Ceremonial robes

August was the month my grandmother had been planning for all year, my uncle’s wedding and the annual dance course that has turned into an unofficial family reunion. When you have an army of cousins, uncles and aunts over thirty strong, you have to find imaginative ways to spend time together and somehow our family has chosen circle dancing to help us fill our quality time quota. Beds had been prepared a year in advance and many long email correspondences had been carefully forged and on occasions, proof read by me to check for any offensive ‘subtext’ grandmother hadn’t intended.

With such a build up, it was unsurprising that there was, to put it lightly, a bit of drama, at the farm when this much planned for month finally came around. Like a pile of dry grass that had been building up all year, a few sparks and grandmother quickly became a blazing ball of fury. Some of the eruptions were comical: grandmother storming past a cheering group of her grandchildren, screwing her face up in disgust and desperately shouting “do you have no culture?”, other times were not so funny, but despite a few volcanic eruptions things eventually calmed down and my uncle’s wedding was still a beautiful day.

The wedding services themselves were a bit left field and stick in my memory predominantly as achievements in the suppression of laughter. My grandmother’s house has a small chapel room in it where a morning service was held on the day of the wedding. This was advertised as a small, very holy service only for those who wanted to go and were prepared to be silent and respectful. It seems that most the guests were curious so by the time the doors were closed for the service, the tiny chapel was packed. Ten minutes passed in a heady, expectant silence before the stillness was finally broken by my grandmother who processed slowly into the room from the side, swamped in vast ceremonial robes that made her look like a cross between a choir boy and a monk. She went to light the candles but the flame of her taper got too wild, so she calmly turned back in the direction she’d come from in the same sombre manner she had entered, before reappearing with a flame more suitable for candle lighting. Like watching a child in a school play, the seriousness with which she went about her small role added to its comedic effect and as I felt my jaw clench, I closed my eyes so as not to risk making eye contact with anyone. Shortly after grandmother had delivered her candle lighting duties, the priest arrived and carried out the service, repeating a series of short gestures and phrases in a dreamy, lilting intonation reminiscent of a performing hypnotist. The audience maintained their holy and respectful silence. Communion came and my mother, seemingly the only one who had realized this was what was happening, stoically stood alone at the front whilst the priest made a gesture not unlike a gun against her temple. She retained her composure without looking embarrassed or letting out any indication of laughter for which she is a hero.  The silence was only briefly broken by some short exhales of held in laughter breath from the front rows. I assumed one of the younger guests had finally cracked at the weirdness of it all but I later found it had been provoked by the sight of my aunty dreamily leaning against what she thought was a wall and silently falling sideways into a hidden cupboard!

For the main wedding service in the barn, I had agreed to take on the role of ‘server’, assuming it would involve a form of refreshment giving, however when I arrived for my briefing with the priest I discovered I was to act as a ceremonial book stand who symbolized the holy spirit. My outfit consisted of a vast, red robe that was much too long for me. This was rectified by a band of elastic that I was to wear round my waist like a belt, pulling the robe up so the excess fabric length hung over the top of the waist band to achieve a final trimester of pregnancy effect. Over this was a slightly shorter, blouse type robe in white, all topped off with a large, white collar that tied around the front like a cape.

Adulthood is too often quantified in terms of jobs, relationships and property ownership, but for me, finding myself standing in front of seventy plus wedding guests that day, in an outfit that was somewhere between a child’s nativity costume, and someone desperately trying to wear all their holiday clothes onto a flight, and not expressing the laughter and embarrassment I felt bubbling inside me, gave me a glimpse of what it truly means to be grown up.


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