There are people in this world that leave such a lasting impression on you. People who move you to want to be a better person, and a more laid back and carefree one. People who are the epitome of kindness and warmth, and those who are driven to display those qualities throughout their lives to each and every person they come in contact with.
Elspeth and Shane are those people. They are a reflection of their sweet, generous families and getting to peer into their special day for just a few hours gave us a taste of what kind of people these folks truly are. We were warmly welcomed with tight embraces by everyone there, and every soul there could feel the warmth and happiness present. We could go on and on about how beautiful Elspeth’s grandmother’s property in the swamp was, how she made her own bouquet, how her dress was shipped to her in a box from a friend, or how this wedding was a put together by a collaborative effort from family and friends all pitching in to help… We could write about all these things and more, but we’d rather address another aspect of this amazing day, and of these people. We’d love to tell their story.
Everyone has a story. Everyone. Our stories bring us to new places and helps us to relive old memories. This day that you’re about to peruse through is an accumulation of such a great story, one that moved us to tears. To briefly recap, immediately before their vows, Elspeth proceeded to get up in front of everyone present at their ceremony and tell their story. But it wasn’t one Shane had heard. Please read her words in it’s entirety, and you will see why love like Elspeth and Shane’s are what people could right novels about…
I want to tell you a story. Shane is half of this story, but this is a version he hasn’t heard before. So this story is for all of you, but also for him.
Shane and I met 8 years ago this July, in the hills of North Carolina, at Penland School of Crafts. Shane was at Penland for a two year fellowship, working in exchange for classes, room and board. I was there for two weeks, taking a pottery class. The first day there, I was assigned to Shane’s cleaning crew. First, he had me make beds with him. Next, he criticized the way I cleaned showers- so I didn’t know what to think about this guy. But it was a small campus, and we ran into each other everywhere. Every corner I turned, it seemed that Shane was coming around the other side. And there was a crackle in the air.
There was a particular bowl I was making while there, and Shane seemed to be around for every step of the process: He was in the studio when I was throwing the bowl, and near when I was carving it. He passed by while we were loading the kiln, and again when we unloaded. The bowl didn’t come out the way I expected: it was supposed to be a celadon blue, but the color burned out in the kiln, and it ended up white. I was a little disappointed, but Shane loved it.
At the end of the session, he came up to me and said, ‘About that bowl: would you like to trade?” He was making beautiful photographs on glass at the time. I thought for a moment and said, “Hmmm- I want to take all this work home, show my family, and take some pictures. Maybe another time.”
A month later I was back at Penland, this time for a two month class. I was assigned to Shane’s cleaning crew again, but we were more wary of each other this time, aware of the time stretching in front of us. That night was the first party of the session, and we circled each other, talking to everyone else in the room. Finally, we ended up in the same spot. The first thing Shane said was ‘Now, what about that bowl?’ I replied, “I decided it belongs on my kitchen table.”
Shane looked at me for a moment and said, “Well, maybe we should share a kitchen table.”
That Spring, we set off on a cross-country bicycle trip with our friend Rush (who was just up here reading). Our first kitchen table was a big rock in the middle of a strawberry field in California. Next it was a hay trailer on a cliff overlooking the Pacific- we had wild mustard flowers with dinner. After that, it was a big wooden cable spool, outside an almond grove. While eating dinner, we were visiting by a skunk, and by a group of people stealing copper conduit from an abandoned house nearby. That was an exciting table.
In Utah, our kitchen table was under a juniper tree, surrounded by sagebrush. That night, I told Shane I loved him for the first time, and it turned out he loved me too.
In Colorado, we got in a big fight crossing the Continental Divide. Which, in retrospect, is not that surprising. We biked uphill for two days straight, and downhill was over in 20 minutes. And I was mad the whole way down. That night, our kitchen table was under an overpass, and it was the worst one yet.
Somehow we made it all the way to Charleston, South Carolina, nearly 4,000 miles. Shane’s family and friends met us at the ocean with bottles of champagne. The first night of our trip we had dipped our toes in the icy Pacific, now we dove into the warm Atlantic. From sea to shining sea, we had shared every kind of kitchen table imaginable: on mountains, in deserts, under bridges, and in stranger’s homes. We didn’t know what was next, but we knew we wanted to take it on together.
Rush had grown tired of us by now, and he moved down to Louisiana, where he would soon meet his sweetheart. And Shane and I decided to move to Tennessee. It had been one of prettier places we had biked through, and was somewhere neither of us had ever lived before. At Penland we had become close with an artist, Andy Saftel. Andy lived in the Tennessee hills, and told us we would like Chattanooga. And so we found a little house near the Tennessee River. We barely had any furniture: even our air mattress was borrowed from my parents. But there was an old cinder block garage falling down in the backyard, and in it we found a table- a REAL table. It was from the 50’s, and had chrome sides and legs, and a yellow top. We cleaned it up, and brought it in the kitchen. Shane took a look and said “Now, what about that bowl?” I said “Oh! I’m so sorry, but I gave it to Wilhelmina” (This is Wilhelmina (our minister)). It had been her birthday, and Shane knows how much I love birthdays. He was a bit disappointed, but he got over it.
And that was a happy table.
We moved to Chattanooga in the winter, and didn’t know a soul. In the Spring, we started helping out at a little farm nearby. It was on an island in the middle of the Tennessee River, and you had to get there by canoe. The people running the farm were young- our age- and it was like they were made of soil and sky. The camped on the farm, and soon they came over to our house to wash their clothes, and take showers– and they stayed for gumbo. And they and their crew became some of the best friends we’ve ever had.
That table was full of daffodils and potlucks, of visiting friends and family. I loved that table. But we were young, and after a couple years we split up. I moved to New York and Shane stayed in Tennessee, and for a little while we didn’t talk. And it was the longest little while there ever was. Being apart made us realize it was better together, and Shane moved to New York, a place he had vowed never to live in again. We found a tiny little studio apartment way out in Bushwick. We couldn’t bring the yellow table with us, so Shane made us two sawhorses, with a hollow door on top. There was a poem on the subway at that time, by Billy Collins, that struck me:
The city orbits around eight million
centers of the universe
and turns around the golden clock
at the still point of this place.
Lift up your eyes from the moving hive
and you will see time circling
under a vault of stars and know
just when and where you are.
Though Shane and I were around more people that we’d ever been before, New York seemed like a time just for us. Though it sounds humble compared with the stars of Grand Central Station, that table was the still point of our universe. And at that table we talked and talked, and came to know each other in a different way, deep in our bones.
We missed the Tennessee River, and the Tennessee Hills, and most of all, our Tennessee friends- so we moved back to Chattanooga. And Shane was commissioned to make his first public sculpture, a cluster of roadside signs, 12 feet tall, made of wood and painted white. He called it ‘Big Bang.’ Big Bang lived outside for over a year, and it was rained on and egged. When it had been up a little too long, Shane took it down. He took it apart, and made us a kitchen table. The billboard face became the tabletop, and the I-beams became the legs. We put it on our front porch, and ate every meal outside. There, it saw many a Tennessee Mardi Gras, and many a late night dice game.
Shane got into a great grad program in Michigan, so we moved to a little town with a funny name, where the church bells ring every hour, the train passes through the center of town, and every Thursday they shut down the main street to show off vintage cars. You can’t have a table outside in Michigan, Because it’s always winter. So the table lives inside now, in our kitchen. We have longer days than we used to, but we start and end each one together, at the table. Shane sits here to do homework, and I write letters home. It’s my favorite place in the house. I know that this particular table won’t last forever; it was outside a bit too long, and the wood is getting soft. But that’s okay- when it falls apart we’ll build another one. And it will be the best one yet.
I have a secret to tell you.
I didn’t give the bowl to Wilhelmina. Instead, after our bike trip, I took it out and looked at it for a long while. And I decided, ‘When I give this bowl to Shane, it will be for keeps.’ and I put it in a box at the top of my childhood closet, where it has been for 8 years, patiently waiting for us. And it has been a full eight years. We have seen the best of each other, and the worst of each other, and the best of each other, again. Getting here has been the hardest and the easiest work I’ve ever done. And there’s no one I’d rather share a kitchen table with.”
Elspeth… Shane… You and your family displayed such amazing hospitality and genuineness. We can’t put into words how grateful we are to have been present at your wedding. Your story is the sort of story we continually search to document. Thank you for letting us do so with yours. We hope your bowl of memories and your ever changing kitchen table stand as a reminder that love started somewhere, it grows, and moves forward no matter the circumstances. We sure hope we cross paths again soon and meet more lovely people like yourselves.