(This, by the way, is the single longest journal entry I’ve ever written. Just so you know.)
Everyone, as far as I know, who had planned to get to the wedding of my cousin Stephanie Houston and Paul Ribbing indeed made it. From the 12th to the 15th, we converged from all directions (OK, most directions; no one burrowed) on Camp Richardson on Lake Tahoe’s southern shore. Hotel rooms, apartments and cabins filled up with dozens of friends and relations. My parents braved the gas prices and road-tripped there, seeing Mt. Shasta on the way. I flew Southwest Airlines that Friday with my Aunt Pat, the first-born of the Nelson daughters (Steph’s mom Ruth Ann was the second; my mom was the third; my Aunt Nancy was the fourth) and my Uncle Bill. It was good that my last few flights have been cross-country non-stops, because that makes an hour-and-a-half in the air seem like nothing. I hitched a ride with Pat and Bill out of Reno (slogan: “Johnny Cash never sang about Vegas!”) down I-80 westbound to get around to the lake’s west shore.
Various close calls with pickups ensued. Man, traffic was heavy…
We ran into recognizable faces within 30 seconds of pulling into the camp, then we scattered to our places to stay. I set up in a duplex on the beach that was going to hold six people, until one couple decided to make new sleeping arrangements, so the place held a more manageable four. So li’l single me didn’t have to share a bed with, shall we say, a non-snugglebunny. (I like the word “snugglebunny.” It’s from “Bloom County.” Man, this blog’s educational.)
We had one hell of a sunset show on Friday – swirled clouds dyed a kind of dark-flame pink as the sun fell below the hills – during the barbecue that was our first major gathering of Steph and Paul’s people. That’s where I had a verra, verra good bratwurst from the barbecue, plus lots of chips I slathered with a strong clam dip.
My Uncle Chuck Houston – Stephanie’s father, and Aunt Ruth Ann’s former husband – introduced himself to me at that barbecue. I honestly did not recognize him: I had only seen him in person when I was a toddler, maybe. I actually greeted him as “sir” when he came forward. His smile got wider at that and he said, “Chuck!” And then it clicked: how could I have missed the resemblance? Steph’s like a tiny woman version of the guy, half his size (he’s built like a retired basketball player) with the same sandy-red hair and facial structure. He’s not been the easiest person to run into the last, oh, few decades: he’s lived in Egypt, among other places, and briefly worked in Afghanistan (post-9/11). For many reasons, our paths hadn’t crossed until that Friday. But, as Uncle Chuck said, “I’ve heard so much about you,” including my newspaper stint. Definitely a different experience for me, but I’m glad I’ve run into him finally.
While stuffing my face, I also made sure to take in the sights, sounds, and other sensations: Breezes. Ducks. Drifting smoke from grills and fireplaces. Pine needles. Pine cones the size of jars. (Usually) gentle waves breaking on the shore. Raccoons; big raccoons (but I’ve seen ‘em the same size in Eugene, of all places). Verdant green-ness that made it very easy to think of Return of the Jedi. Also, while I didn’t (yet) see it, I pictured a site on Lake Tahoe’s west side, Emerald Bay. A path takes you to the shore of the mile-wide, three-mile-long inlet, within which is a small, dramatically-rising rocky island. On it is a small building: a rich woman’s retreat/tea house built early last century. She would take a boat to the island and a path to the top.
I didn’t get to see Emerald Bay on this trip (except on a postcard and, oh, a bookmark, too), but T.J., Twin-Mom Cindy and Steph’s new mother-in-law Bretta Ribbing hiked over to it Saturday morning. Steph had encouraged us to see the place – “It looks like it’s from Lord of the Rings,” she told us – so of course I had hoped to go. But Saturday had been our wet morning (snow!) and I had chickened out of hiking. “Probably will be too wet,” I had thought. So to get another Tahoe experience, I rode to Stateline and Tahoe City.
“Ugly casinos on one side of the border, slightly less ugly resorts on the other,” my cousin Walter said while gesturing to each side of the state line. The only tall buildings along Lake Tahoe are there, the hotels/clubs/casinos/all-sorts-of-other-f
I’m digressing. Careful, Chris, or someone will kick this soapbox out from under you…
Once we were back at camp, I finally got into the wedding clothes (though we only had to dress up as much as we felt we should dress up, so no tux for me! Yay!) and walked around, getting photo evidence of the beauty of the lake and the camp. My mom and her three sisters ceremonially signed a card to accompany the vintage silverware their parents had used; this was their major wedding gift for Steph and Paul. Then we walked through the grove of trees to Tallac Hall, at Valhalla, where the wedding took place that night.
The ceremony was successfully non-traditional. No wedding cake: we had wedding macaroons (tasty; probably tastier than a cake would’ve been). Paul was nattily attired in a suit (not a tux), as was Steph in a kind of combination suit-coat with a dress, all white but not a big, flowery, flowing wedding dress, not a cake with legs. Tasteful, it was. Elegant, too. Come to think of it, I really can’t picture Steph in a traditional wedding dress, anyway. Guess she couldn’t, either.
Like Steph, Paul and nearly 20 others there, the wedding’s officiator was a Peace Corps vet. (That’s how the couple met: they were working in Mali, west Africa, in the late ’90s. They both knew the officiator, Erik: Steph has always remembered that the day she met him, he was wearing a secondhand, beyond-dusty Hooters T-shirt.) These veterans have various running jokes, and they made use of one in the ceremony: Steph and Paul would make friends read autobiographies by various self-important C-list celebrities, people like Suzanne Somers (who has more than one to choose from!), and the friends would “retaliate” with more obnoxious autobiographies. After telling us this, Erik said, “So with that in mind, I would like to read from Yanni…”
I’m sure Yanni would be very proud that
Then there was food, glorious food. And kissing. And a dance, to a song from Mali that Walter finally decided was almost a waltz, but (to my mind) not quite; certainly not something many Americans are used to dancing to, but Steph and Paul did just fine.
Partying at various locales at the camp continued well past midnight, when I finally staggered in an old-man-walk to the duplex. In the time between my leaving the ceremony and marching off to bed, I huddled near a fire, chatted amusingly with fellow guests, and had my first-ever sips of Scotch.
Within minutes of those sips, I was singing “Thunderball” by Tom Jones.
I even danced later, in one of the larger cabins that was then Party Central for anyone still awake enough. I wasn’t quite that awake; soon I was leaning against the wall while dancing, so I decided to call it a night. The newlyweds were there, too, with far more energy than I had. Perhaps they were drawing power from ceremonial – nay, mystical! – Hooters T-shirts they were wearing. Yes: Hooters T-shirts, a gift from Erik.
Then, crashing into a bed, and sleeping the sleep of the dead: that was my plan, and it was fulfilled. Sunday morning, I hooked up with the Paulsens again and we drove along the east shore this time, then to Carson City and breakfast, then to Reno airport. Professional pilots took us back to the Pacific Northwest, and back to our usual lives.
Stephanie Houston and Paul Ribbing are taking care of their lives right now, at their home in Sparks, Nevada, right next to Reno, in a house with an x-scaped front yard (no lawn) and a dirt backyard, which waits to be transformed into something prettier. Their lives, now officially connected, go on. Ours are, too.