This past Saturday, my two younger siblings, my parents and I hauled ass to Long Island in the freezing January cold to attend a special event. An event which, if you ask me, should be mandatory at least once a year. An event which involves a room full of amazon Polacks knocking back Heinekens, dragging their wives onto the dance floor to polka, all the while screaming at each other, toasting each other and reminiscing about the good ol’ days getting their asses kicked by nuns in Catholic school. I am speaking of course, about the infamous Dlug Wedding.
Dlug weddings are a rare occurrence, sadly because most of the Dlugs are 1) Already Married or B) Not of the Marrying Age Yet. THIS IS VERY TRAGIC INDEED. I firmly believe all Dlug events, including weddings and reunions and phone conversations, should be documented on paper and on video so that they can be subjected to analysis by future generations. Oh wait. I am about to do both.
My cousin, Danielle, hitched herself to a man named Paul on Saturday afternoon in a beautiful Catholic ceremony. I cannot remember the last time I saw Danielle but will estimate that it was at least fifteen years ago. (And she STILL invited me to her wedding? WHAT? I LOVE YOU.) Paul seemed like a very stand up dude and apparently, both of them met at the University at Buffalo so I was feeling warm and sentimental about them before I even showed up.
Now add to that warmth and sentimentality the singing of the Ave Maria, a huge beautiful white gown and two people crying as they looked each other in the eyes and vowed ‘Til Death Do Us Part and you have me, sobbing in the last pew trying to wipe the mascara out of the corners of my eyes. OH YES, FOLKS. Even if I don’t know you, you can count on me to cry uncontrollably at your nuptials!
Because it’s LOVE, people. Because the bride looked so PRETTY. Because I’m in church, oh man, I haven’t been to church since Christmas, my mother’s going to KILL ME. Because LOOK AT THAT FLOWER GIRL, OH THAT LITTLE PEANUT, I WANT TO HUG HER. No, wait. I want to eat her. Wait. I WANT A BABYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY.
As I was saying.
Nothing beats a Dlug wedding, nothing at all and I’m so sad that I am just realizing this now, well into adulthood. It’s more than that, of course, it’s that nothing beats hanging out with the Dlugs. There’s one huge reason why this fact has only just occurred to me over the past year and never has before and I believe it is because growing up, we didn’t spend a lot of time with my father’s side of the family.
When I was younger, we would sometimes make trips to Brooklyn and Jersey to celebrate birthdays or communions but my memories of those times are very few. I have significantly more memories of piling into our minivan to visit my grandmother in Park Slope. (This could be because this one time? On our way to Brooklyn? A wasp flew into the van window and STUNG ME ON THE HEAD.) Ahem. However, I believe my grandmother got more of our attention because she was our grandmother and also because Park Slope was a lot closer to us than south Jersey.
One of two reasons for not visiting my father’s side more regularly was the fact that there weren’t really any cousins for us to play with. Because my dad is twelve years older than my mother, his older brothers especially have older families. Therefore, when I was a kid, my cousins were in their late teens and twenties. I actually remember when this crazy girl visited with her mother and she was like, OLD. She went jogging and put on make up and I was all “Do you want to color in my coloring books?”
Also, while it may have been feasible to make more trips when my siblings and I were little, as we got older, my parents’ finances crumbled into utter disarray and visiting relatives even just a few hours away proved impossible. No money for gas, no money for tolls, no money for dragging four little kids on six hour car rides. (THANK GOD. NO MORE WASPS.) My grandmother passed away when I was fourteen and after she died, contact with that side of the family essentially disappeared for years.
And that, my friends, is the SCINTILLATING STORY of how I grew up without really knowing any of the infamous Dlug brothers and their children. My childhood was spent with my mother’s side of the family who lived nearby and had approximately 8,000 children in my age range to hang out with. And also? A pool.
Having spent a riotous 8+ hours with the Dlugs at a family reunion this summer and another gazillion hours at this epic wedding on Saturday, I have learned many things about this amazing family which I will now share with you because surely, you are dying to know.
1. The Dlugs are enormous. I mean, the sheer number of them alone is mind-boggling. (My father is one of seven siblings: six boys, one girl. And I believe he has about twenty-five nieces and nephews. They all have approximately one gazillion children apiece.)
However, the Dlugs are also enormous in a literal sense. The shortest of my dad’s brothers is about 5’11 but he is definitely an anomaly. The other brothers head into the 6’2, 6’3 range with their sons even taller than that. Photographic evidence, though blurry, exists to support my data.
In heels, I am a good 5’8, 5’9 so while I am definitely shorter, I fare much better than my mother and sister, both of whom are the subject of relentless jokes about height and midgets and Oop! Check your shoes to make sure you didn’t step on them!
Debbie was doing okay on the dance floor until she decided to take her shoes off and dance barefoot. It was around this time that one of my uncles drunkenly swept her up to dance and it was a literal sweep–4’11 versus 6’3. You can take a guess on who won that battle of “Who Leads Who”. As far as my mother was concerned, the ongoing joke of the evening involved several of my cousins hitting the dancefloor on their knees to dance opposite her, so that they could meet her at her level.
Behold photographic evidence, these are almost all of the Dlug cousins present, look who is the shortest. And also, why were Debbie and I the only people wearing any color? We apparently did not get the DRESS IN BLACK memo. (Also, I have no idea who the guy is with the Rastafarian hair.)
2. The Dlug peeps like to drink.
This should come as no surprise to anyone however it still startles me because I grew up around my mother’s family who rarely drank at all, ever. I believe there was some alcoholism somewhere in the genes and most of them just avoided it altogether. My father’s side of the family has no such qulams, regardless of whether or not there were alcoholic relatives. (I believe there were. In fact, I remember one in particular by the name of Uncle Joe who was morbidly obese and who could be found at all hours of the day drinking a six-pack on the stoop of my grandmother’s brownstone.)
I realize that for most families, a wedding is a celebration and therefore a reason to bring on the booze. It’s just that at barbecues, weddings, birthdays, surprise parties, whatevers, when I was growing up, there WAS no booze. My parents had to go buy a bottle or two of wine for neighbors or other people who might want it. But the focus in my family was always on the food, not so much on the drink.
OH MAN. They do it all.
In keeping with the genes, before the evening began, my little brother had pulled me aside and whispered, “Alright, toots. I’m going to need you to hook me up with the open bar.”
A few years ago, I would’ve been aghast. I would’ve slapped him and told him that was COMPLETELY INAPPROPRIATE, YOU ARE EIGHTEEN. (Except, a few years ago? He woulda been like, fourteen, so, different story I guess.) Now, it didn’t really occur to me what the big deal was and since I had to drive home and am not a big drinker myself, I complied.
During the cocktail hour, I walked up to the bar and ordered a Jack and coke.
A deep voice boomed down at me from a few feet above.
“What are you drinkin’?!”
“Uh. Jack and coke. Actually. It’s not for me…it’s for Jeremy. Don’t tell Rita.”
“NO SHIT,” gasped my cousin David, big and broad as a linebacker.
He raised his two hands, which were each holding a drink.
“JACK AND COKE? THAT IS ALL WE DRINK, MAN! MY BROTHER AND ME! WE LOVE ‘EM! HOW FUNNY.”
We toasted and took a sip and the bartender concluded it must be in our blood.
It should be noted that there was no alcohol consumed by either my little brother or my sister when this picture was taken. I believe it was snapped during the cocktail hour, when we sat at a table in a little cobblestone alcove. When I asked Jem what he thought of it, he said it looked like “The Don’s headquarters.” Hence, the pose:
It must be noted that three jack and cokes later (which, I should add, were consumed by my brother over the course of almost three hours), my mother cut him off and slapped me on the arm.
“HE IS EIGHTEEN YEARS OLD. NO MORE BOOZE.”
A few minutes later, my cousin David was cornered by my mom as he attempted to slip Jeremy another drink. I wasn’t there to witness the exact happenings but I did catch my mother, attempting to hit my cousin, jumping up and down in an effort to slap him on the arm, screeching “HE IS JUST EIGHTEEEEEEN!” My dad ordered her a Brandy Alexander and I believe that was the last of her complaining.
It also didn’t hurt that while she was in the bathroom, the Dlug men decided to congregate at the bar and toast to my Uncle John, father of the bride. I believe Jeremy joined my father in this venture. I snapped a picture at the last minute since I had no idea what was going on up until the moment a huge roar erupted at the bar and a throng of huge men downed a shot of whiskey.
With the exception of a few sips of champagne, my alcohol consumption was about zero for the evening. I instead focused on the wedding goal I like to call How To Gain Ten Pounds In One Night. I have never seen so much food in my entire life and I took full advantage of that fact, acting as if I grew up during the Depression. I think Grandma Agnes Dlug would’ve been proud when I stood in front of a huge bowl of marinated artichoke hearts during the cocktail hour and wondered how I could hide them in my purse.
This actually has less to do with my thriftiness/stealing tendencies and more to do with the fact that I love artichokes. I love them more than any human could love anything and when I had to pick what was the best food of the night–the banana split that came with the wedding cake, the fondu fountain, the eggplant parmigiana, the crabcake, the goat cheese and toasted walnut salad, the vegetable pastry puff I chose for my entrée, the fried dough in a bag that we received on our way out at the end–all I could say was THE ARTICHOKES. To which my father responded, “I don’t even KNOW YOU. DAT IS GROSSER THAN VEAL.”
To each his own, pops.
The night was one long celebration. We sat down to eat, we got up to dance. We repeated these two things over and over for approximately six hours. I could’ve done it all night long. This has to do with another fact about the Dlugs:
3. They love to dance.
Now, let’s be clear. I did not say that they COULD dance, that they are GOOD dancers, that they have, how do you say, COORDINATION of any kind. In fact, they do not. They do not AT ALL. However, once that music starts, they freaking LEAP out of their chairs, dragging their wives with them. They bounce and shake and their long limbs go flailing and it looks like some cracked out version of the Muppets. You know, that moment when Kermit the Frog goes crazy and his lanky arms go flying above his head and his mouth is open as he screams? Now just imagine about five Kermits. And just imagine he is screaming to Rockin’ Robin. And also? That Kermit is drunk.
That would be what it is like dancing with the Dlugs.
And I give them so much credit because men usually don’t like to DANCE. Men are self-conscious. Men don’t know what they’re doing. And yes, this last part is true of the Dlug men, for sure. The difference is they don’t care. That I think they ENJOY making total asses out of themselves and oh my God, is it the best fun I have ever had on a dance floor in my life. You don’t exactly know who is going to scoop you up next, twirl you around and scream the lyrics to Runaround Sue in your ear, off-key and terrible.
Speaking of which, in case you didn’t know,
4. The majority of the Dlugs are terrible singers.
It start off innocently enough as we began dinner and the DJ began to play some jazz standards and oldies so we could dine in class. However, that doesn’t last long around the Dlugs and everyone randomly chimed in to The Way You Look Tonight, including my father who is going to town. The only sad thing about this video is that there is little to no lighting and I only caught a snippet of it. And yet, when you hear that booming Dlug voice, you can’t help but marvel.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, a little while later, the DJ skipped to Unchained Melody, one of my dad’s ultimate favorite Songs To Scream To. Cover your ears and witness the howling hyena that is my father attempting to hit the high note on “IIIIIIIIIIIII *NEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEED* YOUR LOVE!” He belts it out like an Annie understudy. I believe his “YOUR LOOOVE” is my favorite part. Please also note my really annoying cackle and my mother adorably erupting into giggles behind him. AMAZING.
It is also worthy to note that Danielle and her husband got married in the same banquet hall as my parents, almost thirty-one years ago. My mom and dad hadn’t been back to the place since and were very nostalgic and sweet thinking about it, even though the place had been renovated and looked completely different. That was actually a good thing because before we showed up, my sister and I weren’t entirely sure and judging from my parents’ wedding photos, Debbie and I thought we were about to head to a wedding in a wood-paneled room where everyone wore powder-blue suits.
Thankfully, not so.
And so I ate tons of artichokes and danced with my cousins and siblings and parents and aunts and uncles and when I left, I had gained approximately twenty-seven pounds but I also felt extremely light and it is because
5. The Dlugs have a whole lot of heart.
The best thing about the Dlugs is that they are 100% Pure Love. You can go missing in action for fifteen years and then randomly show up to a wedding or a reunion and they will grab you a beer and ask about your life and hug you fiercely until you think you might burst. They hold no grudges, they speak their mind, they delight in eating and drinking and dancing and laughter and yet they will spin a story about the good old days and cry into their beer.
I caught my father looking around the table at one point and at his lip which began to quiver, a tell-tale sign that tears were on the way.
“Are you okay, dad?” I asked.
“YEAH,” he said. “IT’S JUST…I LOVE MY BROTHAS. WE JUST LOVE EACH OTHA. I JUST LOVE DAT WE’RE ALL TOGETHA.”
Ah, so simple, so Brooklyn, so true.
I grew up around my mother’s family and while they are definitely an uplifting, joyous crew, in recent years, the happiness I get out of being around them has lessened. They bicker relentlessly, hold silent grudges, suffer from anxiety and mental illness and emotional overeating. They are attached to hurts in their childhood, caught up in the past, stubborn and dramatic.
The Dlugs always seemed a little crazy to me…a little loud, a little drunk, a little rough. But my God is this family a lesson in being present. In forgiveness. In the importance of family, of togetherness, of celebrating, of having each others’ backs. It dawned on me that I would love to model the relationship I have with my siblings on the relationship my father has with his brothers. They may not see each other often, but when they do, they are hugging and yelling and laughing, flailing and dancing and singing and crying. They rejoice in the bond of brotherhood, they celebrate what it means to be related, to share facial features and personality traits and heavy Brooklyn accents, what it means to love and be loved.
Two of the last people I said goodbye to were my cousins Michael and David, brothers who are a bit older than me, with children of their own. They both had had a lot to drink and both of them stopped me before I left to tell me something important, both messages completely different from the other.
Michael was first.
He grabbed me closely and bent down to talk into my ear, his breath smelling of alcohol.
“I WANT TO TELL YOU SOMETHING,” Michael said and I laughed at his abrupt sincerity.
“I WANT TO TELL YOU TO DREAM BIG.”
“I totally will, I–”
“NO. I WANT YOU TO. IF YOU CAN DREAM IT, YOU CAN ACHIEVE IT. DON’T LET ANYONE DISSUADE YOU. DON’T LET ANYONE TURN YOU AWAY FROM YOUR DREAMS. YOU CAN DO IT, YOU CAN GO FOR IT. I ALWAYS BELIEVED ONE OF US DLUGS WOULD DO SOMETHING GREAT. AND IT’S NOT GOING TO BE ME.”
Michael almost played professional baseball for the Mets before a shoulder injury sidelined his career.
“AND YOU KNOW WHAT? I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT YOUR DREAMS ARE BECAUSE I DON’T EVEN KNOW YOU.”
“NO BUT LISTEN. THAT DOESN’T MATTER. IF YOU CAN DREAM IT, YOU CAN ACHIEVE IT. SO GO ACHIEVE IT, OKAY?”
“Okay,” I promised.
Both touched and amused, I hugged him again and told him to have a good evening.
He had no way of knowing what was going on in my life. How I had been rejected from graduate school the day before, how I had been questioning my entire career path, how I was uncertain and despairing. But in true Dlug fashion, he had reached out and encouraged me, had sent me good wishes, had told me to screw everyone else and be a success because he believed in me.
It was so comforting for me to hear such genuinely inspiring words and I oddly felt like crying. Before any tears could fall, his brother David caught my arm. I wondered if I was due for another such speech, if he too would rattle off compliments and awesomeness wrapped in a YOU GO GET ‘EM TIGER big brother lecture.
“HEY LAWRA,” slurred my cousin David in my ear.
“I JUST WANT YOU TO KNOW…”
Here it comes.
“DAT I GOOGLE PEOPLE AT WORK.”
“YOUR BLOG IS FUCKING HILARIOUS.”
And with that, he turned away and took a sip of beer.
I collected my sister and my goodie bag of fried dough and my coat and I danced out into the frigid midnight air.