63: Once Upon a Time

63: Once Upon a Time

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Here Comes the Bride

Once Upon a Time

It is a wise father that knows his own child.

~William Shakespeare

My father always told me bedtime stories. He never used a book, relying on his imagination, facility with words, and a wealth of personal experience. His stories involved distant landscapes, called kingdoms. Without fail, he weaved me into each adventure, referring to me as the beautiful princess. Often, what I did during the day would surface in the tales. If the beautiful princess scored well on a spelling test, she was rewarded by the king with a new quill; if she forgot to help her mother with the dishes, the princess was banished from court festivities. I held my breath waiting for my appearance in the story. I never tired of the evening ritual.

Dad changed jobs during my adolescence, keeping him away from home several days at a time. His stories were replaced with novels from the library, which I read before bedtime.

It wasn’t long before adulthood and my engagement. A beautiful wedding was planned. Hotel reservations, dinner arrangements, and a host of pre-nuptial parties were scheduled.

At the same time, a serious flu epidemic hit the school where I taught, and my students were dropping out of class until attendance was almost nonexistent. I was counting my blessings and keeping my fingers crossed that I would not succumb. Things looked promising until the Friday before my Sunday wedding. Coming home from school, I felt lightheaded and tired, but chalked it up to time-consuming preparations. By evening, it was obvious fatigue had nothing to do with my condition. My entire body ached, my stomach churned, and the shivering would not stop. My mother and grandmother hovered around me, offering chicken soup and whispering encouragement, telling me I would be fine in the morning.

I slept fitfully, and woke feeling no different from the night before. The sunshine streaming through the windows hurt my eyes; every noise was amplified until I thought my head would explode. My in-laws were scheduled to visit that afternoon. It was useless to think I could get out of bed and come downstairs to greet them. When they came up to the bedroom, my ashen face and weakened condition hardly promised a beautiful bride-to-be. My father-in-law, a feisty codger, scowled, muttering something about ruining the wedding. I was powerless to reassure him.

Things got worse. Friends and relatives called and dropped in, asking how they could help. My grandmother and mother were wringing their hands, not knowing what to do. They called our physician, who said there were no medications for this strain of the flu.

In Judaism, important events are not cancelled. I overheard a phone call to our rabbi, asking if a bedside ceremony might be performed. My husband-to-be was the last visitor I saw that evening. Ever optimistic and cheerful, he put on a brave face, promising I would feel better the next day. Always able to lift my spirits, he made me laugh in the most dismal of circumstances, but this time, even he could not convince me. When everyone left, and I was alone for the first time all day, I thought about how many people were going to be disappointed. My wedding gown was hanging on the outside of my closet door, and I agonized over the possibility of never getting to wear it.

The day of the wedding dawned no better than the day before. My mother called the doctor once again, who repeated there were no medications, and I would just have to wait it out.

I lay in bed absolutely drained; the flu and my emotions had taken their toll. The wedding was scheduled for five in the afternoon; it was nine in the morning, and the anxiety of what was happening became overwhelming. At that moment, my father knocked on the door. Seeing me helpless and tearful, he sat on the edge of the bed. He waited a moment, looked at me, and firmly began, “I have a story to tell you. Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who fell in love with a handsome prince. They were a loving and happy couple, making plans for a bright and wonderful future. Everyone in the royal kingdom was joyous!

“A wedding was planned. First, the royal caterers announced a wonderful feast, with the finest foods and wines, fresh succulent fruits, and a towering wedding cake that would take days to decorate. Then the royal musicians rehearsed songs composed especially for the event. Guests traveled from far and wide in golden coaches, sparing no expense for the gifts they would bring. The royal wardrobe mistresses sewed a gown fashioned from the most delicate silk, woven with pearls. Royal florists picked the most fragrant blossoms from hothouses to adorn a bouquet for the princess, with flowers that would rival her beauty. Chambermaids cleaned the palace so not a speck of dust could be found in the glistening room where the ceremony would be held.

“It was the day of the wedding. Embroidered banners flew from all the turrets. Candles, ornate silverware, goblets, and starched linens were brought from the palace storerooms and placed in the royal dining hall in readiness. And then, word reached the kingdom: An evil spell caused the bride to become ill. All activity came to a halt. A hush fell upon the kingdom.

“The prince made his way to the palace to see if the rumors were true. When he found the woman he loved bedridden and weak, he turned so she would not see a tear escape his eye. He thought it strange that she was well and healthy just a few days before. He wondered if perhaps she no longer loved him and was just pretending to be ill so she would not have to marry him. He left her chambers with a sad and heavy heart, inconsolable. The kingdom mourned, not just for the princess’s strange malady, but for the broken-hearted prince, whom they had all come to love.”

My father nodded his head slowly, squeezed my hand, kissed my cheek, and left my bedroom without another word.

It couldn’t have been more than several seconds before the impact of his story registered. To this day, I cannot understand the sudden change that came over me. I got up from the bed, a bit unsteadily, and headed for a steamy and restorative shower. Drying my hair and styling it with my mother’s assistance, I began having hope that I would not disappoint the prince. I came downstairs, and at the royal grandmother’s insistence, ate a small bowl of oatmeal. She beamed as I swallowed spoonful after spoonful.

It wasn’t much longer before the royal photographers came. My mother and sister helped me into my wedding gown, watched and gave advice as I applied some make-up, and accompanied me down the stairs to pose for the most important pictures of my life.

I still cannot fathom how I was able to gather the strength and will to meet the handsome prince at the wedding altar, but I did, with my father proudly standing at my side. Just loud enough for me to hear as my husband and I were joined in matrimony, my father said, “And they lived happily ever after.”

~Edie Barton Scher

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners