Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Reception of Modestas and Jolanta

“Australia!!” That is the war cry of the Reception of Modestas and Jolanta….

Vile and Edmundas very kindly drop us off at the reception hall promptly at 5:00 PM. The wedding party has not arrived yet so we venture inside to find Beruta, Jane and some others already drinking and munching on bar snacks. Jane is frowning as the beer is too cold – I love it as it is the coldest thing I have had to drink in two weeks! Everyone is sitting at tables out on the patio – enjoying the summer early evening air.

Inside – a one man band/keyboardist is setting up and doing his sound check. I walk by and yell “Freebird!” – he smiles, nods and gives me the thumbs up. I am certain he has no idea what I just said! There is one long table set for roughly 45 in the main room. The table is loaded with food: salads, breads, meats, vegetables and fruits. Little islands of alcohol are strategically placed amongst the food. Champaign and vodka are the drink of the evening. If you want anything else – the bar has a couple of rows of pre-poured beer set up – or you can pay cash for just about anything else. My feeling – vodka will be free flowing tonight.

We hear from Beruta that the wedding party has pulled up so we rush to the front in order to form a greeting line – or some resemblance of one into the crammed entrance-way. It is there that we meet one of the first relatives from Australia. He, who I will call Bruce because I did not catch his name, is a friend of Jolanta’s grandfather who migrated to Australia during the war while he was stationed there. Bruce is the attaché for the Lithuanian Olympic Teams in Australia and is Lithuanian himself. There is nothing stranger than hearing someone speak Lithuanian in an Australian voice. “Laba Diena Mate!”

Bruce is delighted that we speak English as he begins to recant his Olympic stories. He is proudly decked out in Olympic wear, hat, tie and pins all with the Lithuanian flag and Olympic Rings. He is very proud of his responsibilities and enjoys telling us just what his responsibilities are. Mid-way into his story of Sabonis (the Lithuanian National basketball hero – their Michael Jordan) – the wedding party arrives and we are off to the races.

The toasting starts immediately, before we even have a chance to sit down. The younger guys are already carrying empty bottles of Champaign and vodka in from the limo – so they are already well into a long drunk. Here is the way things are going to work for the evening. It is a pleasant mixture of traditional and modern. We start by sitting at our assigned seats – remember – we are all at one long table. To my right – Lisa, her father, Beruta and Jane. To my left, Jolanta’s grandfather from Australia and her grandmother. Across from me – Modesta’s younger cousin - Raymondus, Lisa’s young cousin – Vilta (Raymondus’ date/partner for the wedding party) and the Drink Master with his date (all four are in the wedding party).

Sidebar – The Drink Master is the person in charge of the particular section of table he occupies. He has a two part job, make sure the glasses are always full and then make sure the glasses are always empty.

Traditionally – you eat, drink, read and give toasts, lock arms and sway back and forth singing Lithuanian songs; eat and drink some more.

We follow this pattern for most of the initial appetizers. Locking arms, swaying right and left, singing Lithuanian songs – of which Lisa and I fumble through by “La..La…La’ing” our way through the numbers. The Matchmakers each (male and female) stand up and give their toasts, followed by the Best Man and the Maid of Honor. When they are done – we are told that we are going to break from the table to cool off outside and have a few more drinks. We take a quick break while the Keyboardist begins o play some polkas – much to Beruta’s' delight who grabs up Lisa’s father and begins to toss him around the room.

Soon we are back at the table – three more toasts under our belt when the dinner arrives – more American fare than traditional Lithuanian – it is a delicious breaded chicken breast with French fries and a typical Lithuanian carrot salad. The whole time the appetizers stay on the table and the toasts keep on coming!

The Matchmaker stands and informs everyone that we must assign additional Drink Masters to cover the enormity of the table. Lisa’s father is elected for our end and he proves to be very adept at his job! With dinner done – and it is still light out – the toast come fast and furious. The parents all read toasts to their children – we drink and sing – the bride and groom introduce everyone who is there – Jolanta finally coming to her grandparents, the only thing I understand is “Australia” from her. Grabbing on that I raise my glass and shout: “Australia!” in toast to her grandparents.

I now have new best friends!

The keyboardist is now playing a variety of numbers as the guest move from one side of the table to the next – chatting, drinking and eating and dancing. At this point, Jolanta’s Grandfather and I are deep in conversation about the merits of Foster’s versus Lithuanian beer- every sentence of so I interject a rousing “Australia!” and we drink a toast. It has gotten to the point that our Lithuanian Drink Master across the table is shouting “Australia!” in toast. My cheeks are numb from laughter at this point.

Then the games begin.

First – there is the tossing of the bouquet – typical American fare. Then the removal and tossing of the garter – more American fare – but then the real fun game begins. Bear in mind – we do not participate – we watch as the wedding party participates – which in reality is a heck of a lot of more fun!

The first game they play entails the bridal party sitting back to back in chairs in the middle of the floor. You have the male on one side and his female partner on the other. The male partner takes off his belt and hands it to his female counterpart. They sit and when the keyboardist announces Go!, the female must reach behind, thread the belt through all of the loops and buckle it. The first to accomplish this in the allotted time is the winner. I must state here that this is an R rated game in the hands of drunken couples who, apparently, seem to get lost at the buckle part – but for the two poor cousins who barley want to touch each other!

The second game involves the same partners, a balloon and air pump. The pump, which is a ball with a hose on it, is placed on the seat of a chair. At the end of the hose is placed a balloon – please note, the hose barely makes it waist high. The object – the woman must hold the balloon at the end of the hose while the guy bounces up and down on the ball to force air into the balloon. While this does not sound at all R rated – try it at home – after about a dozen shots of Vodka and tell me that it does not look absolutely filthy!

We take another, much needed break outside to gather some fresh air and clear our heads for more vodka. On our way out I am grabbed up for a dance train that has started and suddenly I am the leader in a Lithuanian conga line. Something came over me, I am not sure what – but I grab Beruta on the second pass. It is then the entire line is suddenly being whipped around the room like that poor girl in the opening scene of “Jaws” – Beruta, vodka and an endless line of people – a winning combination!

The conga line comes to a sudden halt as Beruta collapses into a chair – dragging twenty some odd people around a room will do that to you I guess. Luckily the keyboardist slows the tempo a bit and I find myself suddenly dancing with Aunt Jane! Although this is much better as it offers Lisa the opportunity for a candid “cute” picture.

Australia returns to the room and chides me into coming outside for pictures with our new best friends! We shout “Australia!” instead of “Cheese!” and pop off a few photos. Soon we are back at the table – a rousing version of the Lithuanian anthem is now being sung – we are being pulled left and right as we shout what we think the words are. Desserts have not even been served yet!

Several toasts later, at least four bottles of Vodka down (on our little real estate of the table that is) – the dessert table is finally opened. Besides the wedding cakes there are torts, cookies, pie and other assorted goodies to nibble on. Over at a smaller table, in this section of the bar area, Modestas and Jolanta are getting a much needed breather by themselves. Jolanta looks exhausted and it is only 1:00 am at this point. Luckily, someone, besides us, notices this and walks over to say “Goodnight”. Once the “Goodnight” gate is thrown open, the cabs start to line up outside. While we are not the first wave to leave, we are not the last either. Saying our good-byes for the final time – we promise to visit them again in a couple of years with the kids – hinting that they should have at least one of their own for ours to baby-sit!

We share a cab with Vilta as she lives only a couple of blocks away from us – within twenty minutes of leaving, we are tucked away in our beds. Our stomachs full, our cheeks sore with laughter…now only one more night left in this fantastic country.

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