Our Vows . . .
Forty-seven years ago today, I made my way down the aisle to say “I sure will!” when asked if I willingly made and agreed to keep my vows to Andy, The Engineer. Now I can’t say I thought about it at the time because the words “I sure will” just fell right out of my mouth, but looking back, it seems to me now that saying “I will” might be more meaningful and lasting than saying “I do.” I might’ve said “I sure will” because of authority issues (The preacher who married us was not chosen because I liked him – I didn’t, and the feeling was mutual – but because he was the only one available on the date we set.). I might’ve said “I sure will” because my brain chose that particular moment to take a nap after the inevitable hecticness preceding a wedding. I’ve had a while to think about it, and saying “I sure will” sure seems like my heart’s way of saying “For the rest of my life, I will honor these vows I make to you here (and the vows we made to each other in our private-just-the-two-of-us ceremony”) while saying “I do” seems more like a “yeah-sure-whatever-you-just-said-now-let’s-party” commitment to keep the vows at least tonight.
I told the preacher not to worry about the vows, that we were writing our own. (I’d already started mine, but you knew that.) I want y’all to know that man put both hands on his desk palms down, rose up out of his chair, leaned over the desk in my direction, and said in what amounted to a hiss, “I have NEVER let couples write their own vows, and I’m not about to start with you, Jeanne Hewell.” I looked him in the eye back to his retinas and said, “Fine, but know this: if you use the word ‘obey’ or anything akin to it, I will NOT say it.”
I waited till just before the ceremony to tell him we’d be saying our own words when we exchanged rings. Score one for Jeanne.
How We Chose The Date . . .
My father-in-law was known to harumph and complain quite loudly when a wedding interrupted his weekend, so we got married at 7:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night. He’d promised us the prize – a cruise on the Rhine – if his company won some purchasing contest, so we thought it a good idea to be officially married before setting sail. I wrote dates on slips of paper, and we drew July 31 out of the hat, making July 31, 1973 a date that will live in infamy, as they say.
The Preparations . . .
My mother got married in the local jail. Yes, really. Back in The Day, citizens of Fayette County elected the sheriff and got the wife for free to do the cooking and cleaning for the prisoners. They kept expenses down even more by providing the sheriff’s family a place to live instead of hiring extra guards. Well, my maternal granddaddy was the sheriff, so Mother and Daddy tied the knot in the living room at the jail.
While I love that story, Mother? Not so much. So once the date was set, I told her, “I want you to give yourself the wedding you wished you’d had. Go ahead. Knock yourself out,” reserving for myself the job of designing my bouquet, choosing the color (Tropicana. Everywhere we live, we plant a tropicana rose bush.); invitations; my attire; and the place. I asked that the reception be held at home (because I’ve always loved the story of a jailhouse wedding) and asked that we have watermelon at the reception. We wanted to get married on my family’s land, atop a hill overlooking the lake where my paternal granddaddy and I sometimes fished (and killed snakes) and, it occurs to me as I write this, just in front of the place where the uncle I am named after was killed. Likely thinking of parking, women walking on soft earth in heels, and wondering if the church had enough folding chairs, my mother was not enamored with the idea. As it turns out, the preacher we wound up with wasn’t either, so into the church we went.
And the watermelon? It was served, and Andy and I got to enjoy some only because Donn, Andy’s brother, fetched a bowl full and delivered it to us.
The Photos . . .
I was hit by a car on the streets of downtown Atlanta five weeks before the wedding. I’ll tell you that story another day, but what you need to know right now is that it broke my left knee and landed me in a full leg plaster cast. Everywhere we went from that date forward to our wedding day, I sat on the backseat with my leg on the seat while The Engineer drove with his left hand so we could hold hands over the seat.
Five days before the wedding, the orthopedic doc cut the cast off, took an x-ray, then came into the room to tell me with a straight face, “Your leg hasn’t healed the way I’d like it to, so we need to put the cast back on.”
”Oh no you don’t,” I told him. That cast is now an umbrella stand, and I’m outta here.”
My left leg wouldn’t bend willingly, so I was still on crutches when July 31 came around. I used Daddy’s arm to help get me down the aisle. When it was time to exit stage left, The Engineer whisked me off my feet and carried me out of the church. No, it wasn’t planned. I was every bit as surprised as the men you’ll see leaning to the right to avoid my size 5.5 saddle-clad left foot getting awfully close to their faces ‘cause The Engineer had eyes only for me back then.
The Dress . . .
Having missed the memo alerting me that Mothers of the Groom were to wear beige, stay out of the way, and keep their mouths completely shut, I invited my mother-in-law to go shopping for wedding dresses with my mother and me. “It’ll be fun,” I told her, “we’ll snag me a dress then go have lunch somewhere.” She agreed, my mother and I picked her up, and off we went – the bride and her two mothers.
We started at a shop at North DeKalb Mall, not so far from the Chambers’ house. I selected a dress with a higher empire waist, thinking it would hide all my rolls of fat . . . the flesh that only I saw when I looked in the mirror at my 98-pound self. I came out of the dressing room, both women liked it, and I said “Great, we’ll take it.” I stood as the pins were put in place for the person who would make the alterations, then asked, “Where will we have lunch?”
The Other Dresses . . .
I also have in my cedar chest, the dress Mother wore that night and the dress her mother wore that night. Three generations of dresses, one pink, one blue, one white. I wish I had the dresses Mrs. C and Nancy wore.
The Stories . . .
I’m delighted to tell you that earlier this year, The Engineer surprised me yet again earlier this year by agreeing to co-write our memories. I found matching journals at the dollar store in Denver, and told him the deadline is July 31, 2022. That’ll give me a year to merge the two journals (likely more, in my case) into one book. What a kick it’ll be to see what he remembers (and how much he gets right)!
The Plan . . .
Oh, the things we keep. I am now stitching memories onto the skirt of the dress – slowly, so far, because there’s something about the possibility of COVID-19 lurking around every corner that slows me down and faster as we move towards the big Five-Oh mark. I have plans for the veil, too, and I still have the shoes (they are on display in my studio) and the fingerless gloves Mother “encouraged” me to get. Who knows what I’ll do with all those accessories? Though I have no idea what to do with it, it seems I’m staging an installation – three generations of dresses, my veil, the shoes, gloves, photos, my wedding planning book, a box of napkins from the wedding, the book, my bouquet, and so many other things – and I’m calling it The State of Our Union. Stay tuned.
Post Script . . .
Today, The Engineer marked the day by gifting me 3 pairs of new socks and 2 replacement bulbs for my photography lights. And me? I gifted him this blog post.