Reba’s wedding was scheduled for a Friday afternoon in July at Camp Becket – of all places, a YMCA camp in Western Massachusetts for boys, normally a four week ‘character building’ experience, replete with endless vegetable peeling and ice-cold showers. Not to mention non-stop sport designed to build ‘team spirit,’ if not exhaustion and injuries.
Anyways, Reba and her beau, Franklin, had a whole weekend of activities lined up for us, from soft ball to archery. Me and Jed, along with many other guests, planned to camp in the cabins.
The weather was glorious and we drove there in shorts and T-shirts with our wedding gear in the trunk, along with our wedding present, a rope doormat for their front door. One with a difference.
Well, Franklin was a poet of sorts, basing much of his work on parodies of Shelley and Keats. Ode to a Walrus, for example. He was quite popular at poetry-reading gigs, partly due to his impetuous nature, partly due to his Tom Cruise-like looks. He would always arrive late, rushing to the microphone with a lock of jet-black hair hanging over an eye, dropping sheets of jottings and self-penned booklets on the way. “Oh, I say, I’m sorry I’m late, I took the wrong turn and ended up at the city dump,” and so forth, to general hilarity.
Franklin’s father-in-law, Hamish McLeish, was something else; an ex-Sergeant Major who made his dislike for Franklin no secret. “The day my daughter marries a scatter-brained poofter poet is the day I hope I’ll be six feet under!”
Well, on the day of the wedding, the temperature plummeted. Being a summer camp, none of the main buildings had insulation or heating. Sukie, the wedding planner, sent out for as many blankets and fleeces as the local shops had for sale.
The wedding service went as well as could be expected in the freezing conditions, everyone huddled in coats, hats and fleece blankets, but at least Hamish was on his best behaviour. Then we had a few hours to rest after our journeys. Easier said than done in the chilly, unheated cabins.
At the evening reception in the Great Hall there was a disco, a light buffet, and no shortage of booze. The room featured a huge fireplace and many guests were crowded around the blazing logs, like moths around a flame. Then, of all things, a generator failed and we were plunged into darkness.
Various flunkies appeared with boxes of candles but by the time there was sufficient light, Hamish had consumed a skinful. The microphone wasn’t working of course, so he contented himself with shouting. As an ex-Sergeant Major, he had an advantage over most. “I’d like to say it gives me great pleasure to give my daughter away, but I’m minded that my new son-in-law is a Sassenach.”
“Not only is he a Sassenach but he proclaims himself to be a wordsmith!”
“But of our most-lauded Rabbie Burns, the National Bard of my beloved Scotland, we hear him recite but none!”
Franklin took umbrage. “Well, look here, I’m English, you can’t expect me to quote poetry of an ancient Scottish poet!”
Hamish was apoplectic. “Ancient Scottish Poet! Och, man, the greatest poet the British Isles has ever seen!”
“What about Shakespeare,” came a voice from the crowd.
“Well, I ch-challenge thee,” came back Hamish, quite the worse for wear, “to a … to a fight – Queensbury rules, mind – to any fellow here who says Shakespeare was a greater poet than our beloved Bard of Ayrshire, Rabbie Burns!”
What to do? There were a couple of hundred there, and by the looks of them, spurred on by the extra alcohol consumed to counter the cold, and the flickering candle half-light, a sizeable proportion were spoiling for a fight. Reba and I exchanged nervous glances.
Suddenly the power came back on and the disco continued with Hey Macarena, where the dance movements – to those in the know – and general hilarity quickly dissipated the tension, leaving Hamish swaying and looking around aggressively.
As for the ‘Welcome’ mat that Jed and I gave to Reba and Franklin, it had been wound from a rope, a rope that a lad called Jimmy Logan had used to hang himself, following ten weeks of boot camp training under one Hamish McLeish.
Of course, Hamish never made the connection with wiping his feet, but would feel quite ill whenever he visited Reba and Franklin and they were hardly dismayed when his visits became less and less frequent. In the words of Hamish’s beloved ‘Ploughman Poet,’ Robert Burns, “O wad some Power the giftie gie us. To see oursels as ithers see us!”
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