We married in the backyard at my dad and stepmother’s house on a perfect spring evening. Now, don’t be picturing some trailer park hoe-down. Their backyard is SWANKY. Boxwood hedges line a lush clipped lawn under soaring pecan trees. Beside the midnight blue lagoon of the pool, bright clouds of pink and white peonies dance beneath a tumbling waterfall of yellow Lady Banks roses. A yellow and white striped tent sheltered the buffet–cornbread and tomato bisque, pineapple sandwiches, and all sorts of Southern delights. Sunflowers dotted the tables that were scattered around the pool. My fairy stepmother is a genius at making things beautiful.
She planted 500 white tulips for the wedding. But you know how it is with gardening…the Earth works on its own schedule and cares not for the plans of gardeners. She called me about three weeks before the big day. I could hear ice cubes tinkling in a glass of bourbon and the flick of a lighter. She took a long inhale off her cigarette and said, “Heeeeeeey, Love. You know those tulips for the wedding? They’re GORGEOUS. And they’re a teeeeeeensy bit early. I swear, if your Daddy would let me use the pistol I’d walk out there in the backyard and shoot every one of their goddamn heads off.”
It’s fun to sit here today and think back to the wedding. In the wake of the bad times that came five years later, some of the details of that day were overshadowed, but they deserve their due. My mother made my dress for me and it was exactly what I wanted–a French lace bodice, eight layers of tulle for the skirt, with beaded medallions and seed pearls scattered here and there. Wally played “Ode to Joy” for the processional and “Zip a dee doo dah” for the recessional. My brother lugged chairs and tables and anything else that needed lugging. The ladies of the garden club arranged flowers in silver punch bowls, crystal vases and anything else that would hold still. Jan baked both cakes, lemon with white butter cream frosting in a basket weave and chocolate fudge with sugared grapes. My sister made table arrangements of sunflowers and stattice and sent me off to the spa for a mani/pedi/massage. She even wore dyed to match shoes and I still owe her an apology for that. Mandy came down from Baltimore to read a poem. Rhoda sent over a spray of green orchids. Laura performed the service and would accept only a bouquet of peonies as payment. So many people, so many hands, such light work. It rained, then it stopped and everything was fresh.
The focal point of the backyard is a magnificent pecan tree, so that was our cathedral. My stepsister had married in the same spot the spring before. We called it “The Marrying Tree.” Later, after two divorces, we renamed it “The Tree of Doom.” When my sister got engaged a few years later, Daddy and Gay said, “Don’t even THINK about it. We’ll cut it down ourselves before we let anyone else get married down there.” They ran off to Vegas and are happy as larks.
I would show you pictures from the wedding, but I packed most of them up after the divorce and put them in the attic at my dad’s house. I didn’t want to throw them away because they chronicled so much love (from the people who made the day possible), but I didn’t want them around me. It might be time to dig them out. I’d like to see my great Aunt Eula again. She was always so dear to me. When it was time for wedding day portraits, I had one taken with my grandparents (with whom she lived in a little spinster apartment) then I asked Aunt Eula to pose for a picture with me. She lit up in her little pink dress and pearls and said, “I’ve never had a picture with the BRIDE!” Later, when I threw the bouquet and they asked all the unmarried ladies to gather around, Pop hollered, “Get up front, Eula!” She was about 80. I did my best to throw it right at her.
In all the fuss and hubbub of that day, there are two moments that stand out in my mind, because they relate back to that idea of “When people show you who they are, believe them.” There were so many words exchanged that day, and Fartbuster and I had chosen the words of our ceremony very carefully. He said the vows….but they were just talk. After Laura pronounced us married and invited us to share a kiss, I reached up to fling my arms around my new husband’s neck. He held my arms down. In the picture, he’s holding my arms down like I’m a lunatic and I might hurt someone with all that joy. That was his first action to me as my husband–tamping down my enthusiasm. When the pictures came in weeks later and I saw the awkward way he was pinning my arms to my sides, my heart was heavy. But I buried that feeling and took what I got. For a while.
I rarely think of that moment anymore. This next one, I think of frequently. It’s another case of a man showing me who he was and me believing him. I can’t convey how hard everyone had worked to put together this wedding. It was a feat. A miracle. A gift. At the moment when Wally started playing the opening notes of “Ode to Joy,” my Daddy took my hand and tucked it into his arm. We stepped out on the porch and I got my first look at the finished product…my wedding that I had dreamed about for so long. I was overwhelmed by the moment. It was my wish come true. I whispered, “Oh, Daddy! It’s perfect!” He patted my hand and said, “So are you, Sugar, so are you.”
Some people hold you down. Some people lift you up.