laughter and tears

Riverbank, Maxfield Parrish

A friend whom I’ve known since the late 80s was married yesterday. It was indeed a joyous occasion. My friend and her groom had both been through rough times, and at last, after a long engagement (5 years) were able to marry. The wedding was at the Portofino Hotel and Yacht Club at the Redondo Beach pier. The Bayside Ballroom was transformed into a wedding chapel for the occasion. Chairs in ivory slipcovers and pink organza swags with rose bouquet ties. Pink and white rose petals reposed along the bridal aisle leading to a rose arch made of more pink and white roses. While we waited for the ceremony, through the window behind the rose arch, I watched seagulls wing about the waves.

The bride’s gown was a fantasy, full-skirted white satin overlaid with silk organza embroidered with arabesques of crystal beading, and an ebullient train. Her bouquet, a bouffant of white and pink roses sprinkled with crystals and pearls. The ceremony was lovely and touching; the bride had written the wedding vows and the minister had a sense of humor. More than once we laughed. Having known my friend and what she’d gone through over the years, I, who never cry at weddings, had tears in my eyes. We were all very happy for them.

I had a wonderful time and didn’t get home until nearly two in the morning. After, of course, bouncing about the streets of Redondo Beach, trying to find my way to the freeway. At least when you’re lost at one a.m. there’s not much traffic to contend with.

Earlier in the day I attended another sweet occasion, the annual luncheon put on by the Manhattan Beach Branch of the American Association of University Women. It was my first time going. Four local writers, former journalists, talked about their careers and their books. Sonia Nazario won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing. Her book, Enrique’s Journey, tells of the odyssey of a Honduran boy who, wanting to be reunited with his mother who’d gone north, crossing illegally into the US, to find work, makes the harrowing, nightmarish journey from his poverty-striken village to Los Angeles. Sonia, who wished to understand, as deeply as possible, the plight of those who make that hellish journey, went down to Central America and retraced Enrique’s journey herself. She spent five years hopping freight trains, riding along with the immigrants, clinging to the top of box cars, braving the torrid heat of the days and freezing cold of the nights, hungry, thirsty, and in serious danger of harm from corrupt cops and the vicious bandits that prey on the children. Enrique himself was beaten many times, nearly to death on one occasion, as he made his way north. Her book, published by Random House, became a national bestseller, and brought to light the plight of Central America’s and Mexico’s poverty orphans. Sitting there, listening to her tell of the heart-breaking cruelties the children endured, and often did not survive, brought tears to my eyes.

Anyway, I could go on, but I’ll just say, we heard Deanne Stillman, who wrote Twentynine Palms, the true story of the savage murder of two young girls by a Marine in the desert town back in 1991. Former journalist Denise Hamilton talked about her career at the Los Angeles Times and how she came to write crime fiction.

The highlight of the afternoon for me was Susan Straight, author of the critically acclaimed Aquaboogie, Blacker Than A Thousand Midnights, and I Been in Sorrow’s Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots. She won the Gold Medal for Fiction for her fifth novel, Highwire Moon, a National Book Award finalist. Daughter of a Swedish single mom, she grew up in Riverside, CA in a racially diverse neighborhood and is the mother of 3 biracial girls. She draws upon the stories of African Americans living in Southern California, South Carolina, and Oklahoma, to create her fiction.

She was delightful, warm and humorous, straightforward and compassionate. Her latest novel is A Million Nightingales. The novel is set in nineteenth century Louisiana and is the story of a slave girl’s journey from captivity to freedom.

I bought books of course, which brings me to another decision–I need a reading day. I’ve got stacks and stacks of books to read and I want to read them! So I’m thinking, should I let Sunday be reading day? Maybe do my 100 words on Silk River so as not to lose momentum, and then fall into a book of my choosing for the rest of the day. Hmmm…I’ll think about it.


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