***In August 1977 my father got on a plane to the United States from Kuwait, where he had been working. My mom had already been here a few months, and the two were getting married shortly after he arrived. Not much of that--the visas, the travel, the wedding--would have even been possible without my godmother, who (with her family) was their ally and their support through some of the toughest leaps of faith two twentysomethings can make: Leaving everything they knew and loved to make a life for themselves on the other side of the world.
Several years before that, my mom had come to the Dairy Capital of India to study nursing. She'd had to learn Gujarati and did so fairly easily, the superstar she is. Her feisty roommate kept things interesting, but there wasn't much to do outside of training. A bookstore nearby would rent books for a week, a per-book-fee-library of sorts. After awhile, my mom realized a girl who lived down the hall from her in the dorm was taking out the same books. They started splitting the cost and sharing the rentals. Soon they began hanging out, and it didn't take long for before they were great friends. A few years later, my future godmother went to America. And she invited my mom to come and join her.
On my mother's wedding day, not a single member of her rather large family was present. And, except for his bride and my godmother, my dad had only met everyone two days before. It was a foreign place where everyone spoke their second language, so far from the comforts of home. I can't imagine how scary that must have been. My mom said she cried the entire day.
My godmother and her family arranged everything. It was a simple ceremony at the Bretheren Church in town (the first Indian wedding there, I believe). People brought food. My mom made her own wedding sari from white fabric, a bronze-brown/red/green border she attached and lacy appliques she sewed on by hand. And my godmother and her sisters were at her side the whole day. They helped her get ready, did her makeup and hair and pleated and pinned her sari, surrounding her like a warm, comforting circle, stepping into the spots her sisters would have had on such an important day. I have no doubt they wiped away her tears.
I know this because they were there on my wedding day, too. They showed up early, armed with no-nonsense expertise and vivid memories. None of my mom's sisters were able to make it for my wedding, either (not for lack of trying, stupid Visas). Even though cc and pp arranged for coffee, breakfast snacks and bottled water for everyone, Mom mentioned to my godmother's sister, who was in the car and almost there, that she had a headache from not sleeping the night before and that auntie turned around, made breakfast and a thermos full of tea. She showed up with all that stuff, wearing the same sari she'd worn to my parents' wedding 34 years ago and a solid gold necklace with a flat, wide charm that spelled her name--decades before it became a trend in the '90s. My dad had them made in Kuwait all those years ago, and brought one for each of them two days before his wedding.
When the bridal party and I were beautified and ready to leave for pictures, I went back up to the suite to grab my lipstick. I opened the door and saw them all, half laughing and half crying, standing around my mom. Same warm circle, fussing with pleats and pins, cracking jokes. I could just see how it was 34 years ago.
After I was born, my godmother was always there to help. From what I've heard, she came over every day to help with the laundry, cooking and taking care of us while my dad was at work because my mom had surgery to remove the grapefruit-sized cyst they had thought was my twin (before ultrasound was so common). She even washed my cloth diapers (I was allergic to disposable). Later, apparently I would only eat if my godmother was feeding me.
She is vivid in my memories. I can still feel the warmth of her hug, and remember sitting in her lap pulling on her long long fingernails. I remember her old house, on the street that has the same name as her oldest son; hunting around in the backyard for fallen walnuts and peeking through the posts of the banister; only liking drumsticks the way she made them.
I have only one regret about my wedding day. After an awesome performance by my godmother's sons, nieces and nephews as well as the speeches, I grabbed the microphone to say a few words. I started by thanking everyone for coming, some from as far as Hawaii and Dubai, not to mention my dad's sister and her husband from Mumbai. And then I turned to look at my parents. I attempted to thank them for all the sacrifices they made so my brother and I could have the amazing lives we have today, but I could hardly get any words out. And as soon as the tears came, my brain went blank. My voice started crackling and sort of faded out. Just like my mother, I cried throughout my wedding day, but my tears were from being overwhelmed by feelings.
For months I had envisioned what I'd say at that moment; I'd allotted time to tell my godmother how much I appreciated everything she's done for me and my family, in front of everyone so they would all know just how amazing she is. I mean, there's a chance I wouldn't even exist without her--my parents could have lived out their lives on different continents. On top of that, her extended family was so generous with their time, their talents, their love. They gave me a gift that day that I have always dreamed of: A boisterous, big-family celebration. We're not even technically family, but no one could tell. I cannot express how much that means to me. When I had the opportunity, microphone in hand, I blew it.
Later, in the disco-light darkness and bumping music, I found where my godparents were sitting and said the thank-you that everyone really should have heard in my speech. She said she didn't need for me to have said it in front of everybody. She knows how I felt, because I'm her daughter, too.