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Do You Ever Dream of an Easier Way of Life?

Sarah Preston Gorenstein

I just got back from a beautiful wedding in Folly Beach, South Carolina for my cousin Tara's wedding. It was magnificent, right down to the perfect 70-degree weather—and almost as magnificent as the happy couple. Nic and Tara have been together for six years, and my dad (who's a judge) officiated their wedding (see picture). It was the most beautiful and laid-back wedding I've ever attended—on a beach, the bride and groom walked barefoot down an aisle lit up by tiki torches right at dusk while the tide was low. We all stood around watching them exchange heartfelt vows about supporting each other's dreams, loving each other unconditionally, and promising to be each other's best friends while they grow old together. I cried, of course (I always cry). But I also cried because I couldn't help but think of my own wedding, three years, two businesses, new jobs, a house, a dog, a two-year-old, and about 200 sleepless nights ago...

Nic didn't take his eyes off of Tara the entire ceremony; after six years together you could still see how deep his love is for her, it reminded me of all the beautiful things about young love and the joining of two lives—the things that tend to get a little complicated once your life kicks into high gear and kids enter the picture. Not that those aren't also beautiful in their own right.

The reception itself was like nothing I've attended either. Friends and family helped decorate the outside of a huge seven-bedroom house on the beach, the site of the reception: mason jars cradled candles hanging above; their dog Beastie, a lab and pitbull mix, went straight from the ceremony to the reception, wearing a bowtie that said "Best Dog"; and to make it all the more perfect, there was a taco truck parked out front during the entire reception, serving made-to-order soft-shell chicken, grouper, and veggie tacos, along with Spanish rice and black beans. A band played on a porch above while people danced barefoot; and later on in the evening the bride's step-sister put on a fire hula-hoop show. By the time we retired at 11:30, the bride's step-dad was playing Red Hot Chilli Pepper's tunes on his guitar, while another guy sang. The groom, who grew up in the area and looks like a poster boy for Folly Beach, remained barefoot all night. We heard the party continued into the wee, wee hours...

This is my cousin on my mom's side—Tara is my mom's brother Arnie's youngest daughter, whom I hardly get to see, the last time was at my own wedding actually. She and my other two first cousins, Leila and Neyah, live in different parts of the country (South Carolina, Atlanta and San Francisco), so it takes a special occasion to bring us all together. Unfortunately we decided not to bring the kids to the wedding—instead, we left Preston with his three cousins, my brother's kids, and their babysitter, back in Chicago. 

The kids would've had a blast playing on the beach—it saddened me a little that Preston wasn't there to meet my cousins, and spend time with my Uncle Arnie and Aunt Pam. He's like an appendage—without him, I don't feel complete. And once I saw other babies at the reception, I was even more regretful we didn't bring him—though granted, it definitely would've made the weekend a little less chill for us. But I was so happy to be a part of this wedding, even if our visit was short. It's a special group of people with an extended family tree connecting everyone in very unique ways. I also met cousins I have only heard about for years, my Aunt Pam's kids; growing up with such a small family, it's nice to know I have these connections to people all over the country. We grew up with no immediate close cousins nearby.

My family stayed at a great house across the street from the wedding site, called Simple Pleasures, and it was perfect for all us—my parents, my brother and sister-in-law, my husband and I, and my cousin Leila all stayed together, and had fun frolicking around the town and hanging out on the beach, watching the groom spend the morning surfing the day after the wedding. This is a real beach town, where shoes are not required anywhere, and where you actually see dolphins peeking out over the waves, and the beaches aren't littered with anything other than the softest, cleanest sand that feel like little beads of heaven between your toes.

You couldn't not have a great time at this wedding; it was so reflective of the bride and groom's easy personalities—their cake top, for example, which they made together, was of them in a boat with their dog Beastie. Perfect and simple. There was so much love surrounding them throughout the night, it was palpable. They were gracious and sweet, and honored to have all their loved ones there, people who traveled from all over the country to watch them tie the knot. 

The most amazing part of all of it was what I spotted during the ceremony: Just as Tara was saying her vows, a flock of birds flew above in the shape of an "M," as if the bride's late mother Mary was sending her a message down from heaven. I was too choked up at the time to point it out to anyone, but I let Tara know the next day. It was one of the most incredible things I've ever seen.

Even though it feels like I am worlds apart from this side of my family in many ways—my uncle and aunt were, and still are, hippies in the truest sense (I always say I get my inner-granola from him), it's occasions like these that make you really treasure the family you have, even if you may not be a part of each other's every day lives. I only wish Preston could've been with us to meet this part of his family.

Is your family close or distant, geographically? How often do you get to see your own cousins? I'm grateful that Preston has so many cousins, and family, that live near us, on both sides. It's one of the main reasons we'll probably always live in Chicago, despite how often we fantasize about moving to a warmer climate. Family will always be the thing holding us back; it's a big thing to us, but I know I'll always dream of an easier way of life, one very much like Nic and Tara's.