I’m part of a lovely writers’ group called the Claremont Forum Writers’ Workshop. The participants all have different strengths, which add up to multi-headed critique monster (as moderator-extraordinaire Janet Beech would say). I’ve sent my entire memoir through the reading and critiquing process for comments and constructive criticism, which improved my manuscript so much, for which I am grateful. More importantly, I count the people in the workshop as loyal friends.
We sometimes take a break from our big writing projects (literary fiction, short story collection, memoir, thriller, mystery, romantic comedy, etc.) to try our hand at fast fiction. Here’s one of my attempts, which had to include this sentence: “At no point in my life, before or since, have I been more astounded.”
“Padua Hills Theatre, emplaced in utter serenity amongst the pristine, hilly contours of the San Gabriel Mountains, symbolizes both the delicate sanctity of matrimony as well as the embracement of natural, historic, and cultural elegance.”
Nestled in the foothills overlooking Claremont, California, the theatre once drew crowds of Depression-era Anglos wanting a taste of the Spanish Fantasy Past as presented by the Mexican Players, mostly recruited from the Claremont barrio. The theatre featured Mexican-themed musicals right up until the 1970s, longer than anywhere else in the United States. After its theatrical heyday, the location – with its central dining room, artist studio, shops, and small theatre – fell into disarray until a catering company took it over for special events, especially weddings, in the late 1980s. The caterers struggled at first to frame the scenic yet overgrown spot as a plausible wedding venue, what with its run-down, mixed-style buildings and mismatched brick exteriors.
Now more than twenty years later, the caterers have their gambit down pat: “The vintage, Spanish-style architecture and elegant craftsmanship of the historical structures radiate the allure of antiquated California, with soothing, mission-red clay tiles veneering the rooftops, aged bricks embodying the walls, and brick pavers overlaying the grounds.” As the on-site photographer trying to get the bride, groom, and wedding party to smile pretty for the camera, those pavers spell trouble. Uneven terrain and slippery-soled dress shoes do not mix. Most of the time, people figure out how to gracefully skip and slide their way through the blessed day.
But one wedding stands out in my mind. At no point in my life, before or since, have I been more astounded. And that’s saying a lot as the theatre wedding photographer for the past twelve years.
It was early February, with an unrelenting drizzle that made the dirt paths muddy and the pavers slick. I rushed about, trying to get all the requisite shots before the last of the good light dissipated. I asked the groom, who stood behind his betrothed, to put his arms around her. And then…the bride went slip-sliding away out of the frame, landing – splash! – face first in a mud puddle. What with two cameras slung around my neck and a third in my hands, I stood, frozen, watching the episode unfold. The groom attempted to hoist the bride back on her heels, only to find himself landing on his backside next to her. The groomsmen rushed in to rescue the dearly beloved, only to accidentally kick mud in both their faces. In an act of desperation, the maid of honor tippy-toed into the fray, only to crash onto her knees next to her best friend. A wedding ruined, yes?
Things only got zanier. The whole wedding party, including mothers and fathers as well as the ring bearer and flower girl, decided to step right into the mud with the bride and groom. With hysterical laughter, they shouted at me to take photos, take photos.
I still have one hanging on my wall.