And Your People Shall Be My People

A Wedding on the Growing Edge

by Sally Jennings

Well, I thought, should have kept a closer eye on those Carpenter hoodlums, especially darling Leslie. At least my new mother-in-law, Mae, was chuckling as she cleaned off her sparkling new pumps and checked her rose chiffon gown for damage. I must say, the ducks and geese cleaned up the yard pretty well, dancing a fast waddle darting among the well-dressed guests to gobble up the food littering the crabgrass. And Herman, dear, brave Herman Underwood, Volunteer Firefighter, thinking amazingly quickly (for an Underwood male) had pinned the largest gander, preventing it from upending the remains of the wedding cake. There was a personal cost, but his bitten hands were now bandaged. And Brantford Owen Washington Presley had neatly managed to miss the entire fiasco. He sure did know when to split.

It was just after the middle-aged male posse, acting with adolescent gusto, rounded up the foraging poultry, that my gaze rose above the pink organdy swags and bouquets of cerise lilies and white orchids draping the tables and I noticed people beginning to fuss a little. Sophie Strang stage-whispered to Mae that for the sake of politeness, we should change into our going-away outfits, and at least pretend to leave, since the honeymoon wasn't to be until next week. Come on Brant, I thought, come back before all the Manson juvenile delinquents, past, present, and future, liberate the larger livestock from their barn lock-up into a disaster we will never live down. It rankled that Brantford Owen Washington Presley was beginning to damage his, no, our, no, my reputation in this town a mere four hours after his "I do."

Now when had I last seen him? Earlier today, looking dignified in his black tuxedo, hair slicked back, sweating nervously, he had quivered a bit, as he stood before the minister. Beside him, four more tuxedos disguised his kid brothers and best hunting buddy. It had spaced me out to identify the guests by their faces alone, every other inch of them so dressed up and turned out as to be totally unfamiliar. We had enough photos now for years of minor blackmail. The stills would clearly outshine the movie version, since Sheila had been in personal earthquake mode, Richter 6.3 or so, behind the video camera.

Yes, Brant had been present for the vows, listening closely, pledging his love carefully, fumbling the diamond ring on the tiny satin pillow, signing a trifle unsteadily. But he jelled into form again, while whispering secrets and kissing me underneath the pendulous pink roses and dripping purple clematis of the arbor. We pranced back down the verdant aisle, to the catcalls and whoops of joy from family and friends, as the live band pumped out their Dixieland rendition of "Zipidee doodah, Zipidee day, my, oh my what a wonderful day,..."

And the food, oh my, the food --- luscious tastes, classy combinations, gorgeous presentations. Since I had so little family, his family had sprung to host this little affair with community help, as they had many friends and a reputation to keep up in their town a scant half-hour away. Local folks really pitched in for weddings, and the success of a summer was ranked by the number of good wedding bashes. There was even minor rivalry and one-upmanship between hometown cooks. Mae's Classic Cuts Catering Class produced platter after platter of artistically carved vegetables and elegant watermelon baskets. Brant's Aunt Millie's Nifty Thrifty Sewing Circle stocked the salad bar with exotic variegated concoctions, and jellied wonders in wedding theme shapes. Succulent meats and pungent condiments appeared courtesy of Brant's siblings and cousins. And leave it to church ladies, the First Baptist Prayer and Comfort Circle, to lay out a grand finale dessert spread from chocolate mousse pie to petit fours in my bridal party colors, encircling the extravagant flower-decked, tiered wedding cake. Brant's fishing buddies had provided bar service, my friends, latte and chai. Jenny and Marty, two of Brant's heftier relatives, self-appointed tasters, unanimously reached the decision that except for one bean salad, whose creator shall forever remain undisclosed, each and every dish had been to die for.

While the feast wound down, Brant and I sat back, as his Uncle Roy emceed a touchingly tender account of years of family gleanings richly laced with savage wit. Such sweet toasts had punctuated the whole affair, capped with a blessing from Brant's parents. Then I had gone in the house, to make sure the Lawrence Welk music filling the cooler sanctuary of the living room was not too loud for Brant's Grandma Ida and her elderly retinue.

When I came back out...yes. The Presley females swarmed me to ogle the wedding dress, a white tulle mist, sweeping over swirls of brilliant satin, row upon row of ruffles, and hundreds of seed pearls artistically handsewn on set-in panels of intricate laces.

"Oh my dear,..."

"I have never...,"

"Why even my daughter's..."

It just had to be felt to be believed, passed through the fingers. And while my dress was slipping through Brant's family's fingers, Brant had somehow slipped through mine. Gone.

But that was over an hour ago. The dress was now more than a little too tight, more than a little too dirty, more than a little too wrinkled, and more than a lot too hot. What of the tender undressing scene I read about in romance novels for years and built up to in my mind over months of courtship? Where is my gallant knight who is to liberate me from this tortuous traditional gown which now threatens to suffocate me, Mrs. Brantford Owen Washington Presley, in the fifth hour of my married life. Where is he?

So with the ringing of the dinner bell, I launch a search party of male relatives to the outskirts of the mowed lawns and farmyard. Ah here, the groom has just rounded the lilac bushes at the bottom of the flower beds, full tilt. "I was just behind the barn, I'll tell you later," he panted as he hurdled the last marigolds, flew up the front steps, and whipped through the screen door.

"Behind the barn, all that's back there is the manure piles," I fussed as we navigated my dress through the bedroom door. "What in the world? No, don't. Save it for later. Not here, not on our wedding day. Later."

The presence of impatient guests at the doors truncated my romantic undressing fantasy as we fumbled with pearl buttons and crinoline, gold cufflinks and cummerbund. Then we endured a tumultuous rice and birdseed shower all the way to the soaped, canned and streamered getaway car. Two breaths after turning the air conditioning on blast we realized the extent of the criminal damage inside the vehicle.

[Two gauze packages of dead fish located stapled to the inside of the lower air vents. Linda and Dwayne under suspicion. Substance with appearance and smell of garlic and deer musk discovered lathered all over the under-the-seat air vent. Prime suspects Carly and Ken. Damage noted. Plans made for said actions to be avenged. Both suspect couples reportedly dangerously close to their own wedding dates. Smell bombs disabled and vehicle relocated to vantage point behind residence. Incident filed pending opportunity for justice to be served, and more urgent priorities.]

The more urgent priorities overtook us somewhere during track two of the Mavericks, and as partial payment for the shortened romantic moments of the bridal gown and tuxedo removal, a very good time was had by all two of us in the back seat until we finally twigged that the last of his family had left.

Then Brant insisted we go out behind the barn where he proceeded to blow me away with his explanation of where he had spent the last half of the reception. I won't blame you if you don't believe half of this as it comes down. Let me tell you, to begin with, I didn't believe it either, and I heard it firsthand.

I should have suspected something when he said, just before we rounded the corner of the building, that the grass in the far field had been mowed so nicely. Now Brant's not from this property, my second cousin and her husband had been keeping it in trust for me to my wedding day, so I thought he had just made a mistake describing that back field. He turned an unearthly grayish white and began to stammer badly when he saw the pasture beyond the brook wasn't a mowed lawn, but was as I told him it had been for years, hummocks of crab grass, weeds in bloom, and cow patties.

"See, you must have been imagining things, how much of that hunting buddy hooch did you drink, anyway? I asked, as he helped me across the stones to the other side of the brook.

"I--I--I, no, none, I just thought it was part of what you had planned, honey, it looked just like the rest of the reception. Pink and white everywhere, tables, flowers, food, and people all dressed up."

We went back and forth a few times about his apparent lack of attention when I was discussing wedding plans, not reaching the core of the matter, until he blurted out in desperation, "a man named Vinnie, with a horse head tattooed on his wrist, came to get me. He said he knew you really well when you were younger, and wanted to introduce me to some people."

It was my turn to go pale now. "Brant, I did have an uncle Vinnie with a tattoo like that, but I never told you. My relatives aren't--they all--you know hardly any of them are still around. Who else was there? Do you remember any names or details?" I urged him towards coherence, since I seemed to be losing it.

"There was a couple about our age, Leanna and Tyrone and their daughter. He was talking cars like you wouldn't believe, and she was really into country music."

I barely choked out the words, "And the daughter's name? Did you get the daughter's name?"

"Let me see," he rubbed his chin, "Star...Anne, yes, that's it. Staranne. Leanna said she made up the name herself."

Cold invisible fingers brushed my face. My childhood girlfriend was Leanna. She had always sworn me to secrecy that she would someday name a daughter Staranne. But Leanna had died of leukemia at age 13. And we had both had a crush on a Tyrone, who had died that same year at age 19 in a car accident. Yes, he had been very into cars. Very fast cars. So had the drunk who had taken him from us. I stood mute, swaying slightly.

But Brant filled the void of my silence with quivering sound. "There was a house over there, too. Two floors, green clapboard with white trim, big front porch. Over there, see the bushes? Right there." His trembling finger pointed.

I gasped. My family's home, but I had never told him the color or exactly where it was.

Then he hit a real climax. "Tilly and Butchie, they were the two I talked to the most, sitting right on the front porch. Really nice people, about mid fifties, I guess. He's a shoe salesman, she's sounds like quite a seamstress. And then these two older people, Hettie and Ricky, no Richie, played and sang for all of us. Tilly looks a lot like you, Tessie," Brant continued.

From a near faint, I forced out, "Brant, those four, you just described, oh, maybe we should just sit down here on the grass. Those were my parents and grandparents, Brant. That's who they were. Those were their nicknames. I just don't understand all this," I moaned.

Now he was the one turning a whiter shade of pale. "But your parents, your grandparents--how? Aren't they?"

"Dead," we locked eyes.

"Twenty years ago that house burned down, and Mom died trying to rescue my grandparents and my kid brother. Remember, I told you about it, the lightning strike, the tree that fell, how I was stuck at my friend Sheila's house in town because of the storm. And then came Dad's cancer." I said with a heavy sigh. "And Leanna and Tyrone, they died when I was thirteen. Staranne is the daughter Leanna always dreamed of having. And Uncle Vinnie, he died overseas in Africa of malaria."

We sat quietly. Somehow, one of my brighter decisions poked through the haze. If Brant really experienced time with my family and friends, why not just milk the detail out now, before he forgot, or clammed up from the shock, or thought better of ever telling me. I was so hungry for a taste of my people on this our wedding day.

"Okay," I said, "everything you saw, heard, said, did, whatever, with these people, just tell me everything. Then we will just let it rest. Okay?"

So we sat together there in the grass, as the setting sun gilded the oaks overhanging the stream banks, and he folded me into his arms and spoke of details he had been told, things I suspected about my life as a little girl, but had only known from a child's perspective. While gorging on my favorite dishes Mom used to make, southern fried chicken and cream gravy, spinach quiche, butter pecan pie and chocolate cream puffs, he had still managed to visit his heart out with them. With a clear tenor, he began to repeat the familiar songs he had heard as I joined him in bittersweet harmony. But why had I been left out of all this? Had I been too busy to lure away from the main event? Too much rooted in bringing the nearly perfect wedding into reality, to leave it myself? How could I possibly have missed what was clearly the better part of my own wedding?

As we got to our feet, I confided the sadness I had hidden during our courtship, that my family would never meet him. "I think the little girl inside me deeply wanted the family stamp of approval on her husband, honey. And I guess, from what you are telling me, she got that today. She wasn't here to witness it, but you presented yourself well. It sounds like they took to you. I guess I can be at peace about it now."

"They were wonderful people, Tess, every last one of them." He glanced at his feet and startled, drew back as a heavy sheet of paper blew against his legs. Bending, he turned it right side up. It was a wedding photograph. We both gasped.

"Tess, they're all here, and, and why, and us too."

"Brant, oh gosh, that's my Mom and Dad, beside us,"

"Yes, and look, Gerry,"

"My kid brother, and Leanna and Tyrone, and is that Staranne?"

"Sure is, and your Gramps and Granny, and Vinnie."

In the fading light, our quivering fingers turned it over to read the flowing script I recognized as my mother's, "Tess and Brant, we wish you all the best in your new life together. Tess, you have found such a wonderful young man. Brant, please take care of her for us, won't you?" My face wet with tears, we crossed the brook in a blur, stumbled back through the darkening field, and pushed through the kitchen door.

As the gentle ruby glow from the stained glass lamp fell on the picture, we stood next to our antique spool bed and I put my hand on the eyelet sheets and handmade quilts while we read the final words. "Please come back on your first anniversary and introduce us to those twins of yours, we do so enjoy small babies, and I am sure Richie and Butch would love to meet their namesakes!"

On the soft breeze whispering through the silken curtains, melodies drifted from that real world in the field over the brook. My people were singing love songs to the soft strumming of a banjo, randy harmonica slides and the steady slap of spoons. My people were sitting on a porch big enough for sitting out on, dappled by silver moonbeams flitting through velvet leaves. My people were suddenly banging pots and pans with wild abandon out there in that real world behind the barn. As we hit the sheets to the racket of the shivaree, our wedding photo stood on the night table beside us, my people encircling us, Mr. and Mrs. Brantford Washington Owen Presley, the corner inscribed in my mother's flowing script, And your people shall be my people.


Copyright 2004-2016 Sally Jennings

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