One handmade ceramic coffee mug, one copy of Sy Safransky’s Many Alarm Clocks, and one gorgeous pair of earrings are sitting on the coffee table this morning. They are spoils from a five-day adventure in Michigan, celebrating my father’s wedding to his long-time lady-friend. My coffee table is a veritable treasure chest today.
Among friends, the mug is more artfully described as an “Elvie Mug.” I have a small collection of them, and every time I gain a new one (from my dad, The Elvie), it’s like making a new best friend. The new addition will be pulled out when I serve coffee to visiting friends. It will sit on the balcony with me on Sunday afternoons when I chat on the phone with my dad. It will walk with me in late-night snow storms. It will sometimes be abandoned on the bathroom counter in the morning, full of lukewarm tea, when I’m in so much of a rush that I forget I made tea at all. But it will forgive me; it’s family now.
The Elvie Mugs are the most coveted items in my kitchen. The collection is one of the few things I’d retrieve if my home were on fire. Each one has memories attached to it, both from the occasion when I received it and from where I was in life at the time. Sometimes when I visit my dad, he hands me a new mug as we’re saying our goodbyes, and then I have to scramble to fit it into my luggage in a way that will protect it for the flight home. Sometimes he includes one with a care package. Sometimes I find them under the Christmas tree.
Once, when a long-term boyfriend was moving out, we peacefully divided everything we had shared over the years, without issue. But then we got to the Elvie Mugs, and things got tense. I had given him two of them for a birthday once. My dad had given us a matching pair. We had shared many morning cups of coffee in those mugs over the years. Neither of us could bear to divide the group of dear friends. But neither of us could bear to part with the entire collection, either. In the end, we split the baby. It was heartbreaking; we felt we had no choice, but we hated doing it.
My dad handed me the new Elvie Mug at the end of his rehearsal dinner last week. I was on top of the world then. I had just given a speech, teasing my dad about all of his quirks, honoring the depth of our relationship, and celebrating the tremendous love he shares with his bride. The speech had been a smash hit. My brother had played a key part, hilariously impersonating my dad for a bit of role play. The whole room laughed itself to tears over my brother’s theatrics; then nearly everyone cried when I took things to that sappy place where wedding speeches nearly always land. After the speech, my heart was teeming and the booze were flowing.
When I pulled the mug from a gift bag, I shrieked—a new one, on that most perfect of evenings. This one will always be attached to that moment when I was glowing from an evening with dear family, swapping stories and making silly toasts. And this is the first one I’ve received as a decidedly single woman, having finally broken through one of the roughest years in my personal life, a time when I leaned heavily on my family. This mug, more so than any other, is a memento of family, strength, and pure joy.
Sy Safranksy is the editor of The Sun, a magazine I read cover-to-cover every month. It’s a mix of personal, political, and other provocative writing. When it arrives, I clear a weekend afternoon and sit with an Elvie Mug full of coffee, just savoring every morsel on the page. My dad gifted me my first subscription, after my brother had turned him onto the magazine. My brother had been introduced by our aunt. Since then, I’ve subscribed several of my friends. This magazine rests in the homes of the dearest people in my life and it is nearly inextricable from my relationships with my dad and my brother, because we’ve spent so many hours talking about it.
One of the regular features in The Sun is called “Sy Safransky’s Notebook,” a collection of his journal entries. It’s one of the first things I read every month. It reads like an overheard conversation between a young man and his wise uncle.
Many Alarm Clocks is a collection of entries that have appeared in “Sy Safransky’s Notebook” over the years. My copy came in the same gift bag I received at the rehearsal dinner last week, the one that held the new Elvie Mug. Now I have the wise uncle distilled into book form. I can hardly wait to eavesdrop on him.
The earrings were a bridesmaid gift from my father’s lovely bride. We each received a unique pair, hand-picked to match our unique personal tastes.
In my speech at the rehearsal dinner, I explained that my dad’s now-wife is one of the kindest, most compassionate, and most caring people I have ever known. I couldn’t be more thrilled than to see my dad pair off with someone like her. I explained our relationship as a series of gestures of stop-you-in-your-tracks thoughtfulness, moments when I was floored by how generous she could be with her time and herself. This is a woman who once sat on the filthy carpet of an old boyfriend’s apartment with me, massaging some homeopathic cream into my leg after I sustained an injury in a race. She was just trying to make me feel comfortable. She had only just met me the day before.
I pulled the earrings from another gift bag I received at the end of the rehearsal dinner. It was filled with the kinds of things women give one another before a wedding—a few snacks for the hotel room, some luxurious bath products, all wrapped in tissue paper that was the same royal eggplant color we would be wearing in the ceremony the following day.
I wore the earrings as I walked down the garden path to the wedding ceremony. My uncle was escorting me and my younger sister, all dolled up after a weekend of pampering. As we walked, we confessed that we were so glad the humidity had finally broken. We joked about how none of us had been drinking before the ceremony, but each of the three of us had a favorite bottle back at the hotel and we had considered bringing it along that day. Yep, we’re definitely related.
I may not have many occasions to wear those earrings again in my day-to-day life, but I can’t wait until I do. They’ll remind me of a beautiful afternoon and a touching ceremony in a lush garden on a sunny day, surrounded by evergreens. A classical guitarist strummed as my dad’s bride entered the garden and everyone stood up to see her, walking arm-in-arm with her proud father, looking radiant in her flowing silk chiffon gown. I held back tears of joy.