My sister’s reception was at the “Last Capital of the Confederacy.” The Sutherlin Manson in Danville, Virginia.
Since we weren’t members of the Golf Club and neither my Mother or Sister were members of the Wednesday Club, options were limited. This was kind of a coup…
The Sutherlin Manson was, officially, the Last Capitol of the Confederacy because, after the fall of Richmond and Petersburg, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet set up temporary residence there, for a few days, before fleeing further South.
We were taught it was a place of honor due to the valiant Confederacy’s last stand. I later learned it was really where the Confederate Government hid out, for a few days, before running somewhere else to avoid being hung for treason….
The Sutherlin Manson had been the Danville Public Library for years. Then it closed and was restored to all its ante bellum glory….
It was a coup for my sister to land it as the site of her reception. I think hers was one of- if not the last- receptions held there. Rumor had it, her reception was the reason it was closed to rental for Public Events. They had a limit of about 200 people in their rental contract. My Mother decided that was a “guide line” and ignored it and crammed about 400 in there for the reception.
I don’t remember a whole lot about the details. I just wanted to get though that evening. I know there was an out-of-town caterer. I know there was champagne. I know the cake was somehow built into a fountain and I was as appalled by it as much as my sister was thrilled by it….
I know there was probably the biggest cross-section of social classes at this reception that Danville had ever seen- because my Mother and Sister had literally invited everyone they had ever known- who had not pissed them off…
This meant there were the Pentecostal Holiness neighbors from my Grandmother’s neighborhood, there were the FFV’s from my Father’s family in Richmond “representing” the Rushes, there was most of the Baptist Church congregation where she was married, there were the dance students, there were her friends….and there were my friends who would not have missed this spectacle for the world- and were living for the after party at my late Grandmother’s house, where I was then living, to dissect the whole thing….
And through it all, there were the Cater Waiters offering food and Champagne in plastic champagne glasses…
The joint was packed….
Half way through the evening, my Mother cornered me in one of the side parlors.
Lou: “Who is that young man with the video camera? I don’t know him…”
Me: “Of course you do, that’s my friend, Dan, who hung all your new blinds. He said he would be glad to video this for you, as a favor. He told you he had a new video camera and you asked him to do this since you seemed to think the photographer and video person you hired might not be enough….
Lou: “I forgot. He really is everywhere. Now, how do you know him?”
Me: “Why are you asking this now?”
Lou: “Well, someone just told me something disturbing.”
Me: “And what, pray tell, is that?”
The mask dropped and that mean, Southern Baptist Church Lady look appeared….
Lou: “Someone said you were sleeping with him.”
Me: ” And you hadn’t figured that out before now? This news must have come from one of those Pentecostal Holiness who live near Granny’s house who saw his car outside all night. That’s the only way they might know this since we’ve only been seeing each other a few weeks and don’t go out much, if you know what I mean….”
Lou: “Don’t talk smutty to me! Who is he? Who are his people? I don’t really know him… and he’s here at your sister’s wedding!”
Me: “Well, you don’t know his people because they just moved here a couple of years ago, but they are very nice. He’s 21 and just got out of the navy…”
Lou: “Oh, my God. I can’t believe you have your homosexual lover here and we don’t even know his people. What do you think this is? San Francisco?”
Me: “You didn’t seem to object when he was hanging all your new blinds for you…”
Lou: “I have my limits. I have Pentecostal Holiness people from Schoolfield watching good Baptists get drunk on cheap champagne, that I’m paying for, at the Last Capitol of the Confederacy. while some sailor my son picked up just films it all…Thank you for making my life so easy. I’ll never live this down…Just make sure I get a copy of that tape so I can make copies….”
She grabbed another glass of champagne from a Cater Waiter, put on her fake smile and stormed off.
I put on my fake smile and best Southern manners and got through the rest of the evening. I don’ remember much of it, but then you never do when you are in the wedding party. You smile, say all the right things without thinking, act graciously and wish you were somewhere else. You do your duty.
Finally, things started to wind down. My sister threw her bouquet and her garter from the balcony of the Last Capital of the Confederacy and left on Honeymoon to Hawaii- after reminding me to pick up her car, at the airport, so they didn’t have to pay parking….
The crowd was dwindling….
I walked into another side parlor and sat down on a settee across from my Mother. She had kicked off her “died-to-match” Mother of the Bride shoes and had several empty plastic champagne glasses sitting on the table in front of her….
My Aunt Goldie walked in and kicked off her shoes, too. It was just the three of us….
My Mother said: “I’m so glad it went so well, despite everything. I just hope she knows this is the only one of her weddings I’m paying for….”
Goldie said: “Lou, how much did this circus cost?”
My Mother, in a rare moment of champagne-induced honesty, told her…
Goldie said: “I’m glad Herman was such a firm believer in Life Insurance Policies. I’m going to be honest. It was lovely. I came in to town and only planned to pay for the Bridesmaid Luncheon and just get through the rest of it. But now I feel a little guilty. You know Scott was aways my favorite. Lisa knows this, too, and that makes me feel bad.”
She reached inside her evening bag and pulled out her checkbook.
Goldie: “I’m going to write you a check for half of what this cost. Cash this fast before I sober up or she does something else to piss me off. But, I just feel I need to do more…”
She turned to me….
Goldie always called me Monk, short for Monkey, for some reason I never knew, it just always was….and said.
Goldie: “Monk, when it’s your turn, we’ll really do it up right!”
I left them and walked out the back door of the Sutherlin Manson…
The Honey Boo Boo child, of our generation was driving through the parking lot. Since she had blackballed my sister at the SBV SubDebs. all those years ago, she wasn’t invited to the wedding or reception. Nor was her family. Some sins are never forgiven….
She was parked there with some of her friends and I walked over. She had a six-pack in her lap.
For some reason, I always called her by her last name. I don’t know why…
I bummed a Bud from her and said:
“Stanfield, what the hell are you doing here”
She said: “Just curious. Was so and so and so and so here?”
I said: “They were all here.”
Dan came out with his video camera and said: “Hey, this was the social event of the season! This was a blast!”
I turned to Stanfield and said: “Don’t feel badly, I’m not sure they would have invited me if it hadn’t looked too bad not to…Good to see you and thanks for the beer. I’m heading off to get drunk with my friends and suggest you do the same. Come on, Dan, let’s go home…”
And we went back to my Grandmother’s house and had drinks and danced and made catty comments until all hours.
Dan and I were a passing phase- but I wish I had that video to see how young and good-looking we all were then……
It’s now 25 years later. My Sister’s wedding was the last of the Big, Fat Southern Weddings for me….
She was four years younger, so it makes sense hers was the last….
Although, Sally Ann did do it all over again a few years later with her second wedding….
Still, it was over…..and I didn’t think about weddings for a long time.
Until the debate came up about Gay Marriage….
Based on my experience, weddings are a party and a celebration- of love, of friendship and of endurance. I really don’t know why I should be excluded from that….
There will not be any Big, Fat Southern Wedding for me and Steve. And I am relieved. I’m too old to go through this foolishness now….
I can’t help but think what would we do, if hell froze over and they legalized Gay Marriage in North Carolina….
I know we would do it. We would say it would be only for legal protection and recognition…for putting up with each other for all these years….
But I would be on the phone to the caterer in a heart beat….
And hear my Aunt Goldie, gone for 20 years, in the background saying:
“Monk, I’ve waited too long for this…..You and Steve have been together for 16 years. My husband and I dated for 10. We need to keep this simple, like I did. Just family and your closest friends, like we did….you know, about a hundred guests”
Goldie would have pushed my Mother aside even if Lou weren’t in Assisted Living. Lou had her chance and this would have been Aunt Goldie’s. Push come to shove, Lou always worried about what people would think. Push come to shove, Goldie always put family and those she loved first….
I can almost see and hear her now, in our back garden in a tea length dress, holding a Virginia Slims Menthol and a glass of Bourbon and saying:
“Hell, they’ve been living in sin for years, isn’t it time we made it legal and had a party to celebrate?”