In memory of a dear, good friend from back home

In memory of a dear, good friend from back home

You couldn’t say I was acting on impulse; after all, when I conceived the idea of a beach wedding, my wife-to-be had been my fiancée since the early ’90s and the center of my life since 1987.

But 20 years later in summer 2007, something told me it was time to get the show on the road, to gather those closest and dearest to us and perform our vows in public for all to see.

“That’s wonderful!” exclaimed the wife of one of my high school friends as I began spreading the word of what was happening in the fall. “Don’t tell me Kay’s pregnant!”

Her bemused but delighted reaction was pretty typical. For years and years, we’d lived together and loved together and been together in such a comfortable way that the whole notion of making it official seemed as remote as, well, our having a child.

I constructed several useful defensive artifices, one of which was built around an improbable, preposterous confluence of events.

“I’ll get married,” I would say with an unctuous, greasy glibness worthy of a phony TV preacher/grifter, “when there’s a Democrat in the White House and the Yankees win the World Series.”

And then you’ll recall President Clinton was re-elected in 1996, the same year New York beat the Braves in six games. Oops.

But the years flew by, and we remained as we’d always been, committed to each other in every way except for the piece of paper.

Then in 2006 my niece, whom I’d known and loved literally since the day she was born, got married. She asked me to read from the Bible during Mass and, much as I’d served as her baptismal godfather and Confirmation sponsor, I was happy to fill the role.

It was then and there, I believe, the marriage seed was sewn.

My wife, as you might expect, was less than enthusiastic when I sprung my idea on her one July night after returning home from the paper where I’d worked since we’d relocated several years earlier.

“No,” she said groggily. “Can’t be done. Not enough time.”

Then she rolled over and went right back to sleep.

It won’t surprise you, probably, that by the time I arrived that next evening, she had the whole thing wired, from the flowers to the cake, from the minister to the reception venue, from her dress to the invitations themselves, which were cleverly designed as printed parchment messages in actual bottles, a touch everyone loved.

While she shouldered most of the burden of the logistics, I got the fun part, which involved making a series of phone calls to friends and family, letting them know what was happening in October on the beach at Kitty Hawk. I had the best time sharing the news, often talking for nearly an hour with folks I hoped would join us.

And that’s where Don Curie entered the production.

I’d been aware of him since my earliest days as an entertainment writer for the paper in the next county. He was a mainstay in the local theater community, a bon vivant with a wild, untamed mane of gray hair and a walrus moustache, a live wire onstage and off.

I got to know both him and his lovely wife Emily — an accomplished poet and artist in her own right — and over the years grew to appreciate the special bond they’d created and nourished.

They were married, they liked to tell people, on the same weekend Woodstock happened, and it wasn’t hard to imagine how that setting would have befitted a couple as free-spirited as they were.

They had met as teachers and, if the mood was right and the audience was receptive, they would revel in sharing details of their courtship, how in awe of each other they became and how both knew instantly they were put on this earth to find one another.

When I was in their presence, I marveled at just how right love can be even as I understood on a basic, flawed, human level just how rare that kind of lifelong commitment to another person actually is.

They were like characters stepping out of the best literature, which brings us back to my role in planning our wedding. I knew I wanted something unique, since the ceremony I had in mind had to be traditional but, at the same time, off the beaten path. Because there was no way to involve the Catholic church — living in sin is frowned upon by my faith — the spiritual aspects of the ceremony had to be conjured in an almost alchemic and natural way.

Having the Atlantic as an eternal sky-lighted backdrop solved most of that issue, and when my sister agreed to play her flute near the pier as guests arrived on the beach, I could check music off my list.

But there remained this void, this vacancy, this role to be filled.

And that’s when I thought of Don Curie, and once I’d cast him in the production, I understood precisely what the event needed.

“Hello, Don,” I said, and went on to explain exactly what it was I had in mind, that he recite Shakespeare’s 116th sonnet, the one that is regarded as perhaps the finest description of love ever penned.

“I should be honored,” he said in his distinctive baritone, “to be part of such an auspicious occasion as your wedding day.”

So with that crowning touch, our masterpiece was complete.

And when Don intoned the passage that calls love “an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken,” even the ocean’s crashing waves seemed to take notice. That’s how brilliant he was.

It couldn’t have been easy for him to make that long drive solo, and I worried that without Emily, who was unable to accompany him, he might have some problems getting from Orrville to the coast.

I mean even in fall 2007 he wasn’t exactly a young man.

But to him, his word was his bond, and I believe he’d have walked all the way if he’d had to. Such was his devotion to his friends.

Now as you may have already guessed, I have to tell you Don Curie died a few days ago. He’d been in failing health since the holidays and in hospice care as the end drew near. From what I’ve heard though, he remained active and involved and alert, knowing he’d lived the kind of full life most of us can only imagine.

What a generous soul he was. When I mentioned in a letter, just after we’d moved to coastal Carolina, how much I missed some of the comfort food from back home, he took it upon himself to make sure that before the end of the month, a box containing three rings of Troyer’s Trail Bologna and a couple of bricks of authentic Amish Swiss cheese arrived in the mail. I was flabbergasted.

Don put the “care” in CARE packages, and I’m humbled by the way he placed others first, hardly ever thinking of himself, inhabiting a starring role as the wise, decent, intelligent, self-effacing, amusing and ever-giving man I was lucky to have known.

When my wife and I return to the beach where we were married in the fall, memories of Don Curie — his flowing bow tie and Shakespearean bearing — will remind us love is all around.

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