Sara and Matt’s Traditional Wiccan Wedding on Cocoa Beach

One thing about being Catholic is that we’re not allowed to rag on anyone else’s religion; gone are the days when dire consequences would accompany any religious act not taking place within the hallowed precincts of a Catholic Church. Eating meat on a Friday was bad enough, but attending a Protestant service– and participating!!– was like riding a leaky rubber raft down the river to Perdition City.

Not that most people paid attention to all that, really. Divorce? We divorced. Birth control? Over 90% of the faithful continued using birth control even after Paul VI’s famous veto of the decisions of the majority of the bishops during Vatican II. So there ya go. Wiccans? There weren’t any Wiccan families on my Brooklyn block that I know of, so this was a nice opportunity to partake of yet another religious tradition.

Our friend Sara married her beloved Matthew at a touching Wiccan ceremony out on Cocoa Beach yesterday, and a good time was had by all. Yes, there were some raised eyebrows as well as a tiny bit of amazed tittering during the pronouncements, but eventually everyone got it: it wasn’t about black magic or the devil, and nobody ever mentioned Rosemary’s baby, not even once. The shaman shared words of encouragement and love, had them plight their troths to one another, swept away evil by using a broom while circling the groom and then the bride, and then had them stand on a raised platform where they drank and ate symbolic food. He bound their hands together with a rope and that’s how they exited: linked together with love.

The color theme was black and violet and green, though the bride was in traditional white and the groom was kilted. The colors were carried over into the reception hall at the Tides Club, where bunting draped the utilitarian banisters and floated down from the ceiling in airy arcs. And in that space you had all the wedding traditions as practiced during the late twentieth / early twenty-first centuries.

My Manhattans came in a proper vessel  rather than in the current martini glass that seems to be wrapped around every cocktail of choice these days. I paid, and we got ready to leave, but intrepid Yesun chased me down because she had made a mistake on my tab; I thought I’d been getting a hefty discount (which I’d mentioned when paying) because I’m so charming, but that wasn’t the case.

The whole experience was a wonderful mix of traditions and people, and I even ran into a family of former upstaters (New York) now living in Central Florida. It’s great hearing their reactions to their New Land; even after many years here we still get the occasional urge to smack heads, but by now– at least in my case– it’s a sweeter sort of smacking… fageddaboutit!

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Umanhattans in Umatilla with the Girls

I’ve made reference to my friend Becky on this blog site. She’s related to just about everybody in Florida who’s been here forever, and so you have to be real careful what you say to her: there’s a cousin under every bush. We recently went to find one of her ancestors in Geneva, and a couple of weeks ago we set out to find some more– this time in Umatilla.

Umatilla is an ancient Florida town located way up north of Orlando on the fringes of the Ocala National Forest. To get there you find 441 through Apopka, and then avail yourself of the Eustis By-Pass. That sounds rather like open heart surgery, doesn’t it? But I love Eustis; the By-Pass actually takes you thorough some beautiful farm country. After bypassing Eustis in a nice way, you get on 44A and then 19 north to Umatilla.

Now, Becky had told us that there were plantation houses in her family, but we weren’t quite prepared for The Palms… you can just about hear Melanie Wilkes opening the back doors onto the porch at Twelve Oaks and saying “I love it as more than a house… it’s a whole world that just wants to be graceful and beautiful.” And then Ashley takes her in his arms and kisses her in a cinematic moment of innocence and foreshadowing. Smash cut to Scarlett sitting under a tree surrounded by a dozen randy bloods: “I’m glad I sat here instead of at a table… a girl’s got only two sides at a table!”

The lady of the house, Becky’s Cousin Sister, is just as gracious and beautiful as the home she lives in. That day she was getting ready to root for the Gators on TV with her friend Dixie, both of them proudly wearing the orange and the blue. Sister let us roam up and down the two stories, poking into rooms and basking in the sheer simple beauty of The Palms.

Yes, I go into people’s homes and photograph their mixers. Someday the Umatilla Historical Society is going to be wanting a photo of this!

In the neighborhood of this fabulous house, which is situated downtown, you’ll find this old Methodist church, now occupied by another sect. You see it pictured in just about any historic treatise dedicated to Umatilla, and it was built in 1922. Methodist churches are always so solidly-built, as they plan on sticking around for a very long time.

Later we drove north to the family camp on Lake Beakman, which is quite a distance away. We drove through Altoona and Pittman, Linda and I glancing at one another in the car as the sky darkened. On either side of us, nothing but banks of trees and green isolation… … and then Sister says something to us like “there are still plenty of people living in these woods.” Which immediately brings to mind every horror movie you’ve ever seen. But, we were well taken care of. We weren’t dragged from the car by triple third cousins intent on introducing us to the rest of the family.

Beautiful Lake Beakman.

There’s a wonderful little restaurant called the Blackwater Inn on the St. John’s River just east of the camp, in Astor, just below Lake George. (Daytona Beach was due east as the crow flies.) We watched a rain shower sweep toward the big glass windows and had a couple of drinks to top off the ones we’d had earlier at The Tavern in Umatilla, which was another type of place entirely.

The Tavern has a sign on its front door imploring  bikers to refrain from displaying their colors while inside the joint. That was our first reminder that we weren’t in Kansas anymore. The second reminder was a karaoke set-up, thankfully shut down for daytime or I would have been up there crooning, after my two “Manhattans,” everything that Tammy Wynette ever recorded. And she’s a girl.

Our little boy is four years old and quite a little man
So we spell out the words we don’t want him to understand
Like T.O.Y or maybe S.U.R.P.R.I.S.E
But the words we’re hiding from him now
Tear the heart right out of me.

Our D.I.V.O.R.C.E becomes final today
Me and little J.O.E will be goin’ away
I love you both and it will be pure H.E double L for me
Oh, I wish that we could stop this D.I.V.O.R.C.E.

Watch him smile, he thinks it Christmas
Or his 5th Birthay
And he thinks C.U.S.O.T.D.Y spells fun or play
I spell out all the hurtin’ words
And turn my head when I speak
‘Cause I can’t spell a way this hurt
That’s drippin’ down my cheek.

Our D.I.V.O.R.C.E becomes final today
Me and little J.O.E will be goin’ away
I love you both and it will be pure H.E double L for me
Oh, I wish that we could stop this D.I.V.O.R.C.E.

Right? Even before the first refrain, I would have been tied to a motorcycle muffler and given an involuntary tour of Umatilla– from the ground up– past the car parts emporium and the Collins Building that’s being restored, around the square, and finally deposited in the parking lot of the feed store.

Let me tell you about those Manhattans. First, let me begin by saying that I and my friends are in no way elitist; we love everyone and treat everyone according to our political and societal mores. That said, our waitress at The Tavern– smiling, big-hearted, friendly– came to take our drink orders. A Maker’s Mark Manhattan straight up for me and Becky, and a Ketel One Martini (very dry) for Linda, with a twist. I tell you, the friendly light blinked out in our server’s  eyes, replaced by a haze of unknowing, but she brought our drink orders to the bar and started to make them with much clattering, fizzing, and ice picking. She hollered over to us at one point and asked which kind of glasses we wanted, and we chose martini glasses. But.

Time passed. The other waitress finally stopped by and whispered conspiratorily that SHE would be making our drinks: what were they again? Becky and I eventually got our Manhattans: straight up bourbon on the rocks, with lemon slices and straws; no vermouth; no cherry. Linda’s turned out to be just vodka on the rocks, with lemon. Was there a straw? I have no recollection.

And we ordered another round, with nary a complaint. Why complain? The cycles and the chains were parked just a few yards away, their owners seated mere feet from our cynical backs.

Through a Manhattan glass… darkly.

… and we tipped very well.