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We’re deep in the throes of wedding planning around here, preparing for the end-of-year nuptials of our son, The Young Jarhead, and his delightfully inscrutable fiancée. I’d like to report that some portion of the sage wisdom I’ve garnered over the past 65 years has emerged to assist me in this endeavor, but that would be like saying Donald Trump completely grasps the notion of an independent judiciary.

Experience does not always offer relevant lessons in these situations. My Lovely Wife and I were wed at 8 o’clock on a sunny Saturday morning in 1980 after about four weeks of relatively leisurely preparation. Roughly 25 relatives and friends attended the ceremony, a few more straggled in for the reception that followed in MLW’s parents’ backyard. There was no booze (Methodist teetotalers), no DJ, but there was a buffet that featured coffee cake and fruit salad. The total bill came to about $200.

This was a modest celebration even for the times, I’ll admit. But when we described it to our future daughter-in-law the other day while checking out a possible reception venue, we might as well have been recounting a UFO sighting.

As I understand it, the primary goal of wedding planning is to make the bride-to-be happy. That means when she tells you she’d like a quiet church wedding and a small reception at an intimate venue, you don’t ask any questions when you later hear she’s decided to recite her vows and dance until midnight in a sprawling suburban entertainment center that can hold 300.

This is the same young woman who confessed that her ideal wedding scenario would involve her appearing at the altar via Skype. It seems she’d prefer to avoid drawing attention to herself.

I actually find this quite endearing. But it raises the possibility that I’m simply not processing the wedding wishes as accurately as I did back in the day. When MLW-to-be told me during what passed for our own nuptials planning that she refused to be a stereotypic “June bride” and have her dad “give her away” after a walk down the aisle, I understood that our May 31 ceremony would commence with the two of us simply wandering up to face the preacher (no altar, please) with our two attendants in tow when the piano player stopped playing something vaguely resembling Brubeck. It wasn’t a lot to process, to be honest, but I figured it out pretty quickly.

The Midbrain and the Cortex

Not so much this time around. And that could be because my aging brain just doesn’t grasp what people are saying as well as it once did. These suspicions are actually backed up by some recent research. A study published in the Journal of Neurophysiology found that the midbrain and cortex gradually lose their ability to process speech as we grow older.

As the study authors put it, “These results suggest that age-related problems with understanding speech are not only due to the inability to hear at certain volume but also occur because the aging brain is not able to correctly interpret the meaning of sound signals.”

So when our future daughter-in-law refers to a “small” or “quiet” wedding, what my brain is hearing is “a few friends and relatives” in “a grove of trees near Minnehaha Falls.” I should also note here that she is British, which means my colonial cortex may not be completely in sync with her North-of-London accent. Indeed, when MLW and I met at a local pub on Sunday with her mom and grandma to iron out some of the details (they’re doing most of the work, bless their hearts), their Liverpudlian accent presented a bit of a challenge — at least before the second pint, when the midbrain and cortex seemed to relax and the Treaty of Paris seemed to reassert itself.

It’s all going to be fine, of course. We’ll welcome another daughter to our family on the night before New Year’s Eve, when the only words my aging brain will really have to process is “I do.”

Thoughts to share?

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