Till death do us part

What better than a wedding to remind us that family—shaped by bloodlines, law, and random acts—is funnier than The Office, more tragic than Hamlet, and more bizarre than Lost.

I just spent a few days in England for my cousin’s wedding. Technically, it was a “blessing,” followed the next day by a christening, as she and her husband married last year before their baby was born. If I could have videoed the weekend and dubbed it in Spanish, it would rival the best telenovella. Instead, I can offer you only a character list.

La Sagrada Familia

Tessa— the bride and my favorite and most beautiful cousin, trying to make a living in the theatre while living in a tiny flat with her husband and baby. And did I mention 25 minutes late for her daughter’s christening the next day?

Serge—the delightful groom/new husband. He’s wonderfully inclusive, dancing with lonely widows and herding shy English people into dance floor riots. Sadly, Tessa tells me he really wants to be an actor but isn’t very good, and she doesn’t feel able to tell him. How do we tell the ones we love about their weaknesses?

Molly—the beautiful, bouncing baby who is so big she looks eight months instead of four. With the chubbiest cheeks ever, she can only have a bright future ahead.

Les Francophones

Crepe Suzette—the fabulous French divorcée mother of Serge who lives a Bohemian lifestyle in Paris. I was lucky enough to have her as my dinner companion, which gave me ample time to admire her spiky blonde hair and Chuck Taylors with a pale pink paisley motif. Yes, I felt a little stuffy in my Lord & Taylor wedding suit, and envious that in her Marais apartment she’s spending a lot of time discovering herself.

Nigel—British father of the groom, ex-husband of Crepe Suzette, living in Turkey with Claudette, a younger version of Crepe Suzette with whom he has a baby named Eve…yes, nine-month-old Eve is the half-sister of the bridegroom and aunt to baby Molly. This causes more than a little muttering among the guests. In the middle of a frenzied group dance, Serge suddenly picks up his father Nigel and twirls him round and round like he’s an eight year old. We witness the Oedipal death of the father…in the nicest possible way.

Sarah—the sister of Serge, who wins the prize for the least appropriately dressed with tie-dye leggings, a black fleece vest, and Birkenstocks. Oh, did I mention no deodorant? Now, is that the French influence or because she’s a lesbian? Yes, yes, I’m full of internalized homophobia, but no one has an excuse for body odor! Of course, she turns out to be delightful, has a great partner, and they have an adopted two year old, Rainbow. And it was nice not to be the only lesbian in the family.

The Brits

Polly—my beloved aunt and bubbly mother of the bride who is making a valiant effort to come to terms with the fact that her daughter is not having a traditional white wedding and that the reception is in a village hall.

Alan—Polly’s selfish and pretentious boyfriend of 18 years who is the worst kind of insecure snob. He makes an uninvited speech at the wedding that invokes some obscure link between our family and Prince Charles, and to everyone’s embarrassment breaks into Spanish, which is confusing as the foreigners present are French. He does however provide a highlight of the weekend, when he again takes the floor—or the upper deck of the garden—at the christening party to solemnly address the group gathered below him. My father rounds the corner laden with booze and walking into the middle of the speech. It shouldn’t be noticed, let alone memorable, except that my comic and popular Dad—who is a natural Eric Morecambe or Oliver Hardy—somehow turns it into the funniest moment ever for a bored crowd that can’t resist the upstaging of Alan.

Seamus—Cousin Laura’s high-flying Anglo-Irish lawyer boyfriend…and I only mention Irish to set up the cheap stereotype that he drinks too much. An unfair judgment in this crowd where everyone drinks too much, but he drinks the most. Aunt Polly tells me he was at an event last year, chatting with Laura’s brother Jimmy. Seamus stares off at a beautiful woman across the room and declares that he likes her knockers (boobs/breasts/tits/Bristol cities). Jimmy icily informs him that the woman with the fabulous knockers is his wife and Laura’s sister-in-law to boot.

Jimmy—Tessa and Laura’s half-brother and sexual abuser of Tessa as a child. Ugly family history that Tessa at least has found a way of dealing with. Apart from that, he’s a nice guy and apparently a wonderful father. I’ve always wondered if he’s ever dealt with his childhood crimes.

Sophie—Jimmy’s picture perfect wife, yes, she of the fabulous knockers, who dresses in Prada, Gucci, D&G etc. and has three gorgeous children. She finds herself discussing a recently deceased friend of my mother with my mother. Sophie speaks kindly of the deceased until her son bursts out “You said she was bad influence!” Out of the mouths of babes…

The Rest

I think I have to stop the list soon…but you can add into the drama:

  • The rock‘n’roll vicar, the new face of the Church of England who plays guitar and tells tales of the church teddy bear to a hungover and sleep-deprived crowd;
  • Barbara, horsy half-sister of Tessa, and Jimmy’s twin, whose mother killed herself when she was a baby and who is now frighteningly suffering from depression;
  • John, half-brother of Tessa whose first wife died of breast cancer in the middle of their divorce;
  • the father of the bride who is conspicuously absent after suffering a stroke five years ago and cannot face us in a wheelchair;
  • my divorced parents and my father’s hippie girlfriend who confides in my mother about their relationship issues;
  • my grandfather’s widow who has a knack for not making money and falling out with the few relatives she has left; and
  • Poochy the Irish wolfhound who ripped apart my aunt’s car in protest at missing the party.

And you already know plenty about me. You could submit a draft of the pilot episode to HBO or Telemundo, but they’d probably think it was OTT.

6 responses to “Till death do us part”

  1. A very funny post, by turns very serious. Sexual abuse, drunkenness, and divorce notwithstanding, my favorite line was this, which I read in your British accent almost as if it were a voiceover on a National Geographic special filmed in the wild:

    We witness the Oedipal death of the father…in the nicest possible way.

  2. Tim Wager says:


    Wowee, wow, wow.

    It really does have the makings of a movie, a kind of cross between “Celebration” and a Hugh Grant wedding farce. I vote for Mike Leigh to direct.

    Thanks for making your extended family dysfunction so entertaining for us. Perhaps it was cathartic for you to write, so I hope you got something out of it too.

  3. Stephanie Wells says:

    Yes, it’s all very East Enders!! At least, that’s how I picture all big dramatic extended English families to be, since I don’t know very many of them, so everyone becomes Den and Angie and ‘Chelle and Lofty at the Queen Vic in my mind (obviously I haven’t watched it since, like, 1986). High drama, indeed.

  4. Lane says:

    “my comic and popular Dad”

    Ah yes your Dad! he is comic and popular.

  5. MarleyFan says:

    Novellamaster: great post, very gripping; like a fine novel we can’t put down (ok, ok, I’ll just read ONE more page). It took a little reading to determine if you were making this up, had a superior imagination, or if you were worked for CNN, reporting the drama as it unfolded.
    Gary (a perpetual lurker, and SSW’s brother)

    PS: What is OTT?

  6. Stella says:

    OTT = Over the top

    Eastenders…wrong social class, wrong part of the country, but otherwise a match. We certainly drink as much as they do.

    All of this is 100% true, but be assured that I used pseudonyms. Thank you all for persevering, but you should know that I edited out tons of material and some minor characters.

    And for members of the NECSC, it’s “John’s” wife that gave us the infamous cereal box game.