Georgia Connector Magazine — Spring 2012
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The Wedding Gift
Genie Smith Bernstein

I was kidnapped on my wedding day. The perpetrator drove boldly up the driveway and strode through the house issuing commands. Daddy almost saluted when ordered to place my billowing gown on the back seat of her car. The creamy white bun askew on the back of her head shone like a beacon in the prenuptial storm. Mama handed me over without a whimper.

Aunt Tee, the usually mild-mannered wife of Daddy’s brother, was formidable when she snatched a bride. Her sky blue eyes, luminous behind thick bifocals, meant business. I’d expected to leave home that afternoon carefully coifed and prettily put together in bridal regalia, not spirited away before breakfast in sponge rollers and Brother’s cut-off jeans.

This bride-napper drove silently to the church where I was to be married and guided me into a delicate pink, lavender-scented room. Months of wedding jitters and angst over last-minute calamities evaporated. The relief was as delicious as the brunch set out on the tea table. Suddenly, the day was not about the wedding. It was about the bride. It was about me.

Devoted to her mission of dressing brides since her first niece married in 1958, my aunt lost count of the women she ministered to in this special way. A plaque honors her in the bride’s room of her church, but she smoothed veils and nerves all over the state.

On my wedding day, she didn’t come armed with platitudes or advice on achieving a long and happy marriage like hers. She brought her innate story-telling talent. As she gave my cumbersome gown a final lick with the iron, I polished my toenails and heard again how Grandma had vowed not to love me.

“I can see her now,” Aunt Tee chuckled. “She was miffed to find out your mother was expecting. Thought your Daddy couldn’t afford another baby.”

“What changed her mind?” I asked, knowing full well.

“You! You were the cutest, sweetest, fattest little thing in the world. And it was sweltering hot the summer you were born. One afternoon, your Mama missed you from your bassinet. Grandma had you out on the porch in a foot tub, cooling you off with a sponge bath.”

“My only real memory of Grandma is her biscuits.”

“She’d be proud of that.” Aunt Tee scrutinized my veil for an errant wrinkle. “Only spanking she gave your Daddy was for feeding her biscuits to the dog.”

At the moment of greatest decision in my young life, I was uplifted by the certainty that family transcends change. Laughing over old stories, I glimpsed the future through the lens of the past.

“What kind of dress did you wear when you married?”

She slid my going-away skirt onto the ironing board. “It was this same pretty shade of blue. A suit I wore home on the train that morning from Atlanta. I’d gone to see about my sister who was sick and I was late getting back. The preacher gave up on me getting married that day, but I fooled him. I made it home right as he was leaving.”

As she deftly rehung my skirt and turned her attention to the jacket, I took a barefoot stroll through the building, letting my nail polish dry. My aunt bestowed upon me that which she hadn’t had. It had nothing to do with the cavernous church or the beaded dress. Her gift was time. Unhurried and unharried, I wandered the corridors to the sanctuary. Roses and magnolias were banked exactly as I had envisioned around the altar where I’d been christened. With their beauty, I inhaled the wonder and promise of life. My life. Cloistered in peace and quiet, I reflected on those who loved me and their good wishes for my future. Like the biblical Mary, I treasured up all these things and pondered them in my heart.

The first strains of the “Wedding March” found Aunt Tee tucking an embroidered hanky under my bouquet and ripping a price tag off the elbow of Daddy’s new suit. During the ceremony she was gathering all my paraphernalia; during the reception she was organizing my traveling clothes; during the chaotic rice pelting scene, she was taking charge of my bridal gown and veil. Her dear face doesn’t appear in one wedding picture.

No, you don’t see her in the wedding album. But I do.