kids into the crowd of cousins. Their familiarity with the gang was sealed with the playing of Journey's Don't Stop Believing. The reception ended with Angie and Guy's selection of We are Family, with all of the men and women lined up opposite one another to dance down the middle, a pair at a time. Isaac was my partner for this closing act and we boogied on down the line.
A perfect ending for a perfect day.