The summer wind

Everyone’s in love on a wedding day. There’s hope for all of us at such ceremonies, isn’t there? We’re thinking the best possible things about love, while the bride says “I do” and wipes the tear from her beloved ‘s cheek; while the groom cups her chin while he softly speaks his vows to her; or while the two tuxedo-clad lovers are finally, finally pronounced as man and husband. Those of us in committed love are standing up there with them — renewing our vows all together, at secret, sacred altars. We reach across the pew to squeeze knees and drape our arms around our love’s shoulders, with our sweet babies wiggling between us. We mindlessly trace infinity symbols on the other’s bare skin with our fingertips, in that vulnerable place under his leather watchstrap, where the hair has stopped growing near the wristbone. We’re noticing where her pashmina shawl has slipped down to reveal sleeveless, soft arms, and the smattering of freckles that still entice. We reach places where only the other knows us so intimately, where only the other can go.
 
On our wedding day, we danced to Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are,” because it was honest, sentimental, and simple. Kinda like him and me. After our first dance, several of our wedding guests sought us out — while we were awkwardly scarfing down already-cold crab puffs from the cocktail hour, which some kind soul handed to us so we didn’t faint. The guests wanted to share that the song had been their wedding song, too, and squeezed my hand or my husband’s shoulder as they said so. Sometimes, they placed arms around their beloved and pulled them a bit closer while telling us.

 

There were other songs that we considered during the wedding planning — John Lennon’s “Woman,” for one, because my husband used to play that for me on his acoustic guitar when we were in college. We considered Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love,” too — because, well, because have you met me? Because I’m nuts. But I didn’t like the idea of the whole woman-on-a-pedestal thing. What about the guy in this? What about his remarkable qualities and reasons for being loved and cherished? One-sided adoration doesn’t sit well with me. Marriage is an even playing field, baby. It’s what happens after I take off this silly, old dress and veil. It’s about both of us. My soon-to-be husband liked that way of thinking. I guess that’s one of the reasons why he picked me.
 
Now, as a wedding guest of a certain age, “Summer Wind” is the song that makes me get up and dance. The first few whiny notes of the organ — followed by the tease of horns conducted so masterfully by Nelson Riddle — sounds over the wedding DJ’s speakers, and that’s it. I’m up, and I’m mistress of the rented parquet dance floor.
 
By this point in the program, I’ve had a couple of glasses of white wine, and not enough shrimp at the cocktail hour — which makes for a superlative state of disinhibition. If I’m with my extended family at the wedding, one of them usually yells out, “Oh, that’s it. Here she goes.” And I do, indeed. Oh, how I go. I make eye contact with my husband, even in light of the extremely gaudy floral centerpiece that blocks everyone’s line of sight in the reception hall — the same one that several guests are already critiquing, or arguing over as to who will be the lucky one to take it home after the reception, just as long as it fits in the back seat of the Cadillac with Aunt Ida.

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Sometimes, if I don’t catch my husband’s eye between the orchid stems and floating votives, I make a big show of walking around to his chair and tapping him on the shoulder — just for the bit. He feigns surprise, every time. I offer my hand, and he grasps it, and leads me to the dance floor.

My love places one hand on the small of my back, and extends my hand with the other, folding it tenderly in his palm. He guides me along through each verse, and we sing the song together, while friends or cousins laugh and dance and sway nearby. I curl my arm around his neck, and I hold him to me for a minute, with my cheek on his padded suit shoulder, before he twirls me out, and we start to get a little ridiculous.

There’s something inherently outerborough New York embedded in the bars of “Summer Wind,” and in so many other Frank Sinatra songs. Perhaps because they’re featured on so many mafia movie soundtracks, or because our grandfathers used to sing along to such music in the front seat of the ’69 Chevy Nova along the Grand Central Parkway, or while they danced with mops in their Brooklyn kitchens. Maybe because we foolishly believed that Frank still belonged to us, even though he’d left us for California so long ago. To so many New Yorkers, he was still that kid at the Paramount Theater with Tommy Dorsey’s Big Band, crooning for our teenage grandmothers after the war. We don’t think of him as a carouser or a drinker or a womanizer. We think of Sinatra as the person we still need him to be.

There’s irony in such a dance, in two people still happily paired together, and in singing too loudly and drunkenly about losing love to the summer wind. Our days and nights have gone flying by, even in the best of times. We’re no longer kids. Our love isn’t new. But it’s still here, ticking away. So dip me, baby.

The other guests laugh and point at our foolishness, and raise whatever glass they’re holding to toast my husband’s semi-slick moves. The best part? When we belt out the last verses together, in our outrageous New York accents, toasting illusions and ideals.

 

We’ve somehow been promoted to the older generation at weddings we now attend. We sit down during the Sugarhill Gang songs. But when Frank comes on, we are moved to act. It’s complusory. It’s ours. We remember childhood summers, and Sunday dinners, and the way things were. We dance in our minds with grandfathers no longer here — who came home from the war, and who honestly believed that Frank would leave Ava and go back to Nancy. Who stayed married to their goils for almost forty years — almost — if she’d just made it to the fall, before she passed away. What a party they woulda had.

In moments like that, we’re just a room full of sweethearts. And the summer wind. The warm summer wind.

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