Midlife Marriage: A Peter Pan Ties the Knot

My brother-in-law's unforgettable wedding confirmed that change is always possible

by John Birmingham • Next Avenue
Image of newlyweds
Photograph: Shutterstock

Ever worry about someone who seems stuck, whose life appears inexorably headed in the wrong direction, or maybe no direction at all? I tend to look on the bright side, at a glass that’s three-quarters full. Still, sometimes you fall into a rut that gives every indication of being permanent. After a while, it becomes hard to imagine that change is possible.

Then I think of my brother-in-law Picou.

My wife, Lola, is French, and Picou, her younger brother, has lived most of his life in a medieval hilltop village in the South of France, where their family has a small summer house. Throughout his 20s, Picou steered clear of anything associated with adulthood. A big, rugged-looking guy who might have landed a role in a spaghetti Western if he’d been born a decade earlier, he wore a Mickey Mouse watch and liked to hang around the house in Mickey Mouse boxer shorts. (“J’aime Mickey,” he confided to me on one occasion.)

Known always as Picou — his childhood nickname — he put off getting a job, while living with his father or one of his girlfriends, until he was about 30. Not long after that, his friend Buddha belatedly left home — and as Buddha moved out Picou moved in, taking over Buddha's old room and becoming a surrogate son to his friend's parents, Pollux and Mie. With their help he finally found work in restaurants and, later, as a mason, but he remained a sort of Gallic Peter Pan: While Picou caroused, Mie consoled the tearful girls who showed up routinely on the doorstep. For my brother-in-law, it wasn't the worst fate, but as he drifted into middle age, his life appeared to be shrinking. My wife worried.

Ever worry about someone who seems stuck, whose life appears inexorably headed in the wrong direction, or maybe no direction at all? I tend to look on the bright side, at a glass that’s three-quarters full. Still, sometimes you fall into a rut that gives every indication of being permanent. After a while, it becomes hard to imagine that change is possible.

Then I think of my brother-in-law Picou.

My wife, Lola, is French, and Picou, her younger brother, has lived most of his life in a medieval hilltop village in the South of France, where their family has a small summer house. Throughout his 20s, Picou steered clear of anything associated with adulthood. A big, rugged-looking guy who might have landed a role in a spaghetti Western if he’d been born a decade earlier, he wore a Mickey Mouse watch and liked to hang around the house in Mickey Mouse boxer shorts. (“J’aime Mickey,” he confided to me on one occasion.)

Known always as Picou — his childhood nickname — he put off getting a job, while living with his father or one of his girlfriends, until he was about 30. Not long after that, his friend Buddha belatedly left home — and as Buddha moved out Picou moved in, taking over Buddha's old room and becoming a surrogate son to his friend's parents, Pollux and Mie. With their help he finally found work in restaurants and, later, as a mason, but he remained a sort of Gallic Peter Pan: While Picou caroused, Mie consoled the tearful girls who showed up routinely on the doorstep. For my brother-in-law, it wasn't the worst fate, but as he drifted into middle age, his life appeared to be shrinking. My wife worried.

Then, several years ago, the unexpected happened: Picou got married in the most memorable wedding I’ve ever attended.

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