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Chris Erskine: A Wedding, Snowy and Sublime

A wedding weekend tribute: a snow bride and her snow groom.

SOMEWHERE ON THE SNOWY PLAINS — The bride wore white, and so did Chicago.
Back from my niece’s wedding, a few observations about winter in the heartland:
— To me, nothing is prettier than a prairie snowstorm, a big sloppy kiss to the face, followed by extreme cold. It’s kind of a polar plunge for the soul.
— My 28-year-old niece, Carrie, a ginger sensation on the soccer field and in life, is the first to marry out of my sister Holly’s six kids. She “jumped the line,” as they say, over her five older siblings, as if threading her way through an enemy defense. Mazel tov! Score!
— At this wedding reception in the ’burbs, Carrie looked like the beautiful ice queen in a Pixar movie, her incredible dress whiter than the linen of the golf course outside. It speaks to our hearts and hardiness in tricky times. It speaks to perhaps the last lovely American ritual we have left.
— Maybe there is something prettier than a prairie snowstorm: brides.
— I like weddings the way I like pillow fights and steamed mussels and sweet-and-sour ribs. I just do. As with a Cubs season, some weddings are better than others. But I like them all.
— When a storm frosts the windows, you can see the internal organs of the snow — the icy crystals, the curtain lace.
— The best banter might be wedding banter: “My father was a square-dance caller …” the groom’s dad (David) tells me one morning.
Wait. Time out. What?
— Giant plows are the rock stars of a northern Illinois winter. You get a little excited when you spot one, as if Robert Plant were standing behind you at Starbucks.
— My hometown will forever bring to mind snow days and John Prine and Bill Murray and Pabst Blue Ribbon … sock hops and football games and pond hockey.
“Twenty-four years old and John Prine writes like he’s 220,” Kris Kristofferson once quipped of my favorite folk singer.
I could build me a mansion with memories, just to have somewhere to go …
Meanwhile, this is a gentle and relentless storm, the snow steady but in no hurry. There’s the extreme hush, broken by the occasional scraping of the giant plows. Sublime in its own wintry way.
This is the kind of storm that when you spot bare pavement, you feel very blessed. Unlike in the California mountains, trucks drop salt on the roads to eat away the ice. Why? Because otherwise they might all die.
The takeaway: Winter can be war.
But it can also be a moment of repose — marshmallows in your cocoa … grilled cheese with a cup of tomato soup.
Outside Carrie’s childhood home, the bride’s dad (John) and I build a snow tribute to the bride and groom. In time, the wind and wet snow knock it over.
FYI, Chicago is not for wimps. In fact, Chicago is a Native American word for “flash frozen.”
Because there is bad weather, and then there is lethal weather.
A blizzard like this, followed by plunging temps, qualifies as lethal. I think I’m pretty good on a snow-packed country road — usually don’t death-grip the steering wheel. This time, I make an exception.
In the midst of it all, there’s this lavish wedding celebration going on. So much could’ve gone wrong. The cooks could’ve gone AWOL, and the band could’ve gotten a better offer (stay in, make chili, take a long hot shower with the wife. Play Scrabble).
The parking valets could’ve bolted for Florida. The boilers in the grand old club could’ve all imploded. The copper pipes could’ve seized up.
When the temps reach minus 2, I start to fetishize L.A., which is something I seldom do. Suddenly, I want to slow dance with a palm tree. Believe it or not, I wanted to crawl at rush hour along the 405, admiring the brake lights.
And yet this big wedding celebration goes off almost without a hitch. Sure, the best man got waylaid by the 20-inches of heavy snow, as did about 25 other guests, stranded in Denver and Nashville and Moline.
But on this wintriest of nights — really the worst snowstorm you could imagine — the bride and her life prize (Mikey) welcomed 170 guests to this elegant banquet hall, as if nothing were amiss.
That’s the spirit of real love. That’s the spirit of “till death do us part.”
“Will be home in three days,” Napoleon once wrote to Josephine. “Don’t wash.”
Yeah. That kind of love.

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First published January 18-20 in Outlook Newspapers.


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