Alan Guebert: Day of days
September 12, 2012
Someone – my great-grandfather, my grandmother, my dad, someone – told me how fathers announced the upcoming wedding of their daughters more than a century ago in the small, southern Illinois farming community where I was raised.
The story goes like this: After a wedding date was set, the bride's father saddled his finest horse to ride throughout the neighborhood carrying a cane covered in bows made of ribbon. When he arrived at the home of someone to be invited to the wedding, he'd slip a bow from the cane and hand it to the family as the official invitation.
Sometimes, the story continued, the father's good news was met with so much good cheer that only the horse was clearheaded enough to find the way back home.
Whoever told me the story, its original source likely was my great-grandfather, a blacksmith in the little town. He loved stories and this one is nearly as lovely as any bride.
My parents' wedding, Sept. 2, 1950, in that same town, was to be a garden affair. After the Lutheran ceremony everyone was invited to the edge of town where my mother's family home and sprawling lawn was the reception site.
The planning and preparation had been meticulous. Chickens, from the farm my mother and father had already established, had given their short, plump lives for the main entrée, chicken salad, and potatoes, peas and pies lay awaiting the final "Amen."
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Then the rain began to fall. And fall and fall.
On short notice everything – bride, groom, chicken salad, guests, minister, pies, and laughter – were driven between raindrops (in my Uncle Honey's milk delivery truck) to the Lutheran school for a dry reception. The day hadn't turned out as planned but no one who attended ever forgot it.
Weddings of my brothers and sister, joyous all, hold similar memories. For example, my oldest brother's wedding was the evening of the hottest Saturday of March in anyone's memory. The church, the same one my parents had been married in a generation before, was a stained glass steam bath; its air hot, stale and unmoving.
Soon, however, other things – much bigger things – began to move. The first was a cousin standing up, stiff-legged, for my brother. After two steps backwards, Danny fainted with great drama, he went down in a crashing heap like a boxer whose lights just got punched out.
The next to go was my sister; she simply melted into a perfect puddle of taffeta and teased hair.
With others beginning to wobble and my brother and not-yet-sister-in-law still a prayer and a hymn away from any "I do," Pastor Holstein (I'm not making this up) paused to survey the carnage. It was bad: two down, two looking pretty pasty and the rest sweating like a hay crew.
Pastor then raced through the vows – I never heard "I pronounce you man and wife" and I was 15 feet from him – mumbled a blessing and that was that.
This Sept. 2, was equally hot and steamy in Washington, D.C. Rain-heavy clouds kept the day dressed in gray and sprinkles slickened the streets in the middle of the afternoon.
At 5 p.m., however, a strong sun defeated the day's dullness and our Mary Grace, daughter of the lovely Catherine and myself, slowly walked through a leafy Georgetown garden to wed Andrew Foxwell, one of Wisconsin's finest sons, before 45 friends, family and God.
Unlike my parent's wedding 62 years earlier to the day, no rain fell and, unlike my brother's wedding, no one wearing a pressed suit coat or tall hair wilted in the heat. It was, as Wendell Berry wrote lovingly in a poem to celebrate his daughter Mary's wedding in January 1981, our "Mary's day of days," and it was wonderful.
Hey, give us three generations and we'll get most anything right.