Advice from an onion slicer

FROM my perch high on a hill above, I watched them coming across the grassy meadow. Ten of them there were, men in tuxedos, women in ankle-length gowns of pink, powder blue, peach, and sea green, and at their head a young woman in a shimmering white gown and a young man in a white tuxedo, clearly bride and groom. Perhaps they were all the very last, the very heart, of a once tremendous wedding party in a church nearby, the ones still holding on to the priceless day, not wanting it to end.

Such fun they were having! Some went skipping through the grass, sometimes taking a tumble, and not caring if shoes, trousers, or hems of gowns got stained. Some scooped up the puffy white thistles on the tops of spent dandelions and blew them high into the air, making a summer snowfall that twinkled a moment and then went out like stars in a morning sky. One young woman went chasing a sunbeam, caught it in her hand, and then let it go, too kind to keep it. The bride dashed over to a boulder all but encrusted with moss and took the most ecstatic sniff, her face shining as if the pungent stuff were a bed of posies. On such a day, what wasn't transformed?

Then they all joined hands and, swinging them together, walked 10 abreast, friends united. I half expected them to break into song, like one of those chorus lines of people at the end of old movie musicals who forever and exultingly marched toward the audience with the message that there was nothing in the world human beings could not over-come if only they banded together.

And truly, watching them down there, it was hard to believe that they were real, that they were not, in some sense, imaginary. I almost fancied that they were indeed shadows from an old movie, or characters from an old book, who'd sneaked away from their fictitious world and come to this literal one to have a party, the way children wake from their dreams in the middle of the night to discover the full, round moon in their window, bidding them come play.

But then, seeing how they weren't singing but had subsided into that close, silent swinging of hands, as if they were a little tired at last from the exertions of happiness, I understood that they were perfectly real after all, perfectly human, and they wouldn't vanish at the end of the day but go on to lead earthly lives.

What to wish them then, the bride and the groom - long life, peace of mind, wholeness of heart?

I thought of an older lady I knew, a widow named Sadie Goldman. She had a little caf'e where I went sometimes, to have a hamburger like nobody else could make in this whole hungry world. Once, when she was slicing an onion for mine, I asked her if she missed her husband, Lenny, a lot.

``It's a widow's privilege, David,'' she answered with a sadness-banishing toss of her head. ``Of course, marriage with Lenny was no romance. He never had a romantic bone in his body. I still remember the night we were sitting out on the front-porch swing together. All of a sudden I had a romantic notion. I asked him to bring me a dish of strawberries and cream. You know what he said? He said, `No, you're younger than me. You bring me a dish of strawberries and cream.'''

A smile brushed her lips.

``But then, what Lenny lacked in romance he more than made up for in craziness. He'd sneak up behind me here when I was rubbing onion tears from my eyes and tickle me in the ribs. He called it `Goldman's Remedy for Tears.' And oh, how I giggled like a schoolgirl, how I whooped with laughter!''

After I'd eaten and paid for my treat, she asked, ``You're married? You've got a sweet-heart?''

I nodded.

``Then be crazy sometimes, David. No matter whether she's slicing onions or just crying a girl's silly tears, you spring `Goldman's Remedy for Tears' on her. But mostly, don't forget the romance. Don't forget the strawberries and cream!''

I couldn't think of a better wish to make for the bride and groom there in the meadow than that piquant mixture of craziness and romance. Making it, I stood up to go, and as I did, I was spotted. First one, then two, then all 10 people waved at me, included me. I smiled and waved back.

``It's my wedding day,'' the bride proudly called up to me. ``I was married today!''

``Congratulations!'' I answered. ``And happy birthday, too, to you and your husband!''

I'm sure she knew what I meant, what I'd discovered on my own wedding day, that when two people begin life together, it's not only a wedding, it's the birthday of their lives. She laughed, waved again, and they all resumed their blissful march.

Little parade, go on, go on.

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