A Marriage Made in … Michigan!

Clarke & Naomi, happily married

Last Thursday, Sandra and I, accompanied by Melissa — our “Santa Rosa daughter,” the youngest of our three kids — and our granddaughter Amarie, flew to Michigan to participate in the wedding of our eldest kid, Naomi, to a wonderful new son-in-law, Clarke Taylor.

The ceremony took place at their century-old home in Ann Arbor, a lovely college town (University of Michigan), on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. The skies were sunny and blue with puffy white clouds, the town’s many trees were fully leafed out in spring green — a delight to us Californians, accustomed to a much tawnier landscape — and the air was warm and balmy. You could hardly have asked for a more beautiful wedding day.

This was not your standard wedding, as it honored traditions from the bride and groom’s respective Jewish and Quaker backgrounds. More on that below.

Bride enters, escorted by her dad (and her dog!)

Amarie, Naomi’s niece and our granddaughter, scatters flower petals as bride approaches

As the ceremony began, our son Adam, who was officiating, apologized for having to read from a script. He paused momentarily as though embarrassed by this necessity and then said, “But I don’t think I really need this,” tore the script in two and dropped it to the floor.

As everyone gasped, Adam grinned and, with a flourish, waved another copy of the script to gales of laughter. Naomi’s expression was priceless. She later told me she’d given Adam two copies of the script “just in case,” but that her brother, now unexpectedly equipped for a little gag, had not let her in on how he’d use the spare. (I later encouraged Adam to go into the officiant business — shredding scripts for fame and fortune.)

Under the chuppah with Adam officiating (second copy of script in hand); Naomi’s younger son Lucas at right

More second chances
This was not the wedding’s only amusing moment. Several others came during Naomi’s vows. Here they are, in her own words:

Clarke, here we are, finally. Pinch me! No, seriously. Pinch me. How are your feet, honey? Are they warm enough? It wasn’t always clear that we would get here, was it? But we’re here. We’re here, and I’m so glad that we are. You know, as this day’s been approaching, I’ve been thinking a lot about our story, which is really the story of second chances — our love is the story of redemption. And I think it’s worth reflecting on, because redemption is a powerful story.

But to really tell it, I have to talk about this dress.

You see, the first time you proposed to me … I was so excited that I immediately leapt into the time-honored tradition that new brides always do first — that is to say, I went online and bought a dress on the internet. First things first, you know. Well, the dress arrived in due course… but other things didn’t quite go as planned. To make a long story short, I left the dress behind… and I made you write me a check for it.

Now, fast forward through an unpleasant six months — though, not entirely wasted — because we learned something important … which was that we didn’t want to live without each other.

Well, at some point after we reached the other side, it occurred to me to ask, just as casually as I could, “So, hey… by the way… what did you do with that dress?” You know, I was curious… had you given it away? Returned it? Burned it? But no, you told me, no, you had kept it. You had kept it? You had kept it! And so you had, squirreled away in a pile in the basement. Awww….. And now here we are. Kinda romantic, huh?

I think about that sometimes. Why did you keep this dress? Well, I guess you kept it for the same reason that I said yes again. Because we both know we’re better together.

I should mention too, that I also said yes because my mother was right — you’re handy, and you can dance too!

And because, thankfully, my brother was wrong — the reason you took me “camping” in the remote Canadian wilderness only a few weeks after we first met was NOT so that you could chop me into tiny pieces.

So this is my vow to you, Clarke: I will keep on saying yes to you.

Clarke’s vows were also memorable:

Naomi, on our second or third date I wanted to see if you had the mettle to deal with the elements, so I took you kayaking. You were more into it than I was, and I was elated.

I decided to notch it up a step and invited you on a backpacking trip in the wilds of Canada. Not only did you accept, but you were fully immersed in the experience; no whining, just completely at home in the woods. I was impressed, and quickly found myself falling in love with you.

I vow to strive to keep wilderness deeply embedded in our relationship.

One powerful part of my attraction for you is the way that you deeply care about people and value them above all else. One moment that stands out in my memory is a time that you and I and Lucas and Nathan were going through Zingerman’s drive-thru. You were attending to getting the boys’ food to them, and I thought it wise to set my full cup of coffee on the armrest. Of course when you turned around the coffee went everywhere on the passenger seat and me, and your gut reaction was not to immediately be furious with me, but rather to be concerned for my welfare. Although you brushed it aside, I think that most people would have harsh words after having their car seats soaked with coffee, but that’s not where your heart is. You cared about me.

I vow to strive to love you completely, forgiving quickly, especially in my darkest moments.

One thing that you do really well is parent. The kids’ needs always come first for you, which is something that I’ve always admired in you.

I vow to strive to always be present for our four children, always making decisions that keep their needs front and center.

Clarke’s recall of their kayaking and wilderness experience was echoed later in the ceremony when his daughter Megan spoke. She recalled his bachelor days when he’d often meet her for lunch and how he told her at one point that he was fed up with internet dating. He said he’d be canceling his subscription and last planned date that weekend to avoid another disappointment. Megan convinced him to go through with the date, and it turned out to be his first meeting with Naomi. Megan said when she had lunch again with her dad a few days later, he was full of enthusiasm for the amazing woman he’d met. She also said that later, once Clarke and Naomi were dating, it was clear how happy he was when Naomi was around.

Bringing Jewish and Quaker traditions together
The ceremony blended two traditions. Like all Jewish weddings, it took place under a chuppah, a canopy held aloft on four poles steadied by the couple’s children, Megan, Ian, Nathan and Lucas. The chuppah symbolizes the home the couple will create; its open sides express the intention to create a home that is welcoming, open and inclusive.

In another nod to Jewish custom, seven short readings — in place of the traditional seven blessings — were spoken, one each by the four children, by Naomi’s sister Melissa, by Clarke’s sister Jenny, and by Adam’s wife Jodi. To these an eighth reading was added by Dylan, daughter of my sister Dolores.

Lucas gives his reading

Exchanging rings

Following Quaker tradition, after the wedding vows and exchange of rings, a period of silence ensued, a time of waiting for inspiration and reflection during which anyone who is moved to speak stands and does so. Not everyone is expected to speak up, but several did, including Megan (as noted above), Sandra, Dolores, Lucas, Clarke’s father Thomas, and me. Taking advantage of the license afforded by my serving as unofficial chronicler of the proceedings, I will repeat the traditional rabbinic blessing I gave the couple during this period of reflection: “May God bless you and keep you and cause his light to shine upon you.”

The ceremony concluded with a Jewish custom — the groom stomps on a glass, breaking it. Adam explained that this symbolizes the shattering of separate lives as the couple begins life together. Another interpretation, he said, is that the glass is broken to protect the marriage with the implied prayer, May your bond of love endure until the pieces of the glass come together again — in other words, May your love last forever.

In any event, with the glass wrapped in a napkin to keep shards from flying, Clarke crushed it, and everyone yelled Mazel Tov!

Kicking glass!

You may now …

… kiss the bride!

Encore! Hana hou!

Finally, in a nice blend of Jewish and Quaker traditions, everyone was asked to sign the marriage certificate. A Jewish marriage contract is called a ketubah and is traditionally signed only by the couple, a rabbi and one witness. However, at a Quaker wedding everyone present signs the marriage certificate. And so it was for Naomi and Clarke’s wedding.

Sandra signs ketubah under watchful eyes of Nathan (left) and Lucas 

That, finally, was the signal to go out to the patio and begin the party. And what a party it was, as the photos show. At one point, Ian picked up the big bass and joined the jazz manouche quartet Djangophonique. At another point, Thomas and Martha (Naomi and Adam’s mom) showed off some elegant tai chi moves on the dance floor. And lots of folks formed a circle and did a traditional Israeli hora as the band veered off into a klezmer tune.

This couple can DANCE!

In background, Clarke’s son Ian joins the band, playing upright bass

Megan checks out her dad’s moves

Tai chi by Martha and Thomas

Back indoors briefly to cut the cake following a toast

Final observations by the “chronicler”
The delights of the weekend were many. Not just a memorable ceremony, nor the pleasure of springtime in the Midwest, but most of all the coming together of a newly combined and most wonderful family — the Daniels and the Taylors.

The Taylors — longtime Ann Arborites — made all the visiting Daniels feel not merely welcome, but at home. Nancy and Thomas, Clarke’s parents, invited everyone from both families to a festive dinner at their lovely home the evening before the main event. And the morning after the wedding, Clarke’s sister Jenny hosted us all for a bagels-and-lox brunch along with an incredible spread of fresh fruit on the tree-canopied deck of her new home. Clarke’s children by his first marriage — Megan, who has just graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, and Ian, who will enroll at Oberlin College in Ohio this fall — rounded out the Taylor presence.

Shortly before we flew home to California this past Wednesday, Naomi told me she had hoped that Thomas and I would enjoy getting to know each other. We did not disappoint her. A warm, good-humored, well-traveled and widely experienced retired professor of music at U of M — and also a former senior representative of the Religious Society of Friends (the formal name of the Quaker denomination) to international organizations, Thomas and I found much to talk and laugh about with each other every time the families got together. I wish I’d gotten to know Nancy a little better, but I can certainly testify to her notable gift of quietly making new friends feel comfortable.

The Daniel family outnumbered the Taylors. Sandra and I were joined not only by Melissa and Amarie, but also by Adam’s family — wife Jodi, son Jonah and daughter Sophia — as well as by Naomi’s two sons from her first marriage, Nathan and Lucas, by Naomi and Adam’s mom Martha, and by my sister Dolores (a much-loved aunt to our kids), her husband David and their daughter Dylan. Thanks to COVID, this was the first time in several years that all five of Sandra’s and my grandchildren — now increased to seven with the addition of Megan and Ian — got to enjoy each other’s company.

What a delight it was to have so joyous a celebration to bring us all together!

Lots more photos below. Enjoy!

Happy newlyweds

Radiant bride

Laughing groom

Two happy families. Front row at left: Sandra & Howard, Martha; at right Nancy & Thomas. Middle: Lucas, Nathan. Back: Megan, Ian.

All the parents together

All the kids together

All the sibs together. At left, Jenny; at right, Melissa, Adam.

Melissa and “Jodam” (Jodi & Adam) join the newlyweds

Sandra and Howard’s three offspring

Naomi’s (and Adam’s and Melissa’s) much-loved Aunt Dolo

Clarke gives his mom a hug

Naomi gets a smooch from Dad

Naomi thanks the world’s most gorgeous (we think) flower girl, Amarie

Sandra and Howard enjoy the proceedings.

 

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