Did I really look like that, I ask myself? I’m in standing against the front fender of my old maroon Buick Skylark. A pretty, thin, blonde woman clutches my arm. She’s wearing a wide straw hat and a long flowery summer dress. I look like a hippie beside her. I’m wearing flared jeans, a button down shirt, and a crumpled old top hat. I look skinny, young, and happy. We both do. My hair is curly and rebellious, flares out past my shoulders.
“Everybody says you look like Slash in that one,” my older sister says looking across her kitchen table. “All the kids looked it. They said you look like Slash.”
Later in my kitchen, at my table, I flip the picture over. In smudged blue ink, someone’s written our names, a date and the event. My sister’s wedding at the Longhouse in Kanehsatake on June 21, 1975. I can’t take my eyes off it. I can remember that day, and the evening that followed, with a clarity that scares the hell out of me.
My sister was about to marry a man that, I think I knew even then, was beating her. She did her duty for years. She gave birth to two wonderful children, a boy and a girl, then threw her husband out. Even on her wedding day, there were omens if one really wanted to look.
Back then, though, we didn’t want to see the signs. This was a wedding day. A happy occasion. So we dressed up, went to the Longhouse, and watched the second traditional marriage in Kanehsatake in nearly a hundred years. We went out into the sun for pictures afterward, put on big smiles, and wanted desperately to be happy. I’m sure we were.
Afterward, some went home. Others had to travel a distance and caught the early ferry to Hudson. A bunch of us decided we wanted to celebrate by going to the hotel in Oka. My girl and me followed my sister, her new husband, and the rest of the wedding party to the Auberge d”Oka. We went there because this was a special occasion.
For ordinary Friday or Saturday nights, there was the Oka Inn, the “Indian bar,” the pool table and Georgie Paul. To make a statement about racial equality, we might head to the Marina. But this was a wedding. We didn’t want to get into any fights, which would probably happen at the Oka Inn. So we piled into the Auberge d”Oka.
We sat, about twenty of us. We waited. We sat some more, talking small talk to each other. Eventually, we began to wonder why no one was serving us. My sister began to look intently at the waiter, who was trying to look distracted in conversation with the owner at the bar. The rest of us tried to have fun, or at least look like we weren’t seriously insulted.
The waiter was tall and skinny with a dull face. He had pretentions. He wore a double-breasted blue blazer and white pants and a sailor’s cap; a wannabe yachtsman slinging beer at the Auberge d”Oka. He seemed to sigh, before sauntering over to my sister and her husband. At that very moment, I think I knew that we were in for one helluva night.
The waiter, who also doubled as doorman, leaned over the table where my sister and her husband sat. They spoke in low tones that the rest of us couldn’t hear. I could tell my sister’s dander was up. She turned away from the waiter, made clear she was pissed. The waiter went back to bar.
Once there, the waiter appeared to get involved in a conversation with the owner. You could tell by the way the lips pouted, the hands waved no, and the sudden parting that the conversation had gone nowhere. Naturally, that was the point. It was all show; an act to show that they had considered the matter and, against their better judgement, had turned down my sister’s request.
The waiter returned to my sister’s table, He leaned forward. He held his hands up as though to say it wasn’t his fault. My sister made clear she held him absolutely responsible, despite his protestations, and pointed back at the bar and the owner. We all knew she was instructing him to go back and try one more time. Or else.
I don’t think he got that last point. By now, we all knew what was going on. My sister’s best friend leaned over to confirm that my sister’s husband had a problem. We weren’t being served because of him. My sister’s husband was barred. Two years before, he didn’t tip this same waiter/doorman 25 cents. They refused to serve him then. They refused to serve us now. Worse, they refused to serve my sister on this, the most important day of her life, an innocent in all of his past sins, with her family sitting at tables around, come to participate… well, you know the rest.
We could see that every other table had drinks while our tables were empty. We sat patiently, waiting to be waited. We continued to talk and joke with each other behind increasingly tight smiles. We could have left then, but I think we made a conscious decision amongst ourselves to stick with my sister. Our attention focussed as the waiter returned one more time.
The waiter was probably the only one in the room who didn’t know what was about to happen. My sister muttered loud enough so we call all hear that if that waiter came back one more time to tell her that we could not be served – on her wedding day… Well, there would be hell to pay.
The waiter leaned over the table to tell my sister that she and her wedding party would not be served. I saw my sister’s lips narrow to slits above her chin. Her eyes widened. She rose slightly as the waiter leaned forward. She pulled back from way back. She threw a punch that connected with the waiter’s chin, lifting him slightly off the rug and back into the table behind. She cold-cocked the bastard.
Chairs flew. Tables too. People jumped up and pounded that poor waiter. Someone leaped over the bar in pursuit of the bar owner. The owner, wearing a horrified look on his face, ran into the walk-in freezer behind the bar and slammed the door shut behind him. A couple of locals tried to intervene but were quickly convinced by my sister’s righteous anger. It wasn’t brutal. No one was hurt. That wasn’t the point.
Someone then said that we should split before the cops arrived. We should take off in all four directions so that any stoolies wouldn’t know what to tell the cops. “Well officer, they went that way, and that way, and that way…”
We rendezvoused in another town and and another bar for last call. We sat, traded information, laughed long past closing time. That night became inflated beyond all recognition, as all such nights should be. We agreed that this was the best wedding we’d been to in a long, long time.