How not to make a toast

Champagne glasses, cheers, Flickr image by maxxtrafficThe most memorable toast I have heard was my about-to-be-mother-in-law's toast the night before I married her final daughter, a daughter who had been engaged once before with great fanfare to another guy whom she almost married but was saved from marrying by a roaring argument in France just before the wedding.

My about-to-be-mother-in-law stood up, on the night before her daughter married me, held her glass aloft and sighed, 'Let's just hope this one comes off', which sent my many brothers into hysterics and the about-to-be-bride wailing from the room.

That toast stays with me, as you can imagine. But I have heard stunning and stuttered toasts, muddled and moving toasts, hilarious and haunting toasts.

Another entertaining one was in a dark ancient wooden smoky book-dense club in Boston, many years ago, when I was there as a member of an obscure society devoted to the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, in which a snake plays a crucial part in a crucial story, and a famous Boston newspaperman stood to salute the snake: Here's to the snake, who didn't have a pit to hiss in.

This still makes me laugh, as does that scholarly society's firm tradition, to this day, of a whole series of toasts before dinner (to the snake! to the detective! to his best friend! to his worst enemy! to the woman he loved! to Queen Victoria!), which tends to leave the company gibbering before the giblets arrive.

Then there is the toast offered at my wedding (which did take place, I have witnesses), spoken by my friend Pete, who was shivering shy as he stood to deliver, but then boomed the room with Michaleen Flynn's wedding toast from the film The Quiet Man: 'May their days be long and full of happiness; may their children be many and full of health; and may they live in peace and freedom,, which elicited a roar I have not forgotten.

My mum burst into tears, but I think that was because she detests The Quiet Man, in which Maureen O'Hara is threatened with a stick.

This Irish vein reminds me of my grandfather, who was from County Clare and who grew up speaking only Gaelic, and whose toast at the table was always go mbeire muid beo ar an am seo arís, which translates roughly as let's hope for one more year, and of my other grandfather, who was from County Wicklow, and whose toast was always pogue mahoín, which means something cheerfully rude.

My sweet sister, when she was young, used to say 'here's to cigarettes!', but now that she is a nun in a monastery she says 'here's to hope!' when she lifts a glass twice a year with her many brothers, who for a long time happily sent cartons of cigarettes to the monastery as a joke until the overwhelmed abbess there begged us to stop, so now we send socks, dozens a year, enough to outfit two religions.

(My sister told me that for a while she fed the cigarettes to the peacocks that had also been sent to the monastery as a gift, because she detested the peacocks, vulgar and arrogant birds, as she said, but I think she is teasing me, as she has done since we were children.)

Speaking of tiny beings, some of the best toasts I ever heard were from children, who tend to seize the nervous tension of the celebratory moment with both hands and shake it as you would a badger, so I have heard 'here's to making out!' and 'here's to dwarf stars!' and 'here's to all of mum's husbands past and present!', that last one from a girl of 11, which caused three people at my table to choke on their champagne, one woman shooting it through her nose, which you hardly ever see.

My own children have offered such memorable and gnomic remarks as 'here's to ladders and horses!', which was such a cool toast that all three children in my house and both parents still mull it over regularly like a zen koan.

But the coolest toast I ever heard, I think, came from a friend of mine who joins us for dinner every autumn, lamb stew and spinach salad and pinot noir, and some years ago he lifted his glass and invented a toast I never forgot and sometimes turn to as a compass point, a lodestar, when matters grow murky.

'To mercy and laughter,' he said, 'to the web and weave of us, to patience and kindness, to love and water!'

In 50 years I have not heard a more powerful or perfect toast than that one, and I leave it hanging in the air for all of us. 'To love and water!'

Brian DoyleBrian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University. Among his books is The Grail, about a year in an Oregon vineyard.

Topic tags: brian doyle, toasts, wedding, sherlock holmes, mother-in-law



Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up