Part Four: The Wedding Wine
Poure out the wine without restraint or stay,
Poure not by cups, but by the belly full,
Poure out to all that wull,
And sprinkle all the postes and wals with wine,
That they may sweat, and drunken be withall.
~ Edmund Spenser
My grandparents’ house in Fort Wayne is a two-story, art deco affair with a white stucco facade the texture of cottage cheese. It was built sometime between the wars, and it had small elegant touches that put it in a completely different class from the newer, larger, more spartan houses in which I spent the majority of my childhood. When I was a boy, it seemed strange and extensive, like Professor Digory’s house from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and it was filled with faintly menacing objets d’art whose purpose and provenance were mysterious to me: the blown-glass lamp that hung from a chain in a corner of the dining room and was never turned on, the gold-leafed book on a side table whose pages were frozen open in glaze, the painting of a tiger on a reed mat that hung in the basement bathroom.
When my parents moved back to Fort Wayne from Holland, they lived with my grandparents for a few months. At that time, Elizabeth and I were engaged, and our wedding plans were in full swing. All of our relatives felt the need to express an opinion—about the caterer, the music, the flowers, the chargers—but my grandparents were alone in their attempt to keep the reception dry. I can’t explain why alcohol bothered them so much. It had somehow been drawn behind the curtain of dogma that shielded their most deeply held convictions, the inner sanctum of faith and political allegiance where to knock down one totem was to desecrate them all. In the months leading up to the wedding, they lobbied my parents endlessly, hoping that by persuading them, they could persuade us. Obviously, this was never going to happen.
Our wedding would be held at Grace Episcopal in Grand Rapids, where we had been going for the past two years, and in keeping with Anglican liturgy, we chose to end the ceremony with the Eucharist. My dad had attended the church with us several times, so he knew we were heading toward an unavoidable awkwardness. He asked if we could make an announcement during the service. He asked if there was any way the priest could offer grape juice instead. I refused. We were going to mark the beginning of our marriage with the feast Christ commanded. No unity candles. No colored sand. No Welch’s grape juice. Bread and wine, body and blood.
In the rush of the wedding day with all its preparations, its bouquets and boutonnieres, posing for photos and revising vows, the politics of wet and dry faded from my mind. I couldn’t have cared less. A monumental thing was happening, a metaphysical change that would leave us different forever. Standing at the altar, holding hands, we repeated the ancient formula, and then we knelt, we opened our mouths to receive the host and took the chalice to our lips. My nerves were gone. It felt right and natural. We’d gotten married.
As we sat down to watch our friends and family do the same, it came back to me. The wine. I watched as the usher stepped back from the pew where my grandparents were sitting. They stood and my grandpa lifted his hand as my grandma sidled out of the row. They walked up the aisle together and knelt down, and I watched as the rector gave them the host and then as the vicar bent to tip the cup to their lips, each in turn. They drank, they bowed their heads, and then my grandpa helped my grandma to her feet, and they walked back to their places in the second row. In a church with the organ playing and everyone fidgety and hungry, dabbing their eyes or checking their watches, a fast of more than half a century had been broken.
From time to time I wonder what kind of wine they served at Grace. It tasted sweet, but not cheap. It was brassy gold and had a fusel quality like sherry. Wine is a social drink for me—I only have it when I’m sharing a bottle with someone. When I’m by myself, I usually drink beer or gin or blended whisky, and at bars, if I’m feeling careless or it’s someone’s birthday, I’ll order a single-malt. It never really feels like the right time for wine, or if it does, it always feels like a better time for something else. But as far as symbols go, it’s hard to find one more freighted with time and meaning, so I like to keep a bottle or two around the house. Plus, Elizabeth likes it.
When I was on the Chimes staff my senior year, I interviewed a New Testament scholar who was at Calvin for the January Series. We’d gotten through the topical questions and still had a few minutes, so I asked one of my throwaways: Was the wine Jesus made at Cana red or white? He didn’t know.
“Maybe it was a rosé,” I offered. He smiled.
“I was once in a pub in rural Northumberland,” he said. “We were having lunch, and my wife said, ‘I’d like a glass of rosé wine.’ And I saw the guy behind the bar look like this, as though to say, ‘Oh dear.’
“Then his face changed. He picked up a bottle of red and a bottle of white and poured them both into the same glass, so there you are—Northumbrian rosé. My wife was quite happy with it.”
Andrew Steiner (’12) is a Grand Rapids native. He’s a fiction writer with a day job at Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank. You can also find him working part-time for Ham Family Farm, pulling weeds, planting seeds, and slinging produce at the Fulton Street Farmers Market.