68: A Gift from Great-Grandma

68: A Gift from Great-Grandma

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Here Comes the Bride

A Gift from Great-Grandma

The art of living lies less in eliminating our troubles than in growing with them.

~Bernard M. Baruch

I have no idea how much I’m going to regret my advice when I give it. My smart, independent, twenty-five-year-old daughter has moved back home for the six months before her wedding. She seems to have everything under control until one morning when I find her curled up in her bed, fully clothed, rocking back and forth with her pink and purple quilt over her face.

All I can see of her in the shadows of her darkened bedroom is her long, straight brown hair splayed on her crumpled pillow.

“Tricia, what’s wrong?”

She rocks back and forth, but doesn’t answer.

“Tricia, I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s wrong.”

“It’s just... you can’t fix it!” She rocks some more and then sits straight up, hair askew. “I want my wedding to be perfect, and I just know something will go wrong.”

In hopes of helping her relax, in hopes of helping her put the whole idea of “perfection” in perspective, I make a terrible mistake.

“Tricia! Of course, something will go wrong! Probably more than one something will go wrong, but it won’t matter! That’s what you’ll talk about for the rest of your lives. That’s what will give you sweet memories and something to tell your children.”

She frowns doubtfully for a moment, and then her face brightens. She chuckles a little as she asks, “Like the pastor calling Dad ‘Bruce’?”

“Yup! See? That’s what you remember from our wedding stories, not that I had real daisies on our cake. They were perfect, just like I wanted them, but what we talk about and laugh about is the pastor calling Dad ‘Bruce’ instead of ‘Butch’… in the vows! Twice!”

She continues to smile as she stares down at the crumpled quilt.

In the back of my mind, a little alarm goes off. I have, in effect, just promised her that nothing serious will happen, that anything that goes wrong will just be funny. I’m helping her for the moment, but am I making a huge mistake? I’m tempting fate, and fate could make me pay a horrible price.

I ignore my qualms, and Tricia and I make lists. Soon we’re busy making bouquets from pink and burgundy silk flowers and talking to caterers about delivering platters of Mexican food to the reception in our yard. We joke about potential problems that could come from her future father-in-law’s association with a local biker community or from her little brother’s penchant for playing jokes on her.

The big day arrives. The caterers prepare tables in our yard while my husband and I drive our daughter to a stately, old brick church across from Central Park in our little town in Western Oregon. The weather is mild for a mid-summer day. I begin to wonder if there just won’t be anything to joke about later if the whole day goes off without a hitch. I lose all karmic caution as I actually hope for some little mishap to prove me right and to give us a story to tell.

Before the ceremony, the photographer arranges two families, four generations on our side, along the three sweeping stairs below the altar for the official wedding pictures. The groom and groomsmen wear black cowboy boots with their tuxedos. Tricia’s white cowboy boots peek out from under her full-skirted white gown.

Finally, the photographer finishes with us, and we all carefully scramble down the steps toward the aisles. I hear a scrape, a soft clatter, and chilling gasps from all around. I turn to see Tricia’s ninety-year-old great-grandmother, Mary, flat on her back up against the legs of the front pew. She had tripped on the edge of the step. She is not conscious. I stop breathing.

For a moment, no one moves, and then three men surround Grandma. One of them takes her head into his lap and talks to her softly. She blinks, stunned. Her head is bleeding.

Tricia sinks onto a nearby bench with her dress deflated around her, hands clasped over her mouth. Our horror suspends time. We focus only on Grandma Mary, care only that she is all right.

Grandma opens her eyes and mumbles, “All this way… I’m not… going to miss… this wedding!” Little Grandma Mary in her blue linen suit tries to sit up just as two EMTs hurry down the aisle to get to her.

The pastor, in his full dress robes, squats on the floor next to her and gently, quietly says, “Madam, I will not start this ceremony until you have been checked out by a doctor. You might as well go. We will wait.”

She looks him in the eye, ready to argue despite her position, now sitting up but leaning on one EMT while the other daubs at the wound on the back of her head. The pastor looks right back, just as determined. She says, “All right, but I won’t ride in any ambulance.” The EMTs carefully help her to her feet and continue to support her as my husband’s father escorts her to his rental car.

Tricia and I wait together in a dressing room while guests arrive, learn the reason for the delay, and then sit to wait quietly for news of Great-Grandma.

“Mom. What if she’s not okay? I actually looked forward to what silly things could go wrong. But not this...” Tricia can’t continue.

I don’t know what to say. I take her hand, and we wait. All thoughts of a perfect wedding vanish. We only want Great-Grandma pronounced healthy and back with us.

For over an hour, we listen to the pianist play Mozart, Beethoven, and even a little Simon and Garfunkel. Tricia and I take turns peeking out the door.

Finally, in the middle of “Bridge over Troubled Water,” we hear movement and louder voices. We open the door just enough to see Grandma Mary with a huge white elastic bandage wrapped around her head like a turban. Her white curls stick out around the edges, and someone has tucked a single pink lily into the side of it.

She turns to smile at us, then waves and pats her “turban,” as the pianist begins “Ode to Joy.” On Grandpa’s arm, Great-Grandma walks, unsteady but dignified, past the door and into the chapel. Our guests stand and applaud.

Great-Grandma’s gift of her love for her family and her determination to be with us for Tricia’s wedding reminds Tricia and me both that a wedding is about love and connection, not about producing the perfect event. After a long delay and with a crumpled dress and mascara smeared, Tricia really does have the perfect wedding.

~Sallie Wagner Brown

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