Thursday, May 20, 2010

Diego and Nury's Wedding - Part 1

The rest of the summer of '89, after Clarice the sullen exchange student went back to France, took on a sense of urgency. There was always the feeling of time running out that summer because soon we would be gone. We were moving to Florida in August and we had promised Diego and Nury that we would throw them a wedding. Of course the promise had been made before my parents fell victim to an advanced fee scam and lost all of their money, so that we could no longer afford our huge empty house, our car or my private school tuition. The money they did have left we had to use for our move and the money we lived on came from the work we all now did helping my grandfather sell produce out of the back of his pick-up truck. But still, we had made this young couple a promise and they expected and deserved a wedding of some kind. We just had to figure out how to make it happen. Certainly, we had to sell a lot of produce. How many cantaloupes would it take to pay for a caterer, DJ and a cake?

Selling produce was how we found Diego and Nury in the first place, so of course it was fitting that we'd work overtime to sell produce to give them a wedding.

I'd spent the previous summer at Aunt Kiki's house in Millpond having a fabulous time (by the way the friend in that story was Faith Hill and The Boy was the boy in the Prada Shoe Story all grown up). Unfortunately that summer (the summer we all made cut off jean shorts because we wanted to look like Baby in Dirty Dancing) had to end and I had to go back to New York and start tenth grade. The problem with this was that my parents were really busy and were spending long periods of time in Chicago, New Jersey and Florida buying loads of close-out merchandise and trying to turn them over for a profit. They started this immediately after giving up part ownership in their closeout store Jumpin' Junk to their Persian partners Farheed and Farsheed. I was fourteen, about to be fifteen and they couldn't just leave me alone. Someone had to be in the house with me. By that point, we had been through six different caretakers/ nannies/ live-in babysitters or whatever you'd like to call them, for me in three years and none of them had really ended truly well. Nonetheless, out of necessity, it was time for Number 7.

It was Fall 1988 and my grandfather was selling the last of summer's harvest. Apples and potatoes were coming in now. My grandfather covered an impressive amount of territory all over Rockland, Westchester and Orange counties just peddling out of his truck. His best customers were in the hoods of Yonkers and the slumlike enclaves of Monsey and Spring Valley, where the Chassidic Jews lived, and he had just expanded to the Puerto Rican ghetto of Haverstraw, upriver from our fancier town, Riverbank. This is where my grandfather found Number 7.

My grandfather, much like my mother, could fit in anywhere on this planet. Just get him around people and he'd have them laughing in minutes. People remembered him. People knew him, remembered his name. He remembered their names too and their kids and somehow he managed to learn and remember all the intimate and intricate details of the lives of the people to whom he sold fruits and vegetables. There was something about him that made people open up to him and to the people whose neighborhoods he wound his truck slowly through, he was more than a vendor. He was a true friend. It didn't matter that he was an old, rednecked white man and they were black, Puerto Rican, Orthodox or whatever.

Because he was this way, it didn't take long for him to become endeared to the Puerto Rican community in Haverstraw, nevermind that most of them spoke broken, little or no English whatsoever. Pretty soon he had the word out that if any young girl needed an easy job living in a big house in Riverbank, doing some light cleaning and making sure a teenaged girl got to school and ate something and didn't end up raped, dead or in prison, that they should let him know as soon as possible. Word spread and pretty soon Poppop June came home with Nury, who spoke all of sixteen words of English, rocked a Latina mullet like no one else and never talked without her hand in front of her mouth. She was a tiny thing - maybe four foot eleven and she was satisfied staying home, watching the Spanish channel and making me a different flavor of rice and beans everyday.  I rather liked her because she wasn't intrusive in my life and because I enjoyed eating rice and beans everyday. I still do.

One thing though was that no one in our family could pronounce Nury's name. We couldn't get the hang of the r-rolling at all. My grandfather called her Ethel, my mother called her everything from Nudy to Nardy and I pronounced her name so that it rhymed with "slurry." Every time one of us would try to say her name, she'd put her hand over her mouth and giggle.

Another thing was that Nury couldn't drive. Luckily we solved this issue and I got to school and to the grocery store thanks to Nury's boyfriend Diego. Diego was a Baptist and worked construction. He spoke more English than Nury, about 30 words instead of 16, and he drove a white work van. He also played an acoustic guitar and wrote songs, all of which contained the word "Corazon." He'd come over after work, eat rice and beans and then serenade Nury and me all night with his 57 Corazon songs. Did I also mention that Diego was 6 foot 7?  He was the tallest person I had ever known. Nury was one of the smallest.  It used to boggle my mind how they could possibly get along in the bedroom with such a disparity in heights, but, as my grandfather said, when you're lying down, it all lines up. I wouldn't know because my husband and I are barely an inch apart in height.

We all came to really love Diego and Nury. We loved them so much that my parents suggested that Diego move in with us too, but being a Baptist, he wouldn't do this unless they were engaged. I don't know why that would matter to him because engaged wasn't married and they already spent most nights together in the same bed anyway, but for some reason Diego decided being engaged would legitimize things in his head. Nury was ecstatic and they started planning a wedding. They set a date, July 29th, 1989.

When they set the date, my parents still thought we were going to be bazillionaires, so they generously offered to throw the wedding and we all imagined something very grand. Pretty soon, it was apparent that there was no money to pay for something very grand and we had to come up with a solution so that they could still have a memorable, meaningful and beautiful wedding that wouldn't cost a lot of money.

We decided to throw them a pool party in our backyard! Thank God Diego and Nury were simple, sweet and easy going. Both had come from poor backgrounds and never expected to have any kind of a wedding at all, much less a grand, formal affair. Because their perspective was so different from ours, it turned out that they didn't know there had even been a change in plans. To them a pool party in our backyard WAS a grand, formal affair.

Nury's mother made her dress and my mom would work all day at the flea market or on the truck and take her day's profits and go pay for one more thing for the wedding, until little by little we'd hired a baker for the cake, found an inexpensive Puerto Rican caterer to provide, you guessed it, rice and beans, arroz con pollo, pernil and tostones. What more do you need than that? My mom even scrounged up money for a few flowers and enough to go to the party store and get some decorations. Diego's friends would provide music and they would have the ceremony in the Puerto Rican Baptist church in Haverstraw. Before you knew it, we had a real wedding planned!

My mom and Nury decided that I should be Nury's bridesmaid and I was beside myself with excitement. She had a few bridesmaids - cousins, her sister, Diego's sister and then me, the teenage Gringa. I was the only person in the wedding party who spoke English and no Spanish, but who cared? 

Well I have to confess that I cared a little when I saw the dress Nury picked for me, but hell, it was pink taffetta and had a crinoline. I could deal. Plus I'd get to wear flowers.

This wedding, I decided, was the perfect opportunity for me to cross off Number 2 on my Summer To-Do list. Do you remember that list? First I wanted to go to France and I had miraculously gotten very, very close to that goal before it slipped away. The other goal was to finally part with my troublesome virginity.  I had a boyfriend. He was sixteen and what sixteen year old boy would turn down that chance? We had done just about everything else and I had wanted that moment to be special. What could be more special than a wedding night? You were supposed to do it for the first time on a wedding night. I overlooked the fact that people who said that meant it was supposed to be your own wedding night, but who cared? A wedding was a wedding. It would work. I'd have flowers and be wearing a pouffy dress. It was close enough and so I announced to my boyfriend that we were going to do it on Diego and Nury's wedding night. Do you think he objected? Of course not. He was a sixteen year old boy.

The rest tomorrow...


sadi said...

How can you leave us hanging like that? :-)

I love, love, love your stories!

kerry said...

This totally made me smile! Your family working so hard to keep their promise to this couple, your grandfather being such a kind openhearted guy, and the gratitude of people who get that this was a truly nice thing to do...

Love it!

Melanie said...

Can't wait until tomorrow!

Iris said...

Ah! I'm from Rockland! Knowing those towns (and knowing that they are still very much like that presently) just helps me imagine your grandfather's business and feel the entry so much better. This is just another why I love all the details you include in your entries!

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