Published 12:00 am Friday, July 27, 2007

When your cousin the professional hockey player is learning to tie square knots with four inches of ribbon around a tongue depressor at 1 a.m., you know the wedding preparations are a little intense.
It took dozens of friends and family many late nights to complete a multitude of projects for my sister’s South Dakota wedding, including creating programs that doubled as fans. The ribbon-adorned tongue depressors were the handles.
Like the wedding, they were perfect.
Merilee and Gabriel were married during an unforgettable, completely unique ceremony accompanied by a soundtrack of giggles and sniffles, guffaws and sobs. Many guests said it was the most personal wedding they’d ever attended.
And the most beautiful. That’s what happens when a costume designer marries a scenic artist.
Our dad served as the officiant. He started by acknowledging the side bets on how long he could make it without showing his “propensity to become emotional.”Whoever had 30 seconds won.
Dad lost it when he introduced Aunt Marian, 91.
There had been much concern about whether my dad’s aunt, as well as other guests, could negotiate the gravel road leading up to the 1871 prairie church. Could withstand the heat inside a tiny building with no electricity and 116 bodies. Could stomach the port-a-potty.But everyone approached the wedding as a grand adventure.
Out on the prairie, surrounded by sky so blue that Gabriel must have painted it just for Mer and clouds so incredible they were outshone only by my sister’s dress, the experience felt magical.Dad talked about the American Indians who faced unbelievable hardships to build the church, and Gabriel and Mer, who together survived her cervical cancer last year. A strong church, a strong relationship.
I fared only slightly better emotionally than my father while reading about our grandpa and grandma, who was Mer’s namesake. “I wish our grandparents were here today. I wish they could have met Gabriel,” I read. “They would have approved of him and his devotion to Mer. Like Grandma Pearl would say, ‘He’s a keeper.’ “The wedding looked deceptively simple. In fact, it was so coordinated that the vintage fabric wrapped around my sister’s bouquet matched the trim on her bra, which matched the flowergirls’ handmade silk roses, which, of course, matched the square knots painstakingly tied on the tongue depressors.It took a dozen friends most of the day to decorate for the reception. That was after my husband and uncle polished off a six-pack picking up and assembling the dance floor.
We pounded that floor until 1 a.m., when Nellie and her cousin had fallen asleep across three chairs. We twisted, line danced, jitterbugged and screamed “I wanna be sedated.”
We cleared the floor for breakdancers, moon walkers and Lorenzo, a professional dancer and cop from California whose Lindy included a full split.
The California boys had never been to South Dakota. I don’t think they’d ever been to the Midwest.
Imagine their confusion while driving across miles of farmland with only the horizon to keep them company. Imagine their zeal while eating buffalo burgers the day after the wedding at my parents’ house.
Imagine their glee while skimming across Lake Kampeska in large tubes behind my uncles’ speedboats. Imagine my uncles’ glee while steering those boats. My family can throw quite a party.
Which is a good thing, since we will do it again in four weeks when my sister Laura gets married. She has assured us that nothing will match.