The Burlington Skyway is part of the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) highway linking Hamilton (west) and Toronto (east) with the Niagara Peninsula. A good portion of my family lives on the Niagara Peninsula and thus, I'm quite familiar with that bridge.
Well, not so much anymore. Some years ago when I lived in Windsor, I visited my brother Jeff and sister in law Carol for the weekend, and on my return home, suffered a panic attack at the top of that bridge. It was a nasty experience; it was all I could do to get me and my car to the other side, where I could pull over and stop and get out of the car drag some oxygen into my lungs. And plan my way up the side of Hamilton Mountain – the only way that would point me to Windsor (home).
Now, those of you that live near real mountains would laugh at the thought of this being called a "mountain." "Hamilton Mountain" is really part of the Niagara Escarpment (one of the world's Natural Biosphere Reserves), where the earth juts up in a line leading from the Manitoulin Island and the Bruce Peninsula down through to that watery wonder, Niagara Falls and into western New York.
But my point is not to discuss what people call a mountain in southern Ontario. My point is, that having come across that bridge once in a sweating, hyperventilating, shaking mess, the idea of then having to drive up the side of that "mountain" with the view of the city of Hamilton at the bottom of a breathtaking earth-slide below me, was terrifying. It took about an hour's convincing, and eventually I did it, making my way home to Windsor, stopping along the way about six times (over what is usually a three and a half hour trip) to collect myself after some minor highway overpass or other.
I'm pleased to tell you that, adjacent to the Burlington Skyway, (the thought of which still causes my palms to sweat), lies the older Burlington Lift Bridge. The Lift Bridge might only take an extra two or three minutes (getting off and back on the highway) to get onto the Peninsuala, but one does risk reaching it when a ship is coming through between Lake Ontario and Hamilton Harbour, and waiting out the "lift" of the bridge while a ship passes through.
People travelling with me might find this an inconvenient hold-up. Me – never wanting to ever experience any sort of panic attack ever again – doesn't mind waiting at all. Turning off the car and watching a ship pass through the narrow canal is Zen-like. Even on those days when my family is waiting for me on the other end. After all, we all know I'm eventually going to get there.
I have a “blended family.” I think it’s the first time I ever said that. I heard someone use that term to describe us this past weekend and even though it’s a well-known term, it sounded so clinical. Especially when you consider that my family’s “blended” period is much greater than the “pre-blend” period. But the length of time we’ve been together doesn’t matter. What’s important is, at one point in time, after we’d all grown up, we made the decision to be a family and the word “step” stopped preceding brother and sister in conversations. This is who we are; this is who we’ve got. It’s a family in the truest sense of the word, and it pretty much doesn’t get better than it is when we’re together.
So, last weekend’s road trip to Pittsburgh to welcome a new sister-in-law into our world was much anticipated. My girls and I love road trips, and we love visiting new places and we’d heard great things about Pittsburgh and we couldn’t wait to get there. Imagine our annoyance when we find that half the population of Ontario had also decided to cross the border into the US on that same holiday Thursday, Canada Day, and the waiting-for-the-extended-family-party is eventually drawn out to more than double the expected time.
As we inch our way around the Golden Horseshoe toward Niagara Falls/Buffalo, we hear the line-ups at all three bridges are three hours plus. “Scott is dead” I text message to Cathy and Jeff, who, with their families, are somewhere ahead of us in the turtle race. It’s only natural we would blame the groom while we thought longingly of other Canada Days loafing about on the sunny deck at the cottage having happy hour with drinks and smoked fish and deciding what to barbeque for dinner. “It better be THE. BEST. WEDDING. EVER.” is my sister’s text response. Who else would you blame? I mean you can't blame the bride. That would be just wrong. Naturally, it fell on the groom.
When we actually set foot on US soil in Buffalo, it is the time we anticipated we’d almost be in Pittsburgh. And when we finally arrive there five hours after that and begin to follow directions to the hotel – carefully – as we’d heard the layout of the city can be “confusing.” As someone who could get lost driving to work in the morning, I had mapped the directions step by step.
At first it goes really well – and man are we thirsty for that six-hours-overdue cold beer and I say I am going to taunt my sister who’d texted ahead that they got lost finding their hotel. More than an hour later we drag ourselves into the lobby – exhausted and cranky. “Confusing?” That city is a giant jigsaw puzzle with some of the pieces missing.
Next morning Cathy phones to discuss our previously made shopping plans. She tells me the place we want to go is on the outskirts of the city, and I essentially refuse to drive. So we all squeeze into Carol’s van and navigate, with the help of her GPS system (“Rhoda”) and numerous opinions and eagle eyes, make it out to the intended destination only making a few wrong turns. (It’s okay Rhoda – you did good.) During the course of the day any frustration and crankiness evaporates and we have a good time shopping, having lunch and hanging out together, sisters and kids.
Back to the hotel we descend on Cathy and Stan’s room for a drink, and thus begins the two-day party. Down in the lounge en route to dinner we bump into aunts and uncles and parents and have a bit of a reunion over more beer. Those attending the rehearsal take off and the rest of us walk over to Joe's Crab Shack where we take over a long collection of tables and enjoy crab and more beer and lots of laughs. After dinner we move the party back to Cathy’s room with the pretty view of the Pittsburgh’s riverfront.
Next day, we awake feeling a little “toasty” but we walk downtown anyway for a bit more shopping and we get a little lost but we make it, stopping for a classic Pittsburgh sandwich consisting of thick slabs of white bread around a huge hunk of meat, cheese, a huger hunk of french fries (yes french fries) (yes, ON the sandwich) and coleslaw. We didn't care that we had to slide ourselves into pretty dresses later; it was delicious. And just the cure for a night of too much fun.
Later, we don’t get lost going to the church and we stand around in the vestibule admiring how darned good we all look. A short while later we sit in pews and brothers Scott and Jeff and the other groomsmen emerge and then, finally, down the aisle comes the most beautifully poised bride Jennifer – shining in her joy.
We heard it a lot over the weekend: “I love our family.” Gratifyingly – most often from the youngest generation. Indeed I got enough niece and nephew hugs to last me through July. We’re not perfect, but not everyone gets a family who so roundly LIKES one another. And I’m sure every one of us would say that this party, just like the one we had last year at this time, ranks with the “best ever.”
Jeff summarizes the moment in the first toast before dinner: “Here’s to being together,” and during the extended clinking (because everyone has to make sure to clink everyone else), I feel blessed.
Once, another beautiful bride in the family said that finding love wasn’t a happy accident. It was a choice. She chose her husband, and in doing so she chose love. Just like my family did a long time ago.
Happy marriage Scott and Jennifer. We’re so glad you chose each other and brought us all together to celebrate it.
And there were a couple who were missed!