On a gorgeous Saturday morning, nine years ago today, at this very moment I was enjoying my last few hours as a single gal.
The night before, we held a traditional rehearsal followed by dinner with our family and wedding party which was held at a little BBQ restaurant, (Bert's pick) where we pigged out (pun intended) and enjoyed visiting with everyone. Towards the end of dinner, Bert leaned over and whispered that he wanted to drive me home. My parents' house was a solid 20 minutes away from his hotel, so I wasn't sure why he wanted to go out of his way. To this very day, I'm so glad he did.
Our last ride in his old black truck as an engaged couple is one etched permanently in my memory. Holding hands, I chattered away, filled with excitement and anticipation for the following day. As we made the turn onto my parents' country road, Bert pulled over and turned the truck off. He had been very quiet for much of that drive, so I was a little nervous as to why he was stopping. He stared at me for a moment, like it was the first time we'd met, then leaned in slowly and kissed me. He said, "I just wanted to slow down for a minute to make sure we remember all of this. And I want you know, I'm really glad that I'm marrying you tomorrow." With tears in my eyes, I decided then was as good a time as any to give him my wedding present... A navy blue Bible with both our names engraved on it.
"Wow, this is awesome." Bert said, nervously. I knew that meant he didn't have a gift for me. I laughed and said not to worry about it. Bert said, "Seriously, I had no idea that people gave gifts other than the wedding bands and the engagement ring and.... I mean, no one even told me.... Ummm..." I laughed and explained that I knew he probably wouldn't know, and I honestly didn't care. I never have cared much about material things. Those who have been to my house can testify to that. It's just stuff. You can't take it with you. Which is why I wanted to give Bert a Bible, to build our marriage on. We talked a few more minutes about the days to come, our future together, our honeymoon, how we hoped the weather would be as pretty as they were predicting since it was an outdoor occasion, and then I said, "I'm so excited I don't think I'll be able to sleep tonight. At all." Bert laughed and said, "Try and enjoy it. Even if you can't sleep. There aren't very many times in life when you'll be this excited and happy, so soak it all in."
When we got back to my parents house, my brother, Matt, and his precious wife, Angie, were in the kitchen. We sat down at the table with them and started talking. Matt & Angie have always been some of my favorite people in the world to talk to, and since they started dating when I was not much older than Her Highness is now, Angie was like the big sister I never had. We talked, and talked, and talked. Next thing I knew, it was 1 a.m. and Bert's groomsmen were calling to say they were tired of waiting on him. We kissed goodnight and said our goodbyes. I got a knot in my stomach as I watched Bert pull down the driveway, thinking, "The next time I see him, I'll be walking down the aisle."
I stayed up nearly all night, talking with Angie some more, then watching some old movies. My mind was racing, my heart was pounding, and I was giddy. Finally, I rolled over on the couch, where I had fallen asleep, and saw the sun coming up. My Daddy was making pancakes in the kitchen, and my sisters were still asleep. I snuck up the stairs to obnoxiously wake them from their beauty slumber. Kate immediately pulled the covers over her head, to block my singing out. I asked Kelly if she had any Preparation H to help with the puffiness under my eyes. Kelly laughed and said she'd never heard of that trick and didn't know if it worked or not. I crawled in the bed with her for a few minutes, giggling as we always did on Christmas mornings when we were young.
After breakfast, Daddy and I went for our traditional Saturday morning walk, the last time with me as his single daughter. Daddy spoke many words of wisdom, told me how proud he was of me, that he loved me dearly, and that he thought I had made a great choice and found a perfect mate in Bert. Then, he said, "All of that being said...It's not too late to back out. If you want to call it off, we won't be mad at you. Now's your chance. After the wedding, it's too late. You're married to him forever. There's no backing out. Are you sure this is what you want?" He said it with a smile, but I knew he was serious. And well-meaning. I assured him that I was making the best decision of my life... and it was.
The rest of the morning is a blur... I remember getting ready in my old bedroom, with my Momma patiently trying to fix the problem I was having with my vale. I remember Kate and Kelly coming down the stairs, dressed in their bridesmaid's dresses, and thinking about how beautiful they both looked. They were 18 at the time, but I had always seen them as my baby sisters, and now, suddenly, they looked grown. I remember cutting up with my brothers, hugging my dear sweet Granny, and taking a bajillion pictures. I remember sneaking a peak of Bert, through a window in the Bridal suite, and watching for a moment as he and the groomsmen took their turn with the "paparazzi." Then I got busted for peaking when some of my favorite cousins showed up to pass out hugs and kisses.
The weather couldn't have been more perfect. November in the south is unpredictable, but on November 17, 2001 it was warm, breezy and filled with sunshine. The ceremony took place outside in a tiny courtyard. It was a small gathering of our dear family and friends. Looking out the window, just moments before I walked down the aisle, I thanked God for such a perfect day.
Our grandmothers were seated, followed by our mothers. Trumpet Voluntary started to play, and as Bert's sister, Hilaree, followed by my two sisters, headed out the door and down the aisle, my nerves suddenly subsided. A calm came over me, and I was suddenly filled with total joy and peace. Until my Daddy forgot his escort... ME... then I was nervous again. But only for that second. As soon as he turned around to get me, a calmness filled my soul once more.
As we headed down the aisle towards my future husband, my eyes locked with his. We never looked away from each other. We laughed for a moment, as Bert quickly wiped his eyes, since typically it's me crying, not him. My Daddy proudly gave me away, and shook Bert's hand, followed by a hug, because Maynard's are huggers.
The ceremony was beautiful. My pastor from the time I was a new born, married us. He read a few scriptures and led us in our vows to one another. And in the blink of an eye, he told Bert, "You may now kiss your bride." Bert delicately took my face in his hands, and kissed me.
We turned to the crowd and headed back up the aisle, where we hugged and kissed once more.
Many more pictures were taken, the cake was cut, we visited with our wonderful guests, and most of the attendees watched the Auburn/Alabama game that kicked off at 2:30. Yes, there was a HUGE wall, with a projector displaying the game, life size. And no, I didn't care one bit. I honestly can't tell you who won that year. After the game was over, my Daddy toasted us and our new marriage, and then it was time to say goodbye.
There was a HUGE lump in my throat as I changed out of my wedding dress. I was excited to be heading to the mountains, for our honeymoon retreat, but a part of me didn't want to say goodbye just yet to my family. Fighting back tears, I hugged my Momma so tightly she couldn't breathe for a moment, then my Daddy and sisters. We ran through the door where our guests were blowing bubbles (only because our florist forgot the rose petals that were supposed to be thrown) and climbed into the creatively decorated black truck. The back read, "Hudson Drilling Company." Lovely.
As we drove away, I watched as long as I could as everyone waved goodbye. My Momma followed the truck just a moment, waving the hardest and holding her hand in the sign for "I love you." like we always do. I think that's when it finally hit me... I was married. MARRIED. What had I done??
Nine years later, there are still moments where it hits me... I'm MARRIED?? These are MY kids?? What have I done?? And usually, I answer myself, "The best thing you could have possibly ever done."
Thank-you, Bert. I love you.