We’ve fled the heat, humidity, and high drama of Charleston to celebrate the marriage of our elder son, Harrison, in DC. In fact, I’ve just put the finishing touches on a couple of toasts I’ll be delivering, one at the rehearsal party and one at the reception dinner.
Not surprisingly, wedding traditions vary north and south of the Mason-Dixon line. Traditionally, wedding receptions down south didn’t include a sit-down dinner. Mine certainly didn’t. It was held at a swanky club atop a high rise in Decatur, Georgia, but the guests stood as they munched on heavy hors d’oeuvres and sipped champagne. No one raised a glass in a communal toast. That had been done the night before at the rehearsal dinner.
My first sit-down postnuptial dinner caught me by surprise. A transplant from Chicago’s sister had married, and when Judy Birdsong and I sauntered into the reception at the Country Club of Charleston, we figured the festivities would last forty-five minutes or so, and this was back in the day of baby-sitters. Nevertheless, it was lovely and lavish and no doubt very expensive. Perhaps that’s why Southerners didn’t throw big sit-down shindigs after weddings – we were too poor.
At any rate, my first toast will be of the welcoming variety, and I’ll save the heavy Faulknerian bombast for the wedding reception. In the meantime, I’ve been gadding about the District checking out the U Street Corridor where we’ve rented an apartment (tomorrow we transfer lodgings to the Monaco Hotel where the ceremony will take place).
The U-Street Corridor is DC’s version of Harlem, dubbed as the “Black Broadway” by Pearl Bailey back in the day, and our apartment is located on the same block as Duke Ellington’s boyhood home. Of course, there are no Confederate flags flying here, but I did notice this perhaps problematic display on the façade of the famous eatery Ben’s Chili Bowl.
Of course, in keeping with the tradition of Birdsong frugality, we’ve been riding the Metro instead of taking cabs, and what has struck me about that experience is the incredible interiority of the commuters as they stare into their cell phones or into space as they listen to music through their ear buds. It’s as if they’ve pulled the blinds on the outside world. Need I mention that in general people are not as friendly up here?
Obviously, it’s been a horrible week in Charleston, and the Confederate flag is an embarrassment, but one thing I’m not embarrassed about is hailing from the South. We’re an odd bunch for sure, but we know how to tell a story, draw out a vowel, and boil us up some peanuts. Imagine American music without the South – imagine American culture without the South.
All I can say is praise be for blacks and crackers, hillbillies and debutantes.