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Tales From South Carolina Continue

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
You go for a wedding, you meet people in love.

This was not the first thing I noticed about the woman sitting across from me in the food court at the Atlanta airport.

No, the first thing I noticed is how she called her husband 'Baby'.

She was talking on the cell, just a few feet away. I couldn't miss the blizzard of 'I love you' and 'I miss you too.'

She called him baby. Several times.

That's the thing about Americans. Not the only thing, just one thing. They call each other Baby when they're in love.

This lady was in love all right. Married four years. At 43, she was retired from the military, free to follow her heart on a full pension.

You notice things in another country. Like how the straws at the Burger King are smaller. There is, apparently, no vinegar in this country.

But there is technology. The latest in hand drying equipment.

This too, set me to wondering. Americans have great inventions. I was reading the Sky Mall magazine, the Great Mother of the curious and the idle rich.

They had everything in there, page after page of absolute ingenuity.  Lawn chairs that hold you in a perfect zero gravity positions. Shoes, nice ones if the pictures are on the square, built with miniature springs in the soles that measure precisely one eighth of an inch. It invigorates you.

Says so right in the Sky Mall Magazine.

My favourite item was only $15. Sandals with three inch nails in the heels so you can aerate your lawn just by taking a stroll. But I digress.

I was thinking how you had to hand it to the Americans because they did not force electric hand dryers on people. They give you towels.

Towels are a pain to clean up. People steal them. They sometimes clog toilets. Paper towels are good for no one in the sanitation or property management industry, a plague is what they are.

But men like towels. And the Americans respect that and don't try to shove the towels down your throat. Focus groups have no doubt shown Canadians will cow when deprived of paper towels and use the hand dryer or my personal choice, trousers.

What did they have in the airport, but a rigging that dries, wait for it, both sides of your hands. You were done in 10 seconds, max, and it didn't push your eyebrows against your forehead.
Not a word of a lie. I'm an hour out of Savannah, Georgia, and I use a bathroom, or washroom, or whatever they call it. Guys are in there, talking. They are talking about this new hand dryer that dries both sides of your hands.

Now, I think there is a lesson in that. Deep down, we want to get along, but only the robust defiance of the Americans gets them a better hand dryer. It's when you extend it to foreign policy that things get messy.

Anyway, Ron Wilson's house is very nice, on a golf course with massive trees overhanging the entrance. Lots of friends and family. This thing is shaping up beautifully.

2:06 p.m.

I’m pretty sure Satan invented golf while he was still putting the finishing touches on income tax and those little tin teapots.

It’s golf day today at the Wilson-Fisher wedding. Tomorrow, Ron Wilson’s daughter Kristen and John Fisher, late of Southern California, say their  ‘I do’s’ at a splendid golf course at the Belfair Club.

This week, the club is used for gentle initiation. Fisher, who has no first name to his many friends, is a moderately talented golfer. His future father-in-law, Ron Wilson, averages about two under par on a course that indulges deviation about as well as Paris Island.

Wilson is delighted with Fisher. He’s a great kid. But there is the matter of competition, a family hallmark. And so it was not an unhappy event that the father-to-be, like the dominant male in a pack of lions, knocks the male suitor around a bit.

That, and the the ability to absolutely hide from your life for five or six hours, is why there is Golf. It is an instrument of playful humiliation. There is nothing an older man loves more than smacking a kid around on the scorecard.

Golf exaggerates mistakes, it is like business that way. The wild-out-of-line swing always betrays the young player. The twitch-like swing that nudges the ball 150 yards, every inch of it safe, rewards the compromises of age.

Young Fisher, in this area, will never compete with the big cat.

Wilson was talking about that, today on the third tee. “It’s all about the competition,” he said.

 And it is.

7:15 p.m.

Met the wedding planner. Nice lady named Liz.

I don’t think I want to be a wedding planner. Too hard. Her instructions to everyone within earshot:  ‘if you are injured in a car crash, if an iceberg destroys your golf cart, if the bride’s father suddenly joins one of those weird polygamy cults and decides to boycott the wedding because there should be more than one bride, do not call the bride and groom. Call me.’

I had no wedding planner when I got married back when we thought everything, including our cars and toothbrushes, would be nuclear-powered by now.

We didn’t need a wedding planner. We had the mother of the bride.

Maureen Wilson is a lovely, demure woman. They have issued a recall on mother of the brides. They don’t make them mean any more. A mother of the bride used to be able to melt a misplaced ice sculpture with one red-hot glare. She could make the kids stop running down the aisles. Some could affect the weather. Now they watch Oprah and talk about self-actualization and positive self-talk.

For them, the wedding of their daughter is a splendid, life affirming affair. It is not, however, incentive enough to say, kick tuberculosis just for the pleasure of seeing daughter and well-chosen mate walk down the aisle.

That’s why I think the demise of the true mother of the bride and the proliferation of the wedding planner is a good thing. Fifty-something year-old women are too busy hiking the Bruce Trail or designing the agenda for the book club meeting.

The role of the father of the bride, however, has not changed.

Shake hands. Make everyone feel welcome. Walk her up the aisle, with or without the mother, and then let his little girl go.

It’s a fine comparison. The mother fixes, attends to, negotiates and if necessary, spends the entire ceremony in an adjacent room with a crying child.

All the Dad has to do is let go.

And if you took all the duties of all the wedding planners in all the world, and put them in a pile, they would be dwarfed by the enormity of that one action.

That’s why it falls to the Dad. We are old hands at this. Look at parents playing with a baby. The father throws the baby in the air. The mother holds the child close. My wife has an expression for this. “I give her the earth, you give her the sky.”

Fathers give the sky. When it comes time to teach a child to ride a bike, the job, automatically, without fail, falls to the Dad. Because he can let go.

Monday 9:10 a.m.

Well, the kids got married.

It was a lovely ceremony with rose pedals on the route to the outdoor altar. Each chair at the service bore a program and a small wicker fan. Even if you woke up from a month-long sleep in your seat, you would know you were in the south. Lightning ripped through the distance. All of the kingdoms…accounted for.

It was enough to leave a man with envy, for the all-encompassing intensity of young love, the warm reach of family, the ache for those who couldn’t be there, the ones on the other side of the thunder.

I love weddings. They are for those who stand and for those who sit, a beginning and somehow, a renewal.

You want to find what we’re really about?

Look for a woman in white.
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