Moments At An Alabama Wedding

*** Warning:  This is sappy; I can’t help it; sappy is occasionally necessary.

A – Alabama. Yes, just Alabama. I love everything about this place on God’s earth. The slant of evening sunset tucking under the beams of the Festhalle, mimosa misting all the green with its garnet brushes, the solemn vesper hush of the ceremony, magnolias on the long banquet tables, Billy Atchison greeting our out-of-town guests with a heart-felt desire that they all feel welcome, Round 2 playing Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Simple Man, the evening feel of cool sweat and a party dress. When I walk home, this is where my feet go.

B – Beth Ann’s Box. My friend Beth Ann sent a box that would serve as assistant to Adrienne and to me since Beth Ann herself could not be here. It contained bobby pins, safety pins, tissue packs, bandaids, sewing kit, a kit “to occupy that difficult relative with a decorate-the-mason-jar task”, gum, chapstick, tea, little notes of encouragement, and a letter that contained the lyrics to Sunrise, Sunset which undid me.

C – Cocktail napkins. We ran out of water bottles, but by golly we had cocktail napkins. 1000 dove gray cocktail napkins. We’ll be chipping away at those for some time to come.

D – Dinner Plates. We were glad we bought 9-inch ones instead of 10. I think we eked out 30 more plates of food. Win!

E – Estrogen. Our house was bridesmaid-central and estrogen soaked . Every maid needed loving on through cramps, hunger, sore feet, pink eye, torn dress, nerves, bouquet making, chalkboard painting, singing, laughing, dress steaming, brow plucking, nail painting, cross-cultural experiences, accessorizing, dancing, crashing, and sleeping. They brought so much joy to the house.

F – Friends!!! I could not have done this without my friends. Jessi, Nancy, Denise, and Janice, take a bow!

G – Grandmothers. The best toasts of the rehearsal dinner came from the four grandmothers. Love, humor, wisdom, scripture, their words showed the heritage of faith and deep rich soil this couple came from and now carries.

H – Happy Groom. His face as he said his vows was one of those primary life moments I had to both look at and look away from in respect.

I – Invitations. Thinking we were cleverly saving money, we had the RSVP information printed on the back of the invitation. No one looks at the back of an invitation. Which meant we were flying on a wing and a prayer when we gave the reception caterer the number of plates we needed. Lesson: Spring for the cost of the separate RSVP card. 🙂

J – Jet Lag. Four days after the wedding I am suffering from jet lag and postpartum (not exactly) depression (but definitely a re-living of all of mothering this child in one big flood). “From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint; lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.” Psalm 61:2.

K – Kittens. The best parlor trick ever. We have two, and at the after-party, they were the hit. From groomsmen to toddlers to patriarchs to dear sisters to college roommates, we never knew who would stroll through with a kitten in the crook of the arm. The kittens were the common denominator that held the party together. Update: One kitten has gone walkabout. Will is trying to forgive us for being ironclad outdoor pet people.

L – Laughter.  My siblings and I gathered at my dad’s gravesite on Father’s Day, the day after the wedding, and placed Eliza’s maid-of-honor bouquet on his grave.  And we laughed together. As my sister-in-law said, when the grave holds no fear, there is joy in being together.

M – Mom. She put her hand on my back while Adrienne walked down the aisle and I cried.

N – Nieces and Nephews. These awesome people, young and younger, fill all the gaps. Calling it the wedding in cullmanalabama, they danced with skirt-swirling abandon and visions of sugar plums; they brought their smiles, hugs, and eagerness (Evelyn!); they ran impossible errands like the nephew who forever claimed my heart by bravely entering the seething world of the bridesmaids’ room to unearth a particular purse needed desperately and to present it within two minutes. That, my friends, is impressive. #michaelduboseismyhero

O – Odds and Ends. Cake knife, candle lighter, airport run, cups, ice, thank yous, half and half. These things kept me up at night and these were the very things God provided in the sweetest of ways and with His palpable smile.

P – Parenting That Never Ends. Our newly-married daughter dashed with her man through rows of sparklers and cheering family to the car chauffeured by her brother that would whisk them off to this new thing called husband and wife. Adults, they were. As she got into the back of the car Andrew and I simultaneously leaned forward because the train of her gown was about to get caught in the door: here, let me help, I’ll just go with you and hold it, OK??

Q – Quiet Moment. After the reception dancing and the cleanup, I limped home barefoot, sweaty, still in the party dress. Knowing I probably shouldn’t, I walked down to her bedroom and saw her dress flung across the bed and her gray suede sandals tipped over in a hasty, hand-holding run toward the honeymoon. I realized that this thing really happened. And it will be good – it already is, judging by the new family I inherit by virtue of her vows – but, like taking them to kindergarten or summer camp, it does take getting used to.

R – Red Pick-Up Truck. A serendipitous addition to the reception decor, the bed of Rachael and Kent’s 1971 Ford became our drink station. Alabama married New York, after all.

S – Social Media. On social media today, I see the word ‘wife’ and I see a different last name, like a whole different person, which in a way I guess it is. Once again, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, what exactly has happened here? Life is a big deal. Marrying off a daughter is as heart-squeezing as having her in the first place.

T – Trains. Small town life at its finest is the moment when the train roars through and everyone celebrating in the Festhalle alongside the old depot cheers the conductor on his northbound way. (Maybe it’s all computers now, but I like to think a conductor was waving back.)

U – Ushers and Groomsmen. The backbone of the wedding, these young men set up and took down and in between they were gentlemen. Yes, I do too know them, and I still say gentlemen.

V – Vases of Flowers. Oh, the flowers. I never knew. Curly willow, larkspur, orchids, seeded eucalyptus, the names themselves begin the enchanting thing that flowers do. Kim and Kelly guided the whole flower endeavor and taught us all how to let the flowers tell us where they need to go. I am a believer.

W – Water. Well, we ran out. Lesson: For outdoor receptions, however much water you think you need, triple it. And then throw in two more cases for good measure. Thank you, Jay, for a mid-reception Walmart run.

X – Xavier.  High school the groom and his brother graduated from. I needed an X. They captioned their picture: “On the bus going to Jonathan’s graduation.” The ceremony took place in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue in NYC.  Much as I love cullmanalabama, I have to admit, that reaches a level of cool we just don’t have. A bus to graduation?!? A bus, period?!?

Y – Yonder.  Where everyone came from, where the bride and groom went on honeymoon, where they might live, where I need to return borrowed cake plates, coolers, candles, and cloths.

Z – BelZes, BelZes everywhere. In desperation I Googled ‘Max Belz Family Tree.’ While there was much mention of him, I was on my own in terms of filling in all the branches and leaves and sprouting sprouts of this flourishing tree. I am reading Jean Belz’s Tell Someone Your Story and am finding in her a friend and kindred spirit in every essay. So it was meaningful to me to meet so many of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and if my mental tree-chart is accurate, perhaps even a great-great or two.

To God be the glory!

~

Carter Hall: A Standing Stone For My Children

~Tonight Andrew cues up an
80s Smash Hits! playlist on a
Sherwood S-7100 receiver found
In the warrens of a junk store.

He plays the first evocative
Bars of every song,
Just the first, a medley of
One after another.

They take me back to 19.
To Carter Hall. ~

Josie vacations far away in a
Raspberry beret. Under pressure, she
Goes ahead and jumps. A happy jump, a
Go-for-it jump, because she
Builds a city on her music,
And blesses the rains in Africa.

I smell Carter Hall, to its bones, and
Feel the power and uncertainty of 19.
I assume in the unspoken places
That everyone else belongs here and is
Tearing college up. They are the real
Students. And I am flying
Just under
The threshold of adequate.
My professors must see me
Clearly,  “She’ll make a good wife.
Won’t write a book or cure cancer.”

I probably will make a good wife
Because I have a happy mother. But
Anthem songs talk about taking someone’s
Breath away. Life is a little too
Flesh and blood, too long-term for that.
Besides, it’s hard to be
Breathtaking in L.L. Bean Gum boots.

But every now and then, beauty and truth
Unique to this place
Break through all that and turn me around.

An Ed Kellogg painting hangs in the chapel lobby –
A cow (all of life redeemed, Amen). We joke
About the redeemed cow, but it is powerful,
And we are beginning to understand
“Far as the curse is found,”
And Ed’s greens are so real my teeth
Hurt when I look at them.

May Term and it’s cold and warm and
Campus is deserted and we have class on
The boulders outside The New AB Building that
My children will someday call Sanderson Hall.
It’s a Wildeman class so we get excerpts from
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Creative writing on those boulders in the Spring
Is seminal.

Belz Hall is its own lone ranger of a tower,
A mystery to me architecturally and genderly.
The art barn shelters behind it in the woods.
Professors live in Flintstones down the road.
If there is a Mac Scholarship,
I know nothing of it.

The other day we woke up and an 18 wheeler
Bringing our food had jack-knifed on the
Narrow delivery road behind
The mail room and the cafeteria.
We all watched from our windows,
Which double as refrigerators, cooling
Water and fruit and yogurt.
We take these snacks from the Great Hall,
Keep them cold on the window ledge,
And Mel is okay with that.

One soccer player doesn’t use sheets.
At the end of the semester a filthy outline
Of him is visible on the mattress. As I said,
Men are a mystery to me.

It is hard to stay awake in chapel. We
Give-and-go when we need to. I’ve
Done that once and felt a scalding dishonesty.
I wasn’t bored; I was dead sleepy.

Rumors abound of nooks and crannies
Wherein couples have been caught –
On a mythical catwalk high up
In the chapel, in maintenance tunnels,
Attics, water pipe closets, unused classrooms,
Practice fields, bluff trails, the tiny bathroom
In the chapel lobby that I never knew was there,
And power-line clearings.
We always tell these tales with envy and censure.

A girl from Indy says she wore her overcoat
To the RP church across from the gym.
Just her overcoat.  And a slip.
She was conducting an experiment to see if
In the winter
Dresses were really necessary
And she concluded no.

We arrived here in a preppy upsurge
And have been ambushed by
Cyndi Lauper’s fishnets and bangles.
The mountain has its own walk and talk
And style, too – its plaids and cardigans
And cotton tights,
So it gets muddled up.
We aren’t sure what we are.

But we do know we are temporary here.
We learn that truth as sophomores when these
Kids just out of high school in Maryland
Or Florida or Michigan,
Unload on Carter’s portico
With a fresh wind of complete ownership.
Bluster as we will and we do,
Our clock has started ticking
And we don’t ever not hear it again.
Freshmen children are the landowners and
That’s hard to swallow.

But every now and then, beauty and truth
In an assigned reading, a journal article,
Break through and eclipse me.

Foundations, Sire and Blamire.
They wake me up. The readings are
Devotional. My Fourth South, four-man
Corner room looks out over the chapel lawn
And also toward the overlook and
Chattanooga’s lights. I sit in these windows and read.
I think big thoughts, and define life,
But I also worry that
One morning I might look down and see
A body dashed on the flagstones below.
People have their problems, and
It is a real worry.

~Andrew keeps the hits rolling
On the Sherwood with its maple console
And its warm, red sound. ~

I ask him to Kilter Night as he sits
With Mark Jones in the Great Hall,
His back to the night-dark windows.
He’s already been asked, but, quick on his feet,
He invites me out for the night after. And that’s
Pretty much our whole story. We know,
Just as everyone always says you do.

Kilter Night is in February, and an ice storm
Encases all the mountain.
We go out anyway because ice is nothing
When you’re 19. We leave from
The far doors, not the main ones under the
Stained glass Covenant window
Near the switchboard.
Andrew slips on Carter’s icy front porch
And slides several feet flat on his back past
Pillars and iron porch chairs.
We laugh at this beginning and head down
The mountain to see The Color Purple.
I cry hot tears at this heartbreaking story
But am embarrassed in front of a first date.
So I don’t wipe the tears lest I call attention to them.
They course and collect in my lap.

We stop at TCBY for yogurt. And even if we don’t
Quite know, we know.

Josie is still on her vacation.
A piece of rebar pierces the
Tire of my Buick Skylark right where
Someday an Alumni House will stand in
Which both my daughters will work,
(Daughters! Breathtaking!)
The same spot I will tell Andrew
I love him as we part for
An eternal four-month summer that I will measure
On the calendar in inches,
The same place I will later have my maiden and
Married name on a brick, a standing stone.

We load our cars in Carter circle,
Where some students park permanently,
Their daily ticket flapping in the
Brisk wind.

And we go.
We carry with us Sire and Blamire and
Schaeffer and Anderson and Clark and
Hesselink and Kaufmann and Graham and
Dodson and Mueller and Voskuil and
Gallagher and Ed’s redeemed cow and the
Parking tickets and Weltanschauung
And the memory of all that old doubt
and Eileen in the mailroom and
Scandal in the tunnels and the
Ancient paths taught us for our children
And the smell of
Carter Hall
To its bones.
~

(Photo cred:  Colin Nottage, Covenant College, Carter Hall 6/12/17)