27: A Leap of Faith

27: A Leap of Faith

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home

A Leap of Faith

Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down.

~Ray Bradbury

My cousin was getting married for the second time. While she did not want a big formal wedding at forty-eight years old, her children insisted she have a special day with loved ones in attendance and pictures to remember the day. So they helped her plan a small intimate ceremony with thirty of her family and friends in a little chapel in the mountains of Tennessee.

My husband and I drove the 200 miles from our home to attend. When we arrived, the first thing we noticed was almost every car in the parking lot was from our county. My next observation was that the place was packed! We were there for an hour total and saw five different wedding parties. My cousin told me that the location was booked solid until after Christmas — three months away — and she had been on a waiting list to get any date before the end of the year. There would be somewhere in the neighborhood of one wedding every hour all day long from 10:00 to 5:00, or about eight weddings in a day at the tune of $2,200 each. This looked pretty lucrative and I realized there was no place to get married within 200 miles of our home.

I watched as a very small staff handled all the details of a simple ceremony and was amazed at how quickly things were pushed along. It seemed to be a great idea in theory, but it was all a little too “assembly line” and hurried for my taste. I could hardly keep my mind on the nuptials — I was thinking about how I’d like to do this and offer more full-service weddings and receptions. By the time my cousin was toasting her groom, I had already hatched a plan.

Driving home that next day it was all I could think about. I finally decided to share my latest brainstorm to my husband, sure he would get a good laugh all the way back home. His response almost knocked me off my seat when he said, “You are not going to believe this but I was sitting there thinking the exact same thing!”

So with absolutely no experience in wedding planning, building a business or running a business, and at a very precarious time — less than thirty days after September 11th — I took a leap of faith. Named after my youngest granddaughter and a hundred-year-old oak tree that stood guard over the entrance to our property — Ashley Oaks was born.

We arrived back in Georgia Sunday afternoon and Monday I had the name registered with the county and had started calling contractors. I sat down with pen and paper, and figured out each step and what I would need to learn about that step. What I didn’t know would fill an encyclopedia, but one baby step at a time I learned what I needed.

I called SCORE, a division of the Small Business Administration that has seasoned businessmen who volunteer their time counseling and encouraging people starting new businesses. I got my first dose of their encouragement when my counselor barked, “Lady, you must be crazy! You don’t exactly live in an area that could be considered a destination-wedding venue. No one is coming to Rockmart, Georgia to get married!”

I thanked him politely and hung up — and moved on to the next thing on my list, not the least bit discouraged.

We already had the property, with a five-acre lake and a 2,500-square-foot building that could be converted to a reception hall. It would be a weekend business, which meant I could keep my full-time job. So I really had nothing to lose. Except of course, my home!

What kind of crazy person moves to the country for peace and quiet and then opens a business that routinely draws crowds of over 100 people to your home almost every single weekend? In all my careful planning I wondered how that part could have escaped me.

Once my website was up and running, my phone began ringing off the hook with excited brides-to-be who wanted to discuss every detail of their upcoming “big day” — at all hours of the day and night. They called at 7:00 on Sunday morning; they called during dinner; they called at 11:00 at night. I had appointments for consultations every weekend — including Sundays, birthdays and holidays, as well as drop-ins that “just wanted to look around” right in the middle of my family get-togethers! All this and we had not even had our first wedding yet. Business, it appeared, was booming. Personal life — not so much.

Then came summer and the actual weddings began. If I thought personal life was just a memory before, I was in for a rude awakening. Ever had 100 people wandering aimlessly around your yard? I had people parking all over my newly laid sod instead of in the designated parking area. I had people in my flowerbeds stomping on my roses. I had children wading in the koi pond. I had people lounging on my front porch and doorstep. I had curious children peeping in my windows. This part-time home business did not stay in the box I had carefully designed for it. It was not “part-time” and it had literally taken over my home!

To say this required some adjustment is an understatement. But adjust I did. And once I got over the initial shock of it all, I found it to be a very exciting and rewarding adventure. It was so much fun getting to see all the beautiful gowns, the elaborate cakes and the individual creative ways the girls chose to decorate that helped make each wedding different. In the nine years that I ran Ashley Oaks I never got tired watching all the beautiful brides as they walked down the aisle to their Prince Charmings.

I always enjoyed helping the brides as they worked with me to plan the day they had dreamed of their whole lives. In the grand scheme of it all, what are a few dead roses when you can end your workday knowing that you have been a part of someone else’s beginning?

~Andrea Peebles

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