As many weddings as I had been a part of, nothing prepared me for it all hitting home with my sister’s wedding. It’s as “up close and personal” as I’ll probably ever be with one of these great, big weddings….
And I’ve just realized this is probably going to be at least a four-part series, as opposed to three…
My Mother had lived for my sister’s wedding all her life. My Mother got married in a simple white suit in the parsonage of the Presbyterian Church in the little Mill Town where she grew up and met my Father. No big wedding for her- and she never got over it.
In fact, the only reason they could be married at the Presbyterian Church, at all, was because my Father’s more genteel family was Presbyterian. My Mother’s family had not set foot in a real church in years….
By real church, I mean her family was Primitive Baptist- one step above snake handlers. Her father, in fact, had been a sometime Primitive Baptist Minister- as well as, at various times, a bootlegger, a mill worker and a coal miner. It was all rather complicated…
As I have said many times on this blog, she definitely married up. Maybe not as far up as she wanted to, but up….
She had buried all this complicated past, but from the moment my sister emerged from her womb, she started planning “THE WEDDING”.
And it had to be BIG!
She was eaten up with all the games and pretenses of life in a small, Southern town. Every social slight was recognized and magnified in her mind. The Wedding was her last big chance to “do it right” and “show them.”
And my Father had died by then, so there was no one to try to control her. I certainly didn’t intend to try…
My sister had her own ideas. She always did….
My sister was an only daughter, so paying for her wedding was much more important than paying for college, the mortgage or anything else….money would be no object. This was my Mother’s dream. If you know “Gypsy”, Mother was the Momma Rose of Weddings….
My sister and my mother are both stubborn, willful and single-minded. Once they make up their minds- facts and consequences be damned- it’s “full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes.” They are so much alike it’s damn scary….
This all made up for a clash of the Titans….
I, like my Father, was smart enough to lay out the nonnegotiables up front and step out of the way….I simply said: “It’s a six pm wedding. That means its Black Tie. Period. Non-negotiable. No tacky colored tuxes. I’ll give you away and that’s it. I’m staying out of this circus.” Thank God…and I stepped out of the way as much as possible.
The first thing my Mother insisted on was that my sister move home, back to her childhood room, for the period between the engagement and the wedding.
Now, my sister and her husband-to-be had been living together at a local condominium complex for a while…..but Lou, my Mother, insisted she move “home” to keep up appearances before the engagement announcement.
I remember my brother-in-law laughing at this and saying that they showed that they had same address on their marriage license and one day their kids would find out and laugh about this….
After this requirement was announced, I was at my Mother’s house one night with one of my old friends and I told her about this strategy over dinner. She said to my Mother: “Lou, I really don’t think her hymen is going to grow back, however much you may want it to…..” My Mother was not amused…
But, my sister moved “home” anyway and the battle began….
Over everything from silver and china patterns to bridesmaids dresses. They fought for a solid year-caterers, cakes, died-to-match shoes, every detail was a battle….
With me bowing out and taking a backstage position and my Father dead only a couple of years, it was a major bonding experience for them both. Eventually….
The first major battle was over the Church and the Reception.
My Mother was insisting on the wedding being at her “home” church- a Soutern Baptist Church- where she was a founding member. This church had started out in a trailer and had subsequently raised a couple of million dollars and built a new, big sanctuary- without a central aisle…
My sister knew something about presentation. She was a dancer and a head majorette. She understood pageantry more than most Southern Girls could ever hope to…
And she wanted drinks at her reception….
The battle went something like this:
Mother: ” You have to get married at North Main Baptist. We are founding Members. You grew up there and were baptized there! How can you think of getting married anywhere else!”
Sister: “Well, its been a while since I’ve been there. And they don’t have a central aisle. It’s really not laid out for weddings…”
Mother: “I can’t hold my head up if you get married anywhere else!”
Sister: “But they don’t have a central aisle!”
Mother: “I told them this when I saw the plans, but those men wouldn’t listen to me….”
Sister: “I also want champagne at my reception…I’m not having some tacky church basement reception”
Mother: “We are Baptists!!! People will talk if you get married somewhere else and have alcohol! We can’t do that…”
Sister: “But they don’t have a central aisle. That’s so tacky. West Main Baptist has a central aisle.”
Mother: “You aren’t a member at West Main and you can’t get married somewhere you aren’t a member!”
Sister: “I’m a baptized Christian. I can get married in any church where I can write a check.”
Mother: “But you aren’t writing the checks. I am.”
Sister: “Well, as long as we have the reception somewhere nice, with drinks, I might be able to give up the central aisle….”
Mother: “If you get married at North Main Baptist, you can have a nice reception somewhere else. But no drinks….”
Mother: “Oh, god. People are going to talk. We are Baptists! But if you’ll get married at North Main…”
Sister: “Then you’ll pay for champagne at the reception….”
Mother: “But, tacky as it may be, I’m going to use plastic cups so they won’t drink as much…”
Sister: “And people will see the bottles so you can’t use something really cheap like Andre Champagne…”
Mother: “Deal. But, oh God, people are going to talk….”
So they moved forward, with other battles over caterers and cakes and everything else….
They finally agreed the reception would be at the Sutherlin Manson- since neither was a member of the Wednesday Club and our Country Club was the second best Club in a 3 Club town…
So the 600 invitations went out….
My sister was a dance teacher so, in addition to inviting everyone either she or my Mother ever had ever met, she invited her students…
I remember being at my Mother’s house when one woman called and said: “Excuse me, but I think I received a wedding invitation in error. Can you tell me who this person is?”
Without pause, my Mother replied: “You must be one of the Dance Mothers. We didn’t want to leave anyone out, so we invited all my daughter’s students…”
The woman replied: “Of course! Now it all comes together. I’m so sorry. I’m not sure we can come, but we will send a gift….Tiffany would have been so upset not to be invited to Miss Lisa’s wedding if everyone else is invited!” My Mother happily shared the address for gift delivery and the store where the Bridal Registry was held….
My Mother took all the furniture out of the basement and set up tables with white clothes to display the gifts. I think she had seen “The Philadelphia Story” entirely too many times…..
Finally, the Big Event came. I remember facing down the Preacher at the rehearsal- he was about as pleased to see me as I was to see him. And about as thrilled as I over the rainbow in the sanctuary….
Now, my sister being a Majorette, Dancer and general Show Girl, had to have a theme for her wedding it was: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.
To my dying day, I will never live down the snickers as I walked my Mother and my Aunt down the aisle to be seated to the organ playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I’m sure my sister didn’t think about the connotations of having her Gay Brother do this, but none of my friends missed it….
I went upstairs to get her and bring her down. She was in one of the Sunday School Rooms where we had been taught Bible stories as children. With her hairdresser and a few other friends. She was sitting there drinking champagne out of the bottle while making last-minute preparations…In the Baptist Church Sunday School room…..I was amused….
But she was beautiful. We aren’t close, but we were for a moment as she took my arm and I led her to the sanctuary. We didn’t speak until we got to the door….
Then it was mayhem in the vestibule. Twelve bridesmaids who were carrying brandy snifters with candles and trailing floral bouquets. And no one had practiced lighting the candles….the only thing not rehearsed.
The Wedding Lady, who we all hated, was trying to organize us all and screaming: “Does anyone have a lighter?” This being the 1980’s in Danville Virginia, everyone had a lighter…
To this day, I still remember my fear of spontaneous combustion as those lighters were lit to light all those candles. With all the hairspray it took to keep all that big 1980’s hair up- for men and women- its a miracle we all survived.
The Bridesmaids and other groomsmen took their place and began the march down the aisle….
Then they closed the doors….
My sister took my arm, the music swelled with the Lohengrin Bridal Chorus, the doors swung open again to the sanctuary at North Main Baptist Church, for her to see a few hundred of her closest friends and …
She gripped my arm in a death grip and mumbled the words many a bride has thought, but few have said…
More to come….Up Next: The Reception.