In the days following the wedding, my family had some conversations and disagreements about what exactly Tifie Ranch was. I thought it was just a regular campground and event center, until I remembered the “No Trespassing, Enter by Invitation Only” sign at the entrance. My Uncle Chad thought that some rich man had created it as a playground for himself and his friends, and Keith and Taylor had only managed to snag it as a wedding venue because they knew somebody.
There were no disagreements around the fact that it was beautiful.
We drove down the lane and into the ranch that Saturday afternoon, past the “Keith and Taylor –>” sign, and up to the young men who were pointing us toward the parking lot. Dad rolled down his window. “I have my father-in-law with me,” said Dad. “I was told I’m supposed to take him straight up to the amphitheater so that he doesn’t have to walk so far.”
After a conversation with a bearded guy in a red shirt, Dad drove off in the opposite direction of the parking lot. The road we were on seemed to peter out, so we turned right and drove up the hill on a road that ended…in a garage.
“This can’t be right,” we said to each other, as a garage generally indicates “this is a private residence” and “you shouldn’t be here.”
The bearded guy in the red shirt came walking up the hill. “I think this is right,” he said. “I think this is what they told me.”
Mom got out of the car, and she and the bearded guy walked up a set of stone steps to the left of the garage, and disappeared into the woods. We waited a few minutes, and then they came back.
“Was that it?”
Back to square one. We turned around, which was a bit difficult in the small space we were afforded, and drove back down the hill. There, a pickup met us. Mom and Grandpa climbed in, and the pickup shuttled them up another road, a steep gravel number that disappeared up into the woods. I was a bit confused about what was going on, because I was in the back of the van and couldn’t hear people’s conversations very well. But my siblings and I got out and followed some wedding guests up a footpath, and there was a pretty little amphitheater, and there were Mom and Grandpa, safe and sound.
Now, let me pause at this junction to tell you a little bit about my cousin Keith.
Keith’s two primary characteristics are first, that’s he’s always doing something, and second, that he makes his life as uncomplicated as possible. When I lived with him and his family in 2010 he was doing wrestling, and then he went to college and poured his energy into Ultimate Frisbee, and then after college he moved to Utah and took up rock climbing. He even went rock climbing the morning of his wedding, hurting his knee a bit.
Our mothers are sisters and best friends. When their mother, our grandmother, died a few years ago, all the Yoders gathered at my grandparents’ house that summer to go through their things, because Grandpa was moving in with my Uncle Marcus.
Yoders are notorious for rescuing things. My grandparents’ house had banana boxes of rescued peanut butter jars in the basement, and Velveeta cheese boxes of rescued ballpoint pens under Grandpa’s bed. Those of us who’s Yoder genes were diluted a bit made plenty of jokes about this, and Keith, who has barely any Yoder genes to speak of, mocked the most.
Faced with a houseful of stuff I could just take if I wished to, I ended up salvaging two skirts, a pretty tin, two purses, some decorative buttons, and a navy blue faux fur coat. “Did you get anything?” I asked Keith.
“Yes! I got a pizza cutter, because I lost mine. And I got a rolling pin. I’ve been using a wine bottle for two years.”
The story goes that in January, Keith met a girl named Taylor who, like him, was always doing something, and made her life as uncomplicated as possible. Nine months later they got married.
Their wedding, then, was like nothing I’d ever experienced.
First, it was small. There were maybe 75 people in that little amphitheater in the woods.
That arch was designed and built by a couple of Taylor’s friends, and decorated with wildflowers they’d picked from the woods that morning. All the flowers were picked from the woods, including Taylor’s bouquet.
There were no bridesmaids. No groomsmen. Just Keith and Taylor and the preacher.
Keith’s friend Abe sat in a corner and strummed his guitar as people assembled, and then when the ceremony started, Keith’s brother Derek attached a cell phone to some portable speakers, and voilà! Music!
Taylor appeared on her Father’s arm, looking like a woodland fairy.
“For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife,” said the preacher, and Keith turned and winked at his parents.
That’s what I remember most about the wedding: the laughter. Unlike the last time one of my cousins got married, the guests at this wedding laughed. A lot. Taylor laughed. Keith laughed. It wasn’t a stiff formal affair, it was a fun happy time in the woods with relatives and friends and love.
Then the ceremony was over, and we wandered down the paths and across the little bridges to the reception venue.
Instead of a cake, or fancy catered desert, there was a large stack of delicious little pies from Walmart, in their tiny square boxes. There was tea, and beverage-unsuitable-for-Mennonites, and some ginger ale that quickly ran out because there were so many Mennonites.
We took family photos, which of course were missing the bride and groom, as they were off getting their own pictures taken.
And then the taco truck arrived, and that was our dinner. Tacos from a taco truck. Which was delicious and all, but it did make me wonder about how tacos because such a trendy thing to eat. Is there a trick to eating them without bending your head at an odd angle, taking too large of bites, salsa juice running down your chin, and taco filling splooshing out the other end onto your hand? Can one eat a taco elegantly?
In any case, it was yummy, and I suppose we all looked inelegant together.
Here’s a secret: When I got to wedding receptions, I usually feel like I should be having more fun than I am. I sit at a table with people I’ve known all my life, and gaze across the crowded noisy reception venue at people who are cooler than me and having much more interesting conversations than I’m having, wishing there was a way to join in.
This wedding receptions was different. I made more of an effort to move around and talk to different people, and I had a lot of relatives I hadn’t seen in a long time that I wanted to catch up with. Somehow this was made much easier by the fact that the crowd was so much smaller than I’m used to. I suppose there’s no real real way to achieve smallness at a Mennonite wedding unless you only invite your immediate family or have a destination wedding in a cold remote location, but it was nice all the same.
The sun set. Six of Keith and Taylor’s relatives and best friends gave toasts, and I raised my glass of sparkling cider.
Then Derek announced that the father daughter dance was happening soon, and I went outside to watch Taylor and her father dance in a little pavilion decorated with strings of lights. When I went back inside, the crowd was thinning, and most of my family had left.
“We should really go,” said Matt. “I need to go. My flight leaves early tomorrow morning.”
So we said goodbye and took our leave.
Drove back to our rental house, almost hitting a porcupine on the way.
And went to bed.
And that is the story of the lovely wedding in the Utah woods. Tomorrow I will write the last branch of the story, about the journey home.