Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Lost and Found

We were already ten minutes late for the wedding when Judy nosed the Subaru into a dead-end lane in a strip mall parking lot. We were a hundred miles from home, and the map that I’d brought with was old enough to show interstate exchanges that no longer existed. The “good” map was still at home on a table somewhere. Clutter is my middle name.

Before us was a landscape berm with dirt and bark and shrubs nestled between two lengths of concrete curbing. On either side were parked cars lines up side by side like sardines stretching right up the curb. Across the barrier was the day’s Holy Grail, a Citgo station which we’d spied from a distance and were aiming at for help finding the ceremony. “Get me to the church on time” was no longer on our play list. The detour through the parking lot was supposed to be a short cut. I use the phrase “the best laid plans…” a lot these days.

Retreat was obviously the only option. I used to have a Subaru and once took the stupid courage that all-wheel drive gives you and drove it across one of those concrete lined medians like I was off-roading in a TV commercial. The crunching sound from the undercarriage set me straight on that really bad idea. But before Judy could put the car into reverse, she first had to put it into park so we could open the floodgates of laughter. Judy laughed until she cried. I laughed until I was gasping. If anybody wanted to leave their parking spot at that exact moment, they were just going to have to wait.

There’s something about being lost with a good friend that can make you feel like you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. And we were definitely, most decidedly lost. My daughter had called that morning, taking up a half hour of what I had expected to be my “figure out where the wedding is” time before I left the house. The internet map I had hastily printed off turned out to be useless. And so we were going on my memory of what a computer screen had showed me three hours earlier, without a clue as to what run-on municipality we were in, much less where that city was in relation to Palatine, Illinois.

We eventually pulled ourselves together and started to back out. Then Judy noticed a trio of nice looking folks—two woman and a man who was wearing a beret and holding a cup of coffee—and she leaned out the window and asked if anyone knew where the church was. No, I don’t have a smart phone. And no, Judy didn’t have one either. Or a GPS unit.

HOWEVER…the nice man with the beret and the coffee did have a very smart phone, and sat down in the back seat of the Subaru while he tapped on this magical device. (Forget everything we’ve told our kids about not letting strangers into the car.) He plugged in the church address, called up a street map, handed me the phone, and watched me promptly erase the screen. I handed the phone back, and he did his magic again. This time I got my bearings, and we were off and running. Got to the church—which was not all that far away—a whole five minutes before the “I do’s.”

Then, after a brief ceremony conducted by a young priest who sounded a bit like Count Chocula, the radiant and gorgeous bride and her handsome and well-tailored groom walked beaming as a married couple down the aisle and into their future, and Judy and I took ourselves over to a nearby craft store to browse and buy before getting lost on the way to the reception. I bought half-priced candles and a wall plaque that announced that “with the right shoes I can do anything.” Except, apparently, find my way out of a paper bag.

Yes, I said that word “lost” again. This time we actually did make into the inside of a gas station to ask directions the old-fashioned way, where the consensus of the clerk behind the counter and two other customers waiting to buy lottery tickets was that we weren’t too far off track.

And so we made it to the reception, settled in, and got that lovely “found” feeling again. I had met the bride, Julia, all of about four times in her life, the first being when she was about six years old, and the last being several years ago at her big sister’s wedding. But her parents, Leo and Mary Anne, carbon date back to the first year we were all placed as incoming students at Marquette University in the same “overflow dorm,” the downtown YMCA in Milwaukee. Judy, Mary Anne and I all lived just a few doors apart on the same floor. Mary Anne was my next-door “neighbor” for two years running, and my maid of honor when I donned a frilly white long dress and put pink roses in my hair and walked down the aisle of a Gothic cathedral for my own wedding a lifetime ago. There a picture of me posing with Mary Anne and Judy and some of the other girls we met that first year in my wedding album. The marriage didn’t survive…but somehow the friendships did.

More than three decades had passed since those first days, and can be measured by the usual markers: children (we have a dozen between us), grey hair (in various stages of concealment), emergency calls in the middle of the night, and a bit of gravity-induced shape shifting. Well, okay, shape-shifting for all but Mary Anne. Judy and I are still working on forgiving her for looking identical to her eighteen-year-old self, trim and energetic and smiling and lovely. The warmth and comfort and affection and, yes, memories, that surrounded the four of us as we talked and celebrated the fact that our children were embarking on their own life adventures was magical.

We cut out of the reception before the dancing started, but not without claiming some “exit hugs” before we left. We still had two hours of driving ahead of us, and leaving the ball at midnight like Cinderella has long since lost its allure. Remarkably, we did not get significantly lost working our way back to the interstate.

But even if we had…we would still have been most definitely “found.”

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