Our Wedding Day 48 years ago
“Oh, my God. Stupid old man!”
I hurried into the living room. Mama’s face was pale and her eyebrows pulled together construing her entire face. She bellowed at me, “We have 400 people coming to a wedding reception tonight, and you have NO hall.”
“That stupid old man at the Legion rented it to two people on the same day. The other bride’s cake is on the table with her decorations,” Mama said almost crying. “The baker left our cake in the entrance hall at the Legion. What are we going to do?”
She spun on her heels and stomped off to the kitchen where my step dad, Foster, was sitting at the table reading The Wall Street Journal. He said nothing. He had learned that his wife, Ruby, had a fury not to be tamed.
I could feel my shoulders knotting, my jaw clinching, and my stomach balling up like a knotted fist. This tension was not only because I had 400 people coming to my reception and no hall to accommodate them, but also I hated my mama’s army sergeant attitude about all things concerning me. She expected the day to run like she planned. She controlled everything including where my biological father would sit in the sanctuary. Mama denied him the privilege of walking me down the aisle. Because she hated him, she decided he would have no active part in this day.
I, on the other hand, felt such guilt that my own daddy couldn’t escort me down the aisle. Mama made it clear that Foster was paying for this gig, and daddy would not walk beside me. The irony was that Foster didn’t want to accompany me. He was introverted and wanted to be in the background. He wanted to pay the expenses to help keep the tension low. That was the role he had chosen and asked my brother-in-law Jim to walk me down the aisle. Foster was like a saint to my sister and me. We loved him like we loved our real father.
“I’ve got to call Denny,” I shouted and ran to dial the hotel where he was staying.
“Don’t worry, babe, we‘ll figure this out,” Denny said in his soothing voice. It was his voice that had lured me to him. Even now, his voice quieted some of my panicky feelings.
“I am trying to call all the reception halls. Oh, Denny, I can’t breathe. One minute Mama looks like she’s having a heart attack , and the next she’s screaming at me to do something. She’s impossible. She’s making me so anxious, and I’m really getting tired of walking on eggshells. It’s my wedding day.”
“Just you and me, Babe. What’s important? We’re getting married today! No matter what happens.” I don’t think he realized how prophetic that statement had already become. “No matter what happens” had greater meaning as the day progressed.
“OK, gonna make more calls. Haffta find a hall, so your Polish relatives can polka. What are we going to do? I love you. Got to make more calls. Calling in the Cincinnati and Dayton areas because they’re close. About 40 to 50 minutes away. I love you. Bye.” My high-pitched chatter reflected the tension within.
I picked up the phone book and looked at the clock. It was 10 o’clock and the wedding was at 7:30. I swallowed hard and continued my search for a hall in Dayton and Cincinnati. The Legion was the only reception hall in my little hometown of Franklin. I could only hope that the bigger cities would have a vacancy. Two hours passed. Calls, calls and more calls and still no luck. It was June, the chosen wedding month of most brides. Of course, everything was booked.
My sister, Betty, had been resting upstairs trying to overcome her migraine. Betty always suffered headaches when she came to visit Mama. Jim, her husband, was quietly entertaining their two boys by playing with the toy soldiers that they had brought from their New York home. I knew they were exhausted from their long drive, so I didn’t want to bother them. Besides, the little boys running around would cause even more tension in my world right now.
I heard footsteps coming down the stairs. The little boys were giggling and Betty looked so tired. Jim offered to get the boys some Captain Crunch and shuffled them out on the porch to eat their breakfast.
“Mom, what’s wrong? “ Betty asked.
“There’s no place for the reception,” Mama answered in a robot manner.
I sat at the telephone table and continued, “Hello, I’m in need of a reception hall today. Would you happen to have a cancellation or available room? Would you take my number in case you do? Yes, for today. Thank you.” I clicked down the receiver one more time. In the space of a breath, I could visualize every guest after the wedding ceremony looking around and saying, “Where do we go next?” That was my question too.
Then the phone rang.
“Hello? Yes, I’m the person who called to see if you had any cancellations. What? He died? Oh, wonderful. I mean, oh, my. I’m sorry…. But can we have the Congress Inn? Oh, thank you, thank you. Oh, my gosh! We’ll be right there.”
Mama grabbed her purse and Foster and I dashed to the car. We drove 30 minutes to the Congress Inn.
“Well, I hope you’re happy because this wedding has almost given me a heart attack,” Mama complained.
“Now Ruby, take it easy. Sandi’s upset too.” Foster offered his peace- making statement in his quiet voice. Mama shifted stiffly away from him, her body language shouting, “Don’t interfere.”
I ignored her comment and tried to calm myself by taking deep breaths. How would I ever make all this happen and get a bath and my hair done? It is almost one 0’clock now. My head was buzzing.
We arrived at the hall and Foster talked calmly to the proprietor. “I will do whatever is necessary. I’ll pay what you need.”
“Well, you’ll have to use our liquor and get your own piano. There’s a cake table ready. Bring your cake anytime. We’ll take care of dishes, drinks, and linens.”
“Thank you, thank you,” we all said in unison. At last Mama and I agreed on something. We were thankful.
I asked to use his phone, so I could give the caterer the new directions.
“What? Why would you change the reception hall at the last minute?” the caterer asked.
Exhausted I said, “I just need you to make this adjustment. The reception dinner will be at the Congress Inn.”
She said, “Sure, but the cost will be higher.”
“Great. I’m counting on you. I know. Higher price, right.” I hung up,
I said a quick prayer, and ran to our Buick where Mama and Foster were waiting.
We drove home through Dayton traffic. It was Saturday so it was busy but not like a workday. My thoughts were as dark as the overcast sky. Oh, no, was it going to rain on our wedding day?
“Can’t you drive faster? We have to get home immediately,” my mother demanded. She continued fussing at Foster until at last we pulled into our driveway. Betty and I could not understand how Foster could overlook her angry outburst, her harsh attacks, or her sudden mood swings. We were convinced he was a saint. No one had his kind of tolerance for Mama’s tantrums. One time when we were alone on the porch, I asked him how he managed her constant anger. He said he loved her and knew she would come around eventually. I, on the other hand, had not reached that degree of saint hood. I cried or stomped away or slammed things. However, I never confronted her. I was truly afraid of my mother. I had been slapped too many times. When she was out of control, I knew to back away.
“Well, what happened?” asked Betty when we walked in the house. “Do you have a place? Will it hold everyone and is there a place for the band and dancing?
“It’s larger. Nicer than the Legion. Floor -length tablecloths. Fancy, ivory toppers. Perfect for our wedding! The place was decorated for a rich CEO who was retiring. His unexpected death made our reception elegant. His taste and budget were so much better than I had hoped for my own wedding.” I blurted to Betty.
I banged the door as I ran into the house to call Denny. I dialed and breathlessly shouted into the phone, “Honey, we have a hall. You need to get a piano and take it to Dayton. Can you do that? Call Uncle Jack. He has a piano and a truck you can use.”
“Count it done. Now, breathe, Sandi. I am on my way. How far is it from Franklin? “His voice again calmed me.
“It is about 30 minutes from your hotel. Don’t get a ticket on our wedding day. I love you. Remember you are going to Uncle Jack’s on old highway 25.”
“We will laugh about this when we’re sitting in our apartment in New Orleans. We’ll be romancing in the Big Easy. It‘ll work out. Don’t worry. We’re just a ceremony away. Here we come New Orleans,” Denny said cheerfully.
I did take a deep breath and thanked God for Denny.
The tension was back. “Get those kids out of the house. Can’t you see I’m having an awful day? Why me? Why does everything bad happen to me?” bellowed Mama. The lack of time was fraying her nerves.
My sister screamed at Jamie and Todd, “Get outside and play.”
She gave them each a peanut butter sandwich and a cup of milk. It was lunchtime but no time for lunch.
Mama was our model of communication. We both screamed our communication because that’s what Mama did.
Suddenly, I remembered the cake was still at the Legion Hall. Foster and Mama agreed to get the cake and move it to the new hall. It was better to keep Mama busy, so she didn’t slip back into her anger cycle. Jim had volunteered to go, but Denny and his groomsmen needed someone familiar with the area to drive Uncle Jack’s truck.
I was calmer now and realized I could make my hair appointment if I had a little leeway. I called ahead and told Amy of my calamity and asked if I could come at two-thirty. She agreed to wash and set as fast as possible. I needed a break and was eager to get out of the house.
I left for my hair appointment. My afternoon was quickly slipping from me. As I drove, I tried to think of anything else I needed to do. Get dress and undergarments in the car. Gather shoes, make-up, and …my mind went blank. Grab the little boys’ white linen suits that Mama had sewn for them. I was on overload. Then, I started thinking about Mama’s disgruntled state when she saw the invitation list from Denny’s parents. Mama’s words were etched in my brain. “Well, why didn’t they invite the Mayor of Fort Wayne, too?” she said. “Everyone else in that town has been invited.”
I didn’t even try to explain to her that a big Polish family wanted everyone there, dancing, drinking, and eating. Foster thought it was wonderful that Denny had such a fun-loving family. Of course, he didn’t say that to Mama, but shared that with me while we were sitting by ourselves watching the nightly news.
When I returned home from the hairdresser, I knew what I thought was a bad day was not over yet. One of my bridesmaids from Findlay, Ohio was late because of car trouble. My sister’s migraine had grown worse, and neither she nor the boys had bathed. The heat of the day stretched everyone’s patience except Foster’s. He was the only one who complimented my new hairstyle.
“It’s beautiful and so are you. You will be an elegant bride.” I was so grateful for his comment. I needed some affirmation. He always seemed to give me what I needed just when I was wilting. He was a senior engineer and well respected. He had helped me with a couple of my college theater papers. He had an exhaustive vocabulary and knew something about everything. He only shared those things when asked. I admired his knowledge and his character. I loved him, and I knew he loved me.
Jim walked in the door right after me and reported, “The cake and piano are all in place at the new reception hall. I drove the pickup truck, and Denny and his three friends were in the back with the piano,” Jim explained.
“They had been swimming in the hotel pool and just slipped shirts over their swim trunks. Uncle Jack didn’t think to clean out the truck from his last run, so the guys were standing in hay fragrant with manure. One guy played the piano all the way down I-75. They were all singing, I’m Getting Married in the Morning and All You Need Is Love.”
Jim’s eyes twinkled as he told me the story. I giggled at the thought of them going down the highway singing. It was the first time I had laughed all day.
He was chuckling and explained, “Those guys just drank beer, guffawed, and sang all the way there. They said it was a wedding day adventure.”
This light mood was suddenly broken when Mama announced, “We need to be at the church by 5:30. The florist will deliver the flowers at that time.” She was always right and always on time. We would follow her directions and stay out of her way.
My sister and the little boys were in the bathroom, so I grabbed my undergarments, hair spray, make-up, and anything I thought we might need to get ready at church. I resolved that I just needed perfume because there was no time for me to bathe.
We all loaded in two cars grabbing suits, dress bags, and shoes. As we piled into the car, I felt my dreams sliding into chaos. We didn’t have far to go, but I knew it would take a long time to get dressed. It was after 5 already.
We unloaded and hurried into the church. My bridesmaids were all there before me and mostly dressed. It was almost 6 when my sister said, “Where’s my dress?”
“Oh, Betty, I thought you picked it up!” I said.
Just then Jim, came out in trousers hemmed for a 6 foot 3 man on his five foot ten frame. “Now, what? “ he asked.
I had no time or energy to argue or blame. So I reminded myself to breathe and said, “Jim, go get Betty’s dress in the hall at home and try to get the tux guy to make an exchange on your pants. He’s a friend. Just one block away. He closes at 6 so he’ll be there. Pound on the door. He’ll get you some shorter slacks. Your trousers won’t match, but that is the least of our worries.” My eyes pled for him to hurry. I felt my flushed cheeks turning brighter.
I was glad we lived only 5 miles from the church in a little town with a low traffic profile. Each tick of the clock seemed to me to be driven by a practical joker. This day had been stolen from me. Anxiety had become the director of my wedding play.
Mama was dressed in her turqoise tent dress. It was an unusual choice for a woman who was so determined that my gown be conservative and classy. She was
“Sandi, you have to be ready to go down the aisle at 7. The music is playing. The guests are seated and your sister is in her petticoat.” I wanted to laugh but was afraid of what Mama would do. I would not give her my strength, just my obedience.
It was 97 degrees and the air felt like glue. My satin dress clung to me as perspiration trickled down my spine. The humidity limited my already nervous breaths. When I looked into the mirror, I saw a frazzled bride in a plain dress. Even on my wedding day, I didn’t feel beautiful. I looked like Mama wanted me to look. She chose the dress and insisted it was the best for my body type. I wanted a plunging neckline or something unique and dramatic. Seeing myself in my wedding dress reminded me of our conversation when we were dress shopping.
“Look at this one,” I said as I twirled around in front of the mirror.
“I think it says, romance, mystery, look at me. Can I get this one, Mama?” “Nonsense, such a dress is a satin trapping of your pride.”
That comment stung like a bee burying himself in my heel on a summer day.
“I am paying and you will look respectable.” Mama said.
“Showing a little cleavage and having a little lace doesn’t make me a tramp,” I said in tears.
“You can dry those tears. They don’t affect me at all. You just remember who is footing the bill,” she said. Her icy words matched her eyes.
So, I settled for her choice. It was soft champagne satin discretely beaded in the bodice and down the three quarter length sleeve. It was conservative and plain, not the Spanish lace dress I had envisioned. Now, I realized that my dream day was a fallen arrow, an unused instrument. My wedding day had become a mere rehearsal of calamities. So, here I was on June 17th waiting for my wedding to begin. I should say waiting for Mama’s wedding to begin.
Jim skidded back into the parking lot. He burst through the door in his unmatched trousers that were closer to the right length, and his wife’s dress over his arm. Jim zipped Betty into the long blue frock. Six bridesmaids were lined up ready to start the progression of blue. The baby blue dresses created a surreal effect of a soft cloud moving down the aisle of the church.
The tension was heavier than the humidity. The time was now and my brother-in-law held out his arm to escort me down the aisle. He grinned and whispered in my ear, “You are going to have a much better night.”
I had been so overwhelmed by my wedding calamities that I had forgotten how scared I was to have sex. Of course, Mama never discussed this topic. I was really nervous about whether I would know what to do or not to do. Oh, I just can’t think about this now. Pachelbel’s Canon C brought me back to the moment. It was time to start down the aisle. I leaned on Jim and forced a smile. I looked wistfully at my daddy sitting alone in his assigned pew. He winked and that brought the first of many tears to my eyes. I looked at Denny smiling from ear to ear. He winked too. The time had at come to say “I do” to my husband.
As I said these words, I looked into Denny’s eyes. He was embracing me with his eyes. I could feel his love. I could see how enamored he was with me, his bride. He grabbed my hand and we briskly walked back up the aisle as the volume of the organ grew louder and louder. With a sigh, I looked into Denny’s eyes. He said, “See, we made it.”
When we got to the foyer, one of the groomsman opened the door of the church for us. We were welcomed by a loud crack of thunder, bright streaks of lightening, and a sudden downpour. The storm had come to complete my wedding day saga. Now, my dress was really sticking to me.