Jeanette The Mother-in-law/Bride
Elvie The Father-in-law-to-be/Groom
Sharon The younger sister of the bride
Cathy Sharon’s Life Partner
Johnny The Brother-in-law
TJ The Cousin-in-law
Gatlinburg The location
Pigeon Forge The reception location
Nothing The part that went right
It started like any other day. Slept late and awoke to the sounds of pounding footsteps down the hotel hallway, followed by a knock on the door. Instantly, Ginger, my wife, and I were both awake. Most of the residents on this floor were for the wedding party, and in keeping with the summertime fun had water pistols to squirt each other as often as possible. All’s fair in love and war, but a hotel full of family and friends is no place to rest your guard, so I covered the door with a water gun while Ginger opened it carefully.
Our would-be assailant was unarmed, so the water pistol was put down and the day begun. Numerous last minute items had to be taken care of, but the bridal party, Jeanette and Elvie, were supposed to have taken our daughters, Liz and Emma, for a helicopter ride and a trip to see the stuffed dinosaurs respectively. It had been scheduled for five o’clock the day before the wedding. They two did not show up until 8:30pm that day. Knowing my mother-in-law’s knack of never arriving on time, I wondered why she was early. I once waited twelve hours for her, and then got into trouble for not waiting to eat either the dinner or cake I had baked for her arrival. The helicopter/dinosaur trip was postponed, I thought permanently but was pleasantly shocked when it was selflessly re-scheduled for noon on the wedding day—a mere two hours after wake-up. It was one of the last pleasant surprises for some time.
The last minute stresses had been getting to both participants. The groom’s children did not bother to attend. At his last wedding (this was his third) they had been rumored to have walked out after the ‘I do’s. Apparently Gatlinburg was too far for a similar protest, so to their loss and the groom’s disappointment, no children. In addition to this shocker, this left the best man position vacant. Liz, Ginger, Jeanette and I headed for the helicopter ride, while Emma and Elvie went for the dinosaurs and the plan was revealed to us that Johnny, my brother-in-law, would be asked to be the second-string best man. This left the position of giving away the bride, his previous task, vacant, but no one thought of that for several more hours.
Jeanette napped while we drove through bumper to bumper traffic to the heliport. Meanwhile back at the motel, Johnny and cousin TJ, who had hoped for a nap after driving all night and an all you can eat breakfast buffet, were recruited to help Cathy, the lesbian partner of Jeanette’s sister Sharon, decorate and set up the reception hall.
Liz sat in the front of the helicopter, and never blinked an eye. Little did we realize that we would be in a similar position in a few short hours. As we returned from the excursions, the bride and groom left for the honeymoon chalet to prepare for the nuptials. We did the same with several enjoyable water pistol interruptions with the rest of the family and friends. Ginger, the girls and I left for the chapel and the 6pm wedding, with TJ and Johnny right behind us. Or so we thought.
Sharon had back spasms. This normally happens to her when she travels long distances. She proceeded to take what was later reported as no less then seven muscle relaxing or pain pills. This in itself was probably not bad. The bad part was that she did not imagine this would knock her out for the count. One thing Sharon has always done is to keep Cathy’s imbibing in check. With Sharon out, no one monitored the large quantities she consumed. Sharon had also been responsible for the flower baskets with petals, picking up the cake and some other last minute details. After we left the hotel, this bit of detail was thrust unbeknownst to any of us onto TJ and Johnny. Sharon later revealed to us that all she remembered was the fire alarm going off, and seeing Cathy having Logan cornered and looking as if she were trying to make him confess. Logan is the eleven-year-old second cousin once removed (his mother’s father is the fifth husband of Ellen, the younger of Jeanette’s older twin sisters). Logan has a great heart but no real guidance at home, and had been mischievously getting into trouble ever since he arrived. More then one person had the urge to discipline him.
Logan did pull the alarm. Cathy did corner him, to tell him to make himself scarce when the police and firefighters arrived. He did the opposite, however, back to the disasters at hand.
The invitations had listed 6 pm as the time. Have I mentioned Jeanette’s propensity not to be on time? I thought it quite humorous when I found out that she had indicated the time a half hour early to insure everyone arrived on time. The chapel had a tight schedule, and could not wait if someone as unimportant as the father of the bride or the best man was late. As we arrived at the chapel, we witnessed one wedding party leaving while another went inside. This place was serious.
The wedding couple arrived and mentioned again about the lack of a best man. Flowers were distributed to the sisters of the groom and bride, and finally someone mentioned that there was no one to give away the bride. I was called in as the second-string “father” of the bride. This is excellent practice for a man with two beautiful daughters right? As the hour approached, there was still no sign of Johnny, TJ, Sharon, Cathy, or the flower baskets much less the flower petals for the flower girls to throw. While I briefed a longtime friend of Jeanette’s on how to operate my video camera while I gave the bride away, one of Elvie’s sisters gathered up several roses and tore them apart to put in the girl’s hats. By the time the camera lesson was done, I had emerged as the front-runner for third string off the bench best man.
As crunch-time approached, there was still no sign of Johnny. At the last minute, someone was called up from Triple A to be the best man relieving me of having to move from Jeanette’s side to Elvie’s side. The new best man was the significant other of the waitress that originally introduced Elvie and Jeanette exactly one year before. The sigh of relief uttered at that instance was one of the last uttered for a while.
I am unsure of how many saw my wedding, and of that small number how many noticed other then the preacher and perhaps Karl, my best man, that I cried at my own wedding. From November 30, 1984 to April 15, 1998, I could not listen to an organ without having tears come to my eyes. Did not matter if it was ‘How Great Thou Art’, the wedding march, or the numerous organ riffs at a baseball game, tears welled. Needless to say, this bothered me since this would be the second wedding I was a part of. Ever the Eagle Scout with Bronze Palm I had a Kleenex in both pockets as well as one in my shirt pocket—right next to my brand new Scooby Doo tie. Wearing ties is all about being able to wear cartoon characters, and a wedding is no different.
The ceremony began beautifully. In fact, the whole ceremony was much more perfect then could be expected, especially in hindsight. As Emma and Liz reached the end of the nave dropping their flower petals, Liz turned her hat upside down, shook it, and put it on her head. I managed to not flub my speaking part or cry at all. The vows were said with a maximum of Liz twitching and wanting to sit down, but not enough to distract from the event.
During the song at the unity candle lighting, the door opened to reveal the long absent Johnny, TJ and Cathy. While Cathy proceeded to walk down the nave and around the wedding party members to take pictures from all angles around the stage, Johnny whispered in my ear that I would not believe the things that had gone wrong. Truer words may have never been spoken.
Immediately following the ceremony, Johnny left to finish the reception set-up with the important instructions to “drive slowly”. But what we need to know what had transpired to cause them to be so late.
When Johnny received his abbreviated and incomplete instructions from the well-medicated Sharon on how to handle everything else he astutely realized that he and TJ were not helping Cathy, but that he had inherited a job he knew little about, and Cathy to deal with. He put Cathy in the back of her van, which suited her, as that is where the cooler of beer was, and headed for the cake pickup. The first sign of trouble was the argument over the time for the ceremony. The invitations had been sent from Birmingham, and the time said 6 pm. If that were Central time, the wedding would be at 7 pm. For this reason Cathy vehemently argued that Sharon told her the wedding was not really at 6, but 7.
Somewhere in the bumper-to-bumper traffic, Cathy began speaking of why men pull over on trips. Any man can tell you it is not that “The World is Not Enough” as James Bond says, but that all the world is a giant toilet for men. Cathy’s soliloquy went on to include the rhetorical question, “Do you know why women don’t pull over?” The unasked for answer to the unwanted question was, “I have a bucket, they don’t. Turn up the radio and don’t look back here.” Yes, sounds of tinkling soon broke the sounds of silence. Neither Johnny nor TJ had any desire to look back, even though another cousin had once adamantly told of a time that Cathy had urinated standing up. For those who do not know, she is usually referred to as Uncle Cathy. It is quite odd the first time you realize that you are hanging out with males and Cathy. And it usually hits you the first time she says something about “the girls”.
The details go fuzzy inside the store, but as Johnny is picking up the cake, a drunk begins badgering the baker. Johnny slips off to the cash register, but a short bit later is re-joined by a social finger-flipping woman who is suddenly in a hurry. Yes, they were both Cathy. They rush out to re-join the bumper-to-bumper traffic already in progress. Cathy is now riding in the back with both her cooler and the cake. After hitting a bump in the road, Johnny looked back to see Cathy who had fallen off the seat and was now on the top portion of the cake. As she sees him look, she remarks, “I think I may have hit the cake.”
At the reception location, Cathy attempts to fix the cake. Johnny learns the horrible truth that the reception is going to take place in a smoke-free facility. My mother-in-law will not do anything in a smoke-free environment. She would not go to her own funeral if it was a smoke-free funeral home. She did not throw down her cigarette at the heliport until she had entered the jet-fuel powered helicopter cockpit. The smoking status of the reception room would lead to the first run in with Happy, the desk clerk. I do not know Happy’s real name, but if you met him, you would know immediately that this man was as queer as a three-dollar bill.
When Ginger and I arrived at the location, she began helping the final set-up (how many times does a reception need to be set-up? How much wood can a woodchuck chuck?). TJ, the soon to be high school senior, began the important task of spiking one of the punchbowls. I got the honors of fixing the cake. Several people commented on what a good job I was doing while I fixed it just as I had seen my mother do it for years. All I could remember was of the last wedding cake I had fixed. It would have been my groom’s cake, but Jeanette poured ketchup on it later. It was probably an accident, but to this day, I remind her of it. For the record I got another cake and was later told the non-condiment-covered parts of the cake were delicious.
As the time arrived for Jeanette and Elvie to cut the cake, they noticed that it was not quite right. They commented that they would not want to save the top. Cathy proceeded to explain that the top is saved for the first anniversary. This was my mother-in-law’s sixth wedding (third groom, but that is another story), this was Elvie’s third. Jeanette’s older twin sister had been married twice, the younger five times. Sharon had been married once to a man, had one prior partner, and then holy unioned to Cathy. If they were not yet aware of the top cake tradition, they never would be.
Things seemed to flow nicely for a bit. Johnny and I went out for car decorating devices. The last time I had done a job this good was for my cousins Carol and Ed’s wedding. That time it was difficult to get Uncle Laurence to reveal where Ed had hidden the truck, and he never let go of the keys, but Elvie was much more trusting. We decorated most of the car before I pulled it to the door for the final touches. There was shaving cream over the windshield washer ports, and two fine lines down each wiper. There was a heart shape left un-creamed so that Elvie could see to drive. The traditional “Just Married” and not so traditional “Legally Doing It” were in white shoe polish along with other sayings around the car. An important piece was finished by Johnny on the trunk which said, “We love the Police” for when (not if) they met the law.
After smearing banana baby food under the door handles and tossing the bottle in with the spare tire, I walked back inside. Johnny was scrounging for beer cans to duck tape to the bumper, wherever could we find some of them? It was one of the few times we could be thankful for Cathy’s habit. Happy asked me who was catering our event. I described Cathy, and he said, yes, “Is she family?” With a long pause I replied, “Yes, yes she is.”
Walking into the party, I saw Cathy talking with the newlyweds. I asked, “Does this have anything to do with why Happy was asking me who our caterer was?” It did, and Cathy proceeded to talk about how the desk clerk was dripping gayness. Jeanette asked, “Are we prejudiced?” To which Cathy replied, “Yes we are.” These are direct quotes because I am bowled over by a lesbian prejudiced against homosexuals.
The party continued nicely for a while. Cathy sang the male parts on the karaoke machine and began changing lyrics to be vulgar things as some drunken men would. At one point, I counted as many as five cigarettes being smoked simultaneously by members of the party. Finally the big moment arrived, time for the new couple to depart.
One of Elvie’s nieces and TJ jumped in the back of the car just before the newlyweds come out. Elvie helped Jeanette in and then walked around the front of the car, meaning he never saw the beer cans. While Jeanette turns and is scared by the two in the back, I told Elvie not to use the windshield wipers, or the washer. He said, “But I have to clean it off.” I said, “Yes, but not that way.” He got in and prepared to pull off. Then the hiding couple had a chance to scare him. Finally, they pull away as Johnny and I quiet the crowd to be able to hear our masterpiece, the duct taped cans, rattling down the highway toward Gatlinburg. After cleaning up we retired to our hotel rooms on the main strip of Gatlinburg about 2am to shoot people from the balcony with the water pistols while we finished off the vodka and shared stories with our new relatives.
The next day we joined Jeanette and Elvie to finally tell them of what had happened. Elvie described how he had to pull over thinking the car was messed up. Score one for the beer cans. Shortly after that, as he slowly made his way down the road he noticed a police car behind him. The policeman got right on his tail, and then hit the lights. The officer pulled in front of them, and led them to a car wash. Once in the wash, the machine proceeded to bog down and stop. This may have been due to the shaving cream, or the four rolls of toilet paper, but at least he had cleaned off the windshield.
Overall, it was a successful wedding, since the couple never knew of any problems, other then the fact that the cake had been messed up. The only real problem was that of TJ and Elvie’s niece in the back seat. Apparently, neither of them noticed the top of the wedding cake before they sat down.