“Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today in the presence of God and these witnesses, to join this man and this woman in matrimony, which is commended to be honorable among all men; and therefore is not by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, discreetly, advisedly and solemnly. Into this holy estate these two persons present now come to be joined. If any person can show just cause why they may not be joined together, let them speak now or forever hold their peace.”
Brother Shirley looked around nervously while I looked daggers at Uncle Roe daring him to do what he was probably thinking of doing. He just stared back innocently.
When no one said anything the whole church seemed to give a sigh of relief. We did the traditional do you take such and so’s and then went on to where we told each other:
“Entreat me not to leave you, or to return from following after you, For where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. And where you die, I will die and there I will be buried. May the Lord do with me and more if anything but death parts you from me.”
I promise to love and care for you, through times of joy and times of sorrow, to rejoice when you are happy, and grieve when you suffer, to share your interests, and hopes for the future, to try to understand you, even when I do not agree, to do all in my power, to help you be your true self, the person God calls you to be. In all this, I ask God's help, now and in the days to come.”
It was so quiet in the church you could hear some of the ladies crying like they always seem to at weddings, and not a few of the men that seemed to need to blow their knows at that moment as well. Then Brother Shirley did the “By the powers vested in me” bit which I didn’t really hear because Jude was looking at me like he was going to swallow me up right quick. Then I heard something about “you may kiss …” but Brother Shirley didn’t get to finish before Jude was on me like a starving man at a banquet.
For the next little bit everything was a whirlwind. There was laughing and cheering and a general loud ruckus. We didn’t even march back down the aisle; people simply pulled us down and into their embraces. I got passed around a bit as men took their turns kissing the bride. I heard Jude cough a few times from all the backslapping going on. Eventually we wound up back together and pulled along by what seemed like a sea of people. Outside we were suddenly up in the air being carried along on men’s shoulders.
“What’s going on? Wait, I can’t see the kids!” I didn’t know whether to be alarmed or laugh.
Clewis was one of the ones holding me up and he said, “Relax! Frankie has it all planned out. She already has them over at the Hall.” I looked over at Jude who just shrugged and laughed, confident that those that loved us and that we loved had a plan in mind as we marched down the road a piece.
The VFW Hall … or just the Hall as most people called it … appeared before us and Jude and I were set down and then escorted inside. At the first glimpse of the inside my breath caught and the look on my face must have been worth a look because people around me laughed good naturedly. There were ribbons and streamers all over the place. There were cloth covered tables, a huge punch bowl, plates, and a buffet. But the table of honor held a huge cake.
“How? When? I … I …”
Uncle Roe came up to Jude and I. “I don’t know whether to call you daughter or niece. All I do know is that you are my sister’s child and there was no way I was going to let you slip off with something less than what she and your daddy would have wanted for you.” He turned to Jude. “And you Boy … you’ve turned into someone any man would be proud to call his son.” To both of us he said, “You two are practical. You know how things stand. Things are tight but friendships are tighter. These people, they want … no they need … to celebrate with you. It gives us all hope to see these kinds of beginnings, the joy of it. Everyone here has contributed in some way. Especially this man right here.”
He turned and another man stepped forward.
Shocked I said, “Uncle … Uncle Eamon?”
The man, looking much less robust than the last time I had seen him reached out and gave me an awkward hug. He sighed. “Missed Alroy’s wedding. Decided I wasn’t going to miss yours.”
I looked at Uncle Roe who told me, “Eamon here, roasted a boar for the buffet.”
I turned back, “Oh … Uncle Eamon.” I decided whatever had gone on between him and Dad could go lie in the grave where it belonged. I reached out and gave him a tight hug and after a brief moment felt him return it. “Have you heard from anyone else? Uncle … Uncle James.”
Uncle Eamon sniffed. “Now none o’ that. This is your wedding day and Roe here has told me most of it though I’m sure there is some other as well. I can’t stay but a moment more ‘cause I have to get back. My wife is ailing and the boys have their hands full getting her to settle when I’m not around.” He hugged me again, shook Jude’s hand briskly and said something to him I didn’t catch. Then looked at Uncle Roe and nodded before quickly walking out.
“Uncle Roe?” I asked and I guess I sounded a little lost and not a little shook up because Jude put his arm around me.
Uncle Roe pointed to some people in the corner of the building and suddenly there was happy music and the clatter of dishes as people got in line to get some food. To us he said, “Y’all git over to there and sit. Frances is seeing to your food and drink. And don’t scowl Jude, it is just plain punch. Can’t say their won’t be any of the hard stuff being shared around but it won’t sneak its way into anything you are imbibing.”
“But Uncle Roe …”
“Not now Dovie. This is supposed to be a happy time. Eamon left you a letter that you can open tomorry, but right now we are going to have us a party.” He looked over my head. “Jude, you see to it. Tomorry will be soon enough for the rest of it.”
Jude and I went and sat. I sighed. “Guess that means that it’s bad.”
“Likely is. Can you wait? If you can’t I’ll find the letter for you.”
I looked at Jude. At my husband. So concerned for me, wanting to do for me whatever I wanted. Not to spoil me, because he was man enough to tell me no when it needed saying, but to honestly make me happy. “No. If it has waited this long it can wait ‘til tomorrow.” I could feel him relax where our knees touched beneath the table. I looked around. “Did you know about any of this?”
“I knew they were planning something but I didn’t know it would be anything like this. Look at that cake. How do you reckon they managed it?”
Aunt Frankie came over with our plates and said, “Dovie made me think of it.”
I gurgled a laugh. “How did I do that?”
“Wanting to get into Grandmother’s old recipe box. That recipe seemed to jump right out into my hand. It is a hard time cake … no butter, no milk, no sugar, and no eggs. Everyone will get a surprise when they cut into the different layers. Some are wheat, some are cornmeal, and some are rye flour. All the ladies brought what they had and we put it together last night.” She laughed at my expression and said, “Eat. Roe and everyone else expects you two to dance and have a good time. Don’t disappoint them. We all need this. It’s a hard winter for folks and the Spring don’t look to be much better. Let us celebrate and have a good time.”
And that’s exactly what we did. So much was going on that the rest only came through in flashes. The smell and taste of the roast pork, the texture of the side dishes that tasted just as good. The tartness of the punch that would likely never be able to be duplicated as it was basically made up of whatever people could spare out of their cabinets. The music of the fiddle, piano, guitar, banjo, bass fiddle, mouth harp and a saxophone of all things. Jude and I dancing our first dance together as man and wife then both of us taking turns with all the kids and then after that with as many folks as wanted to partner us in a turn. Cutting the cake. All the blessings and good wishes that people stopped to give us. Laughing and carrying on more than I ever remembered doing.
Then it was time. Aunt Frankie and Uncle Roe had insisted that the kids were going to stay with them for the night. “You might not get a honeymoon but we can at least give you some privacy for your first night.” I don’t know who turned redder at that pronouncement, Jude or me.
“We’ll bring the kids home after we finish cleaning up. There is so much pork left I think we can send some home with everyone. It’ll be a good way to repay their time with us.”
We were followed out the door by everyone. Rice and bird seed was too precious to simply throw but cheers followed us into a small buckboard that Jude had managed to piece together. Reynolds ran up and yelled, “I tried to tie cans and stuff to the wagon but Grits didn’t like it. But I made a sign and all of us signed it.”
“All of us” turned out to be the all of the children. Someone had even signed for Corey. I reached out and hugged Reynolds who looked alarmed at the attention and ran off to hide behind his mother and aunt. Uncle Roe nodded proudly and waved to us as Jude lifted me up and onto the seat since there was no way that I was doing it in the dress without showing the world what was underneath it.
I looked around and finally spotted Paulie a little way off. I would have been concerned if he hadn’t been grinning. He ran over just as we were pulling away and said, “It’s ok when things change. ‘Cause sometimes that’s what they need to do. Right?”
I nodded and Jude said, “What won’t change is me doing everything I can to make your sister happy and making sure that you kids have a place that’s safe that you can call home. We’re a family now.”
Paulie laughed and then ran off with the parting shot of, “We were a family before. Just now you and Dovie can do the mushy stuff without getting into trouble.”
“Oh you!” I called after him that didn’t do anything but make him laugh more. Tiff and the others ran up to him and they all started waving as we took off down the road. I watched until someone – Aunt Frankie probably – called them back inside where everyone else was heading.
I turned back around and Jude pulled me to him. “ If you’re cold there’s a blanket under the wagon seat.”
“No, I’m fine. The air actually feels good after just about suffocating in amongst all those people in that one room.”
“I hear that.”
We were silent for a bit; just enjoy each other’s company that was somehow new even though we’d been in each other’s company almost every day for months now. Jude said quietly, “I’ll wait if you need it Dovie. I know this has all gone pretty quick. And …” he snorted. “This has been some kind of exciting day.”
“No. I don’t need to wait. Just go slow and let me catch up.”
He hugged me tight to him again and said, “I can do that.”
We talked about the people we had seen and even mentioned Uncle Eamon but didn’t go into too far as we were trying to keep it light and happy. But in the back of my mind it was the people I hadn’t seen that stood out. People that I thought would have been there if they could have. Some I knew where they were – gone to live with relatives, too sick to attend, that sort of thing – but some I had heard were simply gone, their homes seemingly abandoned when runners went by to invite them to the wedding. I knew that Jude and Clewis and their group would be investigating it, maybe even tonight.
“Do you need to go with Clewis?” I asked.
He clucked Grits to get him to pick up a bit of speed when he seemed to want to dawdle at a bush that the weather had leaned out towards the road. “No. I don’t have to be involved in every little thing. Clewis and the others can manage it. If I’ve only got the one night to get this right I’m not going to waste it chasing shadows.”
“You can if you need to Jude. I’m not all set on tonight being perfect or right. Aunt Frankie said it would likely take practice.”
I was a little too embarrassed to look but felt him nod. “I suppose that’s true, but I aim to do my best to show you that practicing is worth looking forward to.”
I grinned in spite of myself. We arrived at the farm and wedding night or not there was work to do. Jude had to care for our faithful stead. He unhitched him and rubbed him down so he wouldn’t get sick and then gave him a nosebag of feed and then latched the barn door. Turning to me he said, “They shouldn’t be too much farther behind. We could wait for someone to take us to the house if you don’t want to walk.”
“Walking is fine. This dress is damaged anyway and these boots,” I said hiking the dress up out of the snow. “These boots have about had it too. I’m not sure if they’ll ever be white again.”
“Want me to carry you so you don’t have to walk in the snow?”
“All the way up to the house?” I laughed.
“You’d have to ride piggy back but I could do it.”
I laughed again, “No way. By the time we got to the house you wouldn’t have energy for anything else.”
“Wanna bet?” he said coming at me playfully.
It was like that all the way to the house and up the porch. I don’t think I’ve ever really laughed so much as I had that day. I couldn’t stop smiling now that the marrying part was finally out of the way. He took the house key from his pocket and opened the door but before I could go inside he finally did pick me up.
“What are you doing?!”
“Carrying you across the door way. That’s the way they do it in the movies.”
“In case you haven’t noticed I don’t look like a movie star.”
He smiled gently and said, “You do to me.”
I chuckled and said, “Then you need glasses. After that ruckus this morning I look like something that cat drug in. Speaking of …” He sat me on the floor and I went to check on the animals. Momma cat and Night and Day were all snugged and gave me an affronted look when they caught me spying on them.
I closed the lid and then stepped out of Jude’s room. Well, it wasn’t Jude’s room anymore; he was moving into the master bedroom with me. I told him, “If you want, I’ll start moving your stuff in here tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow will be fine. Right now I’d like it if you would come here.”
And the rest of this part of the story is no one else’s business.