The day I said, “I do”

I’ve been married to the same man more than half my life – we will hit the 33-year mark this year.

So we are nearly five times over the seven-year itch. I think we are going to make it.

But the day I said I did, I wondered if we should have eloped.

We planned a wedding, we wanted to have something good to celebrate. My mother had recently passed away and I inherited three kids – my sisters. They were in their early pubescent years – 9, 11 and 13 – and I wanted a happy day, not just for us, but for our whole family.

The exciting weekend arrived. We had worked day and night to make sure we had everything covered. Dresses – check. Flowers – check. Food – check. Funeral – huh?

While I felt bad for the misfortune experienced by an elderly woman’s family, the demise of a nearly-100-year-old lady cast a new hue on our nuptial experience. Not to worry, the people at the church said. They’d have her wake at 7 p.m., we could have our rehearsal at 8 p.m. The thing they forgot to tell us was that the body would remain in the center of the aisle, with the casket open.

We asked for “Mary Jean” to be moved to the back of the church, just so the bridesmaids and groomsmen could get past the casket and to the altar. But to no avail. She was staying put.

The flower girls cried and pretended to throw rosebuds around the big gold box on wheels and the couples parted ways long enough to squeeze around Mary Jean. To say it was a distraction is an understatement.

But we got through the rehearsal without a scratch. — except for the wise-cracking groomsmen signing the funeral attendance book in back, writing fondly about a woman they never even knew. We had to squelch their sick, strange enthusiasm, which was probably fueled by the adult beverages the guys had consumed earlier during our rehearsal dinner.

I was worried about the church, too. We worked for months on our flower arrangements – but were told we wouldn’t be able to decorate until after the funeral the next day. They promised the funeral would be over before the scheduled picture time and that the morticians would take the wreaths bearing “Great-Aunt” with them when they left.

The next morning, it was a flurry of activity as the three girls and I got ready for the big day. My cousin, a beautician, had arrived – she would be doing our hair. However, it was 1990 and big hair, big bangs were all the rage. Three cans of hairspray later, it was clear there was no time for the bride to be beautified. The sisters ate up all the time and I’d have to do my own do.

Fine, I thought. I’ve been doing my own hair for a couple decades. Why should this day be any different? At least the girls were taken care of. And really, back then, all you needed to do was curl and rat, curl and rat. I’m the bride – who cares? At least the girls would be happy.

Or so one would think. As soon as the hairdresser left, the wailing began. I could hear them downstairs, screaming, “I hate my hair! I hate my hair! I can’t go! I look terrible!”

“The bangs aren’t high enough!” one sister cried out.

“I’m staying home,” the other lamented.

After 15 minutes of garbage, I had enough. I threw their fluffy, puffy-sleeved dresses at them and began to yell.

“You are going to put on those dresses, be quiet and like it!” I said, with all my court-given authority.

“No!” the defiant one screeched. “I’m staying home!”

“You are going to get dressed, get in the van, go to the church, walk down the aisle and I don’t want to hear another word,” I said. “It’s my wedding day and we are going to be happy. Got it?”

They pouted, but they put on the poof.

I realized I had no time to get ready at the church so I put my wedding dress on at home, donned the veil. I, along with my bunch of happy campers wearing yards of satin and silk, got into the big brown conversion van and headed for the church.

As we pulled in the church parking lot, I heard a voice say, “This is a stupid dress, my hair looks stupid. I’m not going in.”

I heard another voice agree. Then someone sniffled – they were crying again and the pouting was in full swing.

I lost my cool. I slammed on the brakes and turned around in my big, tall captain’s chair, veil flying around my flaming eyes, the 90s curl getting tighter every second.

“We are here and I don’t want to hear another word! Not one!” I screamed without self-control. I think there may have been some swear words. I was starting to have a meltdown.

That’s the moment when I turned around and through the windshield I saw the pallbearers staring at me. They were supposed to be carrying Mary Jean to the hearse, but my shrieking voice from the van with open windows had stopped the procession. I smiled and gestured they could continue carrying.

We sat there, in all my embarrassment, and waited for the funeral to vacate so I could get married. It took an eternity. So slow. I saw no flower wreaths or sunflower-horseshoes leave the church. As the hearse pulled away, the realization came that the remnants of death remained where my happy flowers of love should be.

Jerry and I got to share a special moment alone before pictures – he said I looked great and I reciprocated. We said we loved each other and couldn’t wait to get married. Granted, that special moment was shared as we moved the “Best Card Player in the World” banner and the pink carnations to make way for our bows and roses and romantic candles.

Working up a sweat and chasing the kids around, I realized that none of it made any difference. The great relief was when I finally got to see him and we rearranged the church together. He got the girls to laugh again and reaffirmed their young self-confidence by saying he’d never seen bangs reach higher in his life.

And then we did it. We took the plunge. I walked down the aisle, he met me and we kneeled down at the altar. It was a seriously profound moment in our lives, but all we heard was laughter. He and I didn’t know it, but the groomsmen had written, in white, on the bottom of his black shoes, “HELP ME!” It was fitting, looking back on all we’ve been through since that day. Lucky for me, he didn’t run.

It was a day of happiness and excitement. We mingled until we could mingle no more. We talked to relatives and friends until I couldn’t stand the sound of my own voice. The best part of the night was when he and I hid in the basement of the KC Hall, drank champagne and avoided the Chicken Dance while the DJ sent out a search party for the bride and groom. We just wanted to talk to each other for a second, see how the other one was and remember why we were there.

As we sat on that old 1950s kitchen counter, drinking champagne from Dixie cups, with my heels dangling and my hoop skirt itching, I realized I was the luckiest person in the world. Nothing about that day was about big bangs, puffy dresses or Mary Jean’s unintended intrusion. It was about me and him, saying that we would.

And we did. I still would. I still do.

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