Sunday, June 22, 2014

Dave & Stacey's Wedding

I’ve never put together a “bucket list” but, if I did, attending a traditional Indian wedding would be high on that list.  There’s something incredibly appealing to me about a wedding celebration that lasts a minimum of three days.   In that vein, let me announce that my son, David Mullen, married Stacey Erskine on Friday, June 6, 2014, at the Maplewood Country Club in Maplewood, New Jersey.  It was the union of two Irish-American families and the celebration was quintessentially American but, with festivities spanning three days, it's probably the closest I'll ever get to an Indian wedding!

Day 1:  Thursday, June 5th: The Rehearsal Dinner   

The rehearsal dinner is a staple of American weddings.  It’s usually a fairly sedate affair, taking place immediately after the wedding rehearsal.   Dave and Stacey’s rehearsal dinner was a tad different.  To begin with, it happened before the rehearsal at an unassuming restaurant called LouCás.  Located in a strip mall in Edison, New Jersey, it is the embodiment of the phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover”.  The interior was absolutely beautiful, the service was superb, and the food was excellent.  After a fantastic dinner (and a half dozen bottles of wine) the wedding party was relaxed and ready to rehearse.

(Click all photos to enlarge)
The actual rehearsal took place in an alley next to the restaurant.  I kid you not.  Click on the photo on the left.  See that arrow?  On the evening of June 5, 2014, that arrow would have been pointing directly at us.  Throughout the rehearsal, the celebrant performing the wedding – a guy I thought bore a distinct resemblance to Dustin Hoffman – was constantly making wisecracks.  As a result, no one, not even the bride and groom, was even the slightest bit nervous.  Again, the wine helped.

Afterwards, Dave and Andy (the best man) came back to Cranbury to spend the night.  We had a beer and watched the end of an NBA playoff game in comfy chairs.  Is there a more appropriate way to get ready for married life?

Day 2:  Friday, June 6th: Wedding Day!

Wedding or not, I was going to get a little work out of Dave before he left.  While I dropped off our dog, Angel, at the kennel, I instructed Dave and Andy grab a bunch of tables and chairs from our neighbors' back yards.  They were vital for the post-wedding barbecue on Saturday.  By the time I got back from the kennel, Andy and Dave had finished their little task and had left for the Short Hills Hilton to join the rest of the wedding party. 

At least the pocket square looked good
I got to the Hilton at around noon in time for the traditional “Father of the Groom” photo shoot in Dave’s room with the groomsmen.  Adam McCauley, one of the groomsmen, got things started right by handing around a flask of fireball whiskey.  Kimali Messado, another groomsman, took charge of sprucing up everyone’s handkerchief (i.e. "pocket square").  Actually, Kimali was obsessed with sprucing up everyone’s pocket square!   He started out by simply adjusting them, but that wasn’t enough.  He then took each handkerchief, ironed it on the bed, refolded it, and then carefully put it back in the person’s breast pocket.  But Dave’s pocket square still didn’t look perfect, so Kimali "RE-re-arranged" it and then proceeded to iron it in Dave’s pocket while Dave was still wearing his suit jacket!  Now that’s commitment! 

We had some time to kill at the end of the photo shoot, so Dave began practicing the face he was going to use for the traditional “first look” at the bride.  I’m sure his actual “first look” photo will be touching, but the one that he practiced in his room will be the one I always remember.

Artist's rendition ...
There’s one other photo that I really hope the photographer caught:  Dave giving Andy a brotherly “gut shot”.  It’s supposed to be ceremonial, but Dave really didn’t pull his punch all that much.  Andy’s “Oof!” sounded pretty heartfelt.  If it wasn’t Dave’s wedding day, a brotherly wrestling match would have undoubtedly ensued.

After Dave left for a different photo shoot, I hung out with the groomsmen at the hotel bar.  We had a few beers, ate lunch, and greeted other family members as they checked in.  Adam hung around the longest and related something that coincided perfectly with a sentiment that I planned to include in my wedding toast.  Adam mentioned that Dave isn’t all that comfortable with events like this wedding because he doesn’t like being the center of attention.  I wholeheartedly agreed.  Dave is outgoing and gregarious; he loves parties, but he’s not the “life of the party”, the guy with the lampshade on his head.  He’s the guy who makes parties fun for everyone else.  He’s the glue that holds parties together.

The wedding ceremony was scheduled to begin at the Maplewood Country Club at 6:30pm, so the entire wedding party arrived at 5:30pm for more photos.  Things were running a little behind schedule but Stacey was totally unperturbed.  I’ve never seen her so calm.  It was a stunningly beautiful day – a perfect day for pictures – but I was a tad wary of the location.  We were only a few yards to the right of the first tee and I could easily imagine an overzealous and under skilled duffer shanking a drive into the wedding party!

After photos, the wedding party made their way to the patio of the country club to greet guests as they arrived.  Champagne and light snacks were being served, giving no indication of the onslaught of food and drink that would follow.
The actual wedding ceremony went without a hitch … literally!  It was highlighted by a Celtic Handfasting Ceremony, where the hands of the bride and groom are bound together by a rope to symbolize their wedding vows.  Stacey’s brother, Sean Erskine, performed the ceremony while Brian Erskine (Stacey’s other brother) and Sara Sankowich (Dave’s sister) explained the meaning of the ceremony to the congregation.  Afterwards, I learned that Sean had ignored Stacey’s last minute instructions and tied a more difficult knot, one that he had wanted to use all along!

Andy did his job as the the best man:  he didn’t drop the rings, nor did he pretend that he didn’t have the rings (which is what Kimali wanted him to do!).  The celebrant spoke very eloquently and gave a shout out to Dave’s Aunt Iréne who had made the rings.  The ceremony was short and sweet, lasting about 20 minutes.  From there, we headed into an adjacent room for the pre-reception cocktail hour.

It was at this point that the onslaught began: food and drink were everywhere!  In addition to the usual hors d'oeuvres served by the wait staff, there were various food stations serving lamb chops, sushi, stir fry, pasta, crudités, pizza, and more.  There was even a vodka and caviar bar, not to mention multiple open bars serving anything that you wanted, whether it was a Cosmo, a Manhattan, or just a cold beer.  I had to constantly warn people that this was just the cocktail hour…a full dinner was being served later!

After an hour or so, the actual reception began.  After the traditional dances (bride-groom, father-daughter, mother-son), the toasts began.  Stacey’s maid of honor, Tiffany Chen, led off.  She took a number of surprising jabs at Stacey (well-deserved, I’m sure) that were pretty amusing.  I particularly liked her comment that, before meeting Stacey, she had never heard anyone talk that much before!  She also mentioned that Stacey had become noticeably less hyper once Dave had become a part of her life.  I can see that.

Andy gave a great “best man” speech, recounting some of his memories of growing up with Dave.  Alluding to the toast that Dave gave at his wedding, Andy gave his account of the time where he and Dave were swinging each other around, having the time of their lives … until Dave flew off and embedded his front teeth in a wooden column.  That event obviously left an impression on more than just the wooden column!  I also liked Andy’s recollection of how he and Dave would “couchify” their Mom whenever she became particularly exasperated over something that they did.  They would each grab one of her arms, hoist her in the air, and carry her to the living room couch where they would hug her and refuse to let her go until she calmed down and was laughing.  Pure genius.  Andy ended his toast with a lacrosse story, relating an incident where Dave delivered a physical hit on him in practice, causing Andy to realize that “Little Mullen” had indeed grown up.

Dave, staying close ...
I gave the last toast and, for some, it might have sounded a tad inappropriate.  Instead of welcoming Stacey into the family and thanking her parents, Dennis and Mary Ann, for hosting such a wonderful celebration, I used the few minutes I had to correct an error that I had made at the weddings of my other two children, Sara and Andy.  I had planned on giving a toast at each of their weddings but, for differing reasons, I never did.  I used my toast to Dave and Stacey to rectify that situation as well.  I related a story that involved all of my kids and our most memorable family vacation, a week-long hike in the Grand Canyon.  I also spoke about the special strengths that I think each of my children possess.   Since it was Dave’s day, I concluded with his special strength:  his ability to act as the “glue” in any social situation, whether it be at work, at a party, or on an athletic team.  Dave has the ability to relate to almost anyone; he’s easy going, friendly, and he wants everyone to enjoy themselves.  It’s why he was voted by his lacrosse coaches and teammates as the winner of the Bobby Campbell Scholarship as the individual showing the greatest amount of teamwork and team spirit.   My toast went on way too long but it could have been worse.  I cut a good five minutes out of it just moments before delivering it!

Following the toasts, the food barrage began again.  There was a salad course, an entree (filet mignon, sea bass, or chicken), and a full dessert tray.  That was followed by crème brûlée, little milkshakes, and coffee.  The wedding cake didn't get cut and served until late in the evening but, if you were still looking for something else to satisfy your sweet tooth, a fully-stocked dessert table was available throughout the evening along with a freezer full of ice cream!   The multiple open bars also stayed available throughout the evening, as did a serve-yourself after-dinner drink bar. (I limited myself to just a couple of shots of Bailey’s!)

Unlike Dave and Stacey, who were out on the dance floor constantly, I spent a lot of time at the bar in the outer room talking with people.   I was in mid-sentence, though, when I heard the opening strains of “Love Shack” by the B-52’s and said, “Uh-oh, I have to go.  There’s something I can’t miss.”   Sure enough, every Mullen was already on the dance floor!  Over the years, "Love Shack" has become the official Mullen Family Party Song.  It started back in the 80's when my brother, Mike, and his wife, Anne, christened their shore house with that name.  Tom Kinslow, my brother-in-law, then made them a cute little "Love Shack" sign out of wood which they hung at the entrance.  In 1992, though, their shore house was totally leveled by Hurricane Andrew.  Nothing was left, not even the foundation.  Amazingly, a few days later, someone found that sign washed up on the beach and returned it to my brother.  When the house was rebuilt, the “Love Shack” sign was put back in its place of honor.  Now, whenever we have a family party – no matter where it is – this song eventually gets played and we're all transported back to the "Love Shack".

Dave’s buddies, particularly Joe Cannon, Adam, and Kimali, were all over the dance floor, as were all of Stacey's bridesmaids. Marilynn’s brothers, Alan (and his wife Nancy) and Carl (and his wife, Iréne) showed everyone what a proper jitterbug looked like.  Marilynn took a turn with Alan as well and learned a few moves that maybe I'll get the hang of someday.

Time flew by.  It was damn near midnight when I said, “Hey, I missed the cake cutting!”  I was then told that it hadn’t happened yet!  I don’t think I’ve ever been to a wedding where the cake was cut at midnight.  If the garter belt and bouquet were thrown, though, I definitely missed that!

Finally, at almost 1:00am, the bars closed and the ice-cream cart was trundled away.  The lights came on and the remaining guests went outside…not to leave, mind you, but to give the bride and groom a proper send-off.  Everyone was given a huge sparkler and told to form a path for Dave and Stacey to walk between.  Despite the mixture of alcohol and fire, no one’s hair caught on fire and Stacey’s gown didn’t get singed.  Since no one seems to have gotten a photo of that event, I pulled one off the web from someone else's wedding.  The sparklers in this photo are way too small and there were no trees in the Maplewood Country Club parking lot, but I simply had to use this photo.  Who does that groom look like?

With the reception officially over, the shuttles appeared and, after an extended debate as to whether there should have been two or three shuttles, everyone went back to the hotel.   A few die-hards stayed up for a "Winston Long" drink at the hotel bar and a privileged few were invited back to the Kinslow room for a drink.  As for me, well, you could put a fork in me.  It was 2:00am and I was done.

Day 3:  Saturday, June 7th: Brunch and Barbecue!

As if all of the food from the prior evening wasn’t enough to last the entire weekend, Marilynn and I hosted a brunch at the Short Hills Hilton at 10:30am.  About 90 people attended.  Not everyone was in the mood to eat, but everyone appreciated the coffee and tea!

The brunch ended at 12:30pm, but the wedding festivities weren’t over.  There was still “one party more” and about 40 people headed south to Cranbury for a barbecue at our house.  Things were supposed to kick off at 2:00pm, but Marilynn and I didn’t even get home until about 1:45pm.  At that time, almost nothing was ready – the beer wasn’t even cold!  Like a true Mullen party, though, everyone who showed up was put to work.  By the time I got back with a cold case of beer and some ice, the backyard was all set up: tables, chairs, awnings.  All I had to do was set up the music table.

At first, no one was hungry, so we just sat around conversating and drinking wine, beer, and sangria (the official “Ground Round” recipe that I got from my brother, Kevin).  Amazingly, though, by about 5:30pm, everyone started to get hungry.

I had foolishly told Marilynn months ago that I would handle the barbecuing and that there was no need for a caterer.  She had looked at me skeptically but said, “okay …”.  Well, now that it was D-Day (actually the day after D-Day) and I realized that I was out of my league.  Not only had I never been the barbecuer (that was always Dave’s job!) but I had 40 people to cook for!  And I had to cook four different types of meat and have it all hot and ready at the same time!  Tom Kinslow, my brother in law, offered to help but I’d be damned if I was going to let him show me up.  So I plowed ahead … literally, if you saw what the grill looked like.  It was jam-packed with food.  Grease was dripping constantly onto the grill pan, causing plumes of smoke to billow into the air.  It actually crossed my mind that a neighbor might mistake it for a house fire and call 911.

It eventually became clear that I had to have help.  My sister, Chris, jumped in and was at my elbow the whole time, pointing out flames that had to be snuffed, sausages that had to be rolled, and hot dogs that had to be charred a bit more for Annie.  She also threw cheese on most of the burgers.  Again, I mean this literally.  Chris didn’t want to get anywhere near all the flame and smoke, so she stood about a foot away from the grill and threw slices of cheese in the general direction of the burgers.  I then had to reach in and tong each piece of cheese into place.  Tom Martine and his wife, Joan, also gave me advice (mostly non-helpful) and Joan ferried cooked stuff into the kitchen so that it could be kept warm in the oven.

While I was battling with the grill, Marilynn and a host of women had everything else under control.  Rolls and buns were warmed to perfection, salads were made, and the entire buffet was set up.  As bad a time as I was having, I was glad that I was cooking rather than in charge of set up. Miraculously, everything came together in the end.  The food (except for one piece of chicken on which I dumped a pile of seasoned salt) tasted pretty good and every bit of food was eaten without audible complaint. 

After the food, it was time for the Belmont Stakes.  Unfortunately, the actual event didn’t live up to the pre-race hype.  California Chrome, the winner of the first two legs of the Triple Crown, started slowly, made a slight charge that had everyone hoping, but faded badly to finish tied for fourth.  Hardly anyone really cared though, so it was back to the party for everyone except Dave and Stacey.  Unbelievably, they were still at the barbecue, even though they had an 8:50am flight to St. Lucia the next day!

Little by little, most of the other guests left too.  The core Mullen group, though, hung on for a few more hours, conversating outside in lawn chairs until the mosquitoes began to rule the night.  At 11:30pm, I was the last man standing, watching the NY Rangers lose in overtime to the LA Kings (how could the Rangers be so thoughtless?).  I turned off the light and went to bed.  Dave and Stacey’s three-day wedding festivities had finally come to an end!


Miscellaneous Photos

Yeah, I know.  This blog entry has droned on even longer than my wedding toast.  Well, it's not over yet! Here are a few more pictures (absolutely none of which I took) which simply had to be included.  Special thanks to Kimali Messado, Pete and Sara Sankowich, Sarah McGarvey, Chris and Ross Kreamer, Karen McGarvey, Tim Lee, and Jonathan Mullen for providing me with these photos. 

The official invitation
Making absolutely sure he arrives

And it only took 9 years ...

Bound for happiness

Always watching over ...

The man was born to wear a tie

He really wishes he had that hat!

Mingling before the ceremony ...

A pose on the patio ...

Unable to decide on a food station

Obviously sampled the vodka and caviar bar

Always important to enjoy your own wedding!

Some "selfies" work ...

Others do not.

The proud father

"There are places I remember ..."

Dennis and Mary Ann with Mr. and Mrs. Mullen

The way they looked the entire evening!

Congratulations, Stacey!  These two are officially your uncles!

Really enjoying that yogurt at Brunch!