Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Tanory Toastmasters

It's official: I now have a whole new family of Bobs! My sister, Rebecca, recently got married to John Robert, aka, John Bobby.

Betty and I have been calling them "The Bobs" for a few years, but I got to drop this nickname on the entire Robert family at my sister's rehearsal dinner. The Bobs seemed to like it... at least, I think they did, as I got a good laugh out of it.

In fact, for the entire wedding weekend, people came up to me to tell me how much they enjoyed my toast. Even people who weren't at the rehearsal made a point to tell me that they had heard that my toast rocked. I was kind of in shock.

I was happy that they enjoyed it, because I really enjoyed giving it. I had been planning it for months. My family has a strong and storied tradition of giving memorable toasts at weddings, and I didn't want to let them down.

The Tanory tradition of giving funny toasts all started at my cousin Jeremy's wedding. My parents and I had flown up to Seattle for the wedding, and although most of my family was there, my uncle Joe couldn't make it. Since he wasn't there, my dad and one of my aunts (I won't name names!) wanted to prank Joe, Jeremy and Tara all in one shot. They bought one of those fish bowls with the fake fish and had it gift wrapped, then they asked me to write a speech as if I were Joe, but to make it overly symbolic and cheesy.

On the day after the wedding, we all gathered around outside at Jeremy's house so Jeremy and Tara could open gifts. Then my dad made an announcement. He said that he had received a letter from his brother Joe, who was sad that he couldn't make it, and that Joe had requested that his letter be read out loud.

And of course, my dad couldn't read it himself, as he knew he'd crack up. So he picked someone else to read it, someone who wasn't involved in the scam: my Aunt Tena.

Tena started to read the letter but eventually had to stop. She didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. Two other people tried to read it and failed. My dad and I laughed through the entire thing.

Here is a copy of Joe's letter, which I wrote, and which was read at Jeremy and Tara's house the day after their wedding. Keep in mind that their gift was fake fish in a plastic bowl.

I want you both to know how proud I am of you and how much I love you both. You are like fish, each from a different school, coming together by the coral reef to teach one another about true love. Your love is a symbiosis; your scales are like the scales to balance a weight, only becoming equal when you exert enough effort in your relationship. The sea you live in is the water of your Baptism, where you will be reborn in love every year. I hope and wish for you both to swim together forever in your sea of love.


Jeremy and Tara didn't know if it was real or not. Nobody other than me, my parents and an unnamed aunt knew that Joe hadn't really written this. So everyone was hesitant to laugh... until they saw me and my dad rolling on the floor laughing. Yes, it's true, my dad and I both really ROFL'd!

And that was the start of the Tanory tradition of funny wedding toasts.

The tradition continued several years later, at my brother's rehearsal dinner. I got up and gave a quick toast. I don't remember most of what I said, but I do remember one thing: I made everyone raise their glasses, and told them something like, "My family is Lebanese, and every time a Tanory man has gotten married over the years, going back tens of generations, this very same toast has been said in Arabic. It was said at my dad's wedding, and said at both my uncles Joe and John's weddings. And I'd like to carry on that tradition here tonight. So if everyone could raise their glass and repeat after me: Tella hass teezee."

My brother's in-laws raised their glasses and shouted with joy, happy to be part of a generations-old tradition: Tella hass teezee!

And my entire family busted out laughing, because "Tella hass teezee" in Arabic means, "Kiss my ass!"

(I'm sure I've butchered the spelling of "Tella hass teezee" but figured that was the easiest way to spell it so people could sound it out. If you know any Arabic, please leave me a comment with the correct way to spell it!)

My little old grandma, who we call Gaga, came up to me after the rehearsal dinner. She's really tiny, like 4' 5". She looked up at me, wagged her finger in front of my nose and said, "You know you shouldn't have done that. But it was very funny!"

My brother bided his time, waiting several years for the perfect time to seek retribution: at mine and Betty's rehearsal dinner. In Todd's toast he said that he knew that Betty would see a lot of "zabada." Betty's family didn't know what to make of it, but my family was howling with laughter.

"Zabada" in Arabic means "wiener."

So when it was time for both Todd and I to give a toast at our sister's rehearsal dinner, we knew that we had to be at the top of our game. We were lucky in that a few of John's brothers got up to talk first. John's brother Buddy had me laughing the entire time. I was embarrassed at how much I was laughing! His toast was hilarious! I won't go into details, but his speech involved a pet gerbil named Nibbles. You can probably figure the rest out for yourself!

After Buddy gave his toast, John's other brother Jimmy got up and spoke. All of the stress that I had about giving my speech started to fade away. These first toasts were helping me to loosen up.

Todd went before me, which was good, as that way I got to check out his material and make mental notes before going up. I started with my joke about the Robert family being the Bobs, and ended with, "John, you're the brother I never had" - all while looking at my actual, biological brother, Todd. I also noted the three things that I love the most about John: The way he treats and loves my sister; his family; and the fact that he always needs a second buy-in to a poker tournament.

Love you, John Bobby!

But with any great toast, it's not about making people laugh - it's about making people realize why we're there in the first place. How many times can we say that we've gotten up in front of a mix of family and strangers and all laughed, all had a great time, and all left with a sense of love and joy? It truly is a joy that my sister has married into such a wonderful family with a great sense of humor. I hope that she and John share many happy years together.

And when they have children, I hope they teach them how to carry on the tradition of the Tanory Toastmasters. All it takes is a parent teaching a child how it's done, just like my dad did with me.

So if we could all raise our glasses - whatever we have in front of us - and all say together:

Rebecca and John, tella hass teezee, see lots of zabada, swim together forever in a sea of love, and never forget that we love you.

Oh, and John, seriously, that's my only sister, so all of the laughs will come to an abrupt and violent end if anything ever happens to her.

Have a great life together!

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