My beloved and I recently celebrated our 40th summer of wedded bliss. And while it is customary, or traditional, upon reaching this auspicious milestone, for the one partner to give the other something containing a ruby, our family took a collective decision that rather than a scarlet trinket we would celebrate the event with a trip to the Cape to revisit the “scene of the crime” so to speak, for it was in Cape Town that, on a fine Saturday morning in 1978 we had been joined in the bonds of holy matrimony with the bells of St George’s Cathedral announcing our union, at 11:00 in the morning, to all of Cape Town’s Saturday shoppers.
In short, we would hold a helluva celebration party, inviting all our Cape friends and relatives, specifically those who are still around who had been at our wedding
While our three now-adult children set about organising accommodation, a suitable venue, catering and all the other necessities of a successful party, we set about inviting our guests.
All was looking as if the stars and dates were particularly-well-aligned for us for our anniversary fell over a weekend, and thus we would be able to celebrate it exactly four decades to the day, on a Saturday, the traditional day for a wedding.
Many of the members of our original wedding party are no longer with us, and others have moved away from the Cape. Nevertheless, we rounded up those that we could, which included relatives, old work colleagues and long-standing friends and, especially, the man who had introduced us to each other while we were students, and who had been my most able best man, before going on to a highly successful career as a teacher, from which he’d recently retired as the much-loved principal of a leading Cape primary school ~ the archetypal Mr Chips, with whom he strongly identified. He remained a life-long friend, becoming also godfather to our eldest son.
Last year our friend was diagnosed with cancer, which necessitated surgery and a course of radiation, both of which he was coping well with, we all thought.
As my best man 40 years ago he had done a sterling job of steadying my nerves and ensuring my tie was straight and my shoes polished as he shepherded me up the aisle to the alter of the Cathedral, there to await the (fashionably-delayed) arrival of the object of my desire, with his steady hand delivering the wedding ring safely into the hands of the officiating priest, and thence on to the finger of my betrothed.
Crucially for this tale, he was thus introduced to St George’s Cathedral, and had continued as a regular parishioner, going to church there every Sunday, for the past 40 years.
Now you don’t organise a 40th anniversary luncheon as a spur of the moment thing, and the arrangements took some months to have in place. And we all, family and guests alike, were looking forward to it greatly.
However, two weeks before the event we received sad news: Our mutual friend, my best man, the much-loved retired headmaster and our son’s godfather, died in hospital of complications following a small dental operation. Clearly we had all underestimated the effect that the earlier cancer surgery and radiation had had on his body.
We duly expressed our condolences to his family, commenting in passing how close we were to our anniversary, while they organised his funeral. Because his family (like us) needed to travel from Gauteng the best date they could settle on was over the weekend of our anniversary. On the Saturday, at 9:30 in the morning.
And, of course, he had been a lifelong parishioner of St George’s, so it was only fitting that he be sent off in style from the cathedral.
His family, recognising our close friendship, did me the honour of inviting me to be one of his pallbearers at the funeral.
Thus it was that, 40 years to the day and only a couple of hours short of the time of our wedding all those Saturdays before (and for only the second time in my life), I stood with my friend before the alter of St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town. Only this time, rather than standing alongside me dressed in formal wedding attire, he was beside me in a long pine box.
In addition to the fine qualities of seriousness, conscientiousness and formality as befits the headmaster of a leading school, my friend was possessed of a wicked sense of humour.
As I drank a toast to my absent friend at our luncheon following the funeral I was struck by the deep irony of it all. What a macabre, but perfect, ending he had chosen with which to round out our mutual circle of life!