In my house we are still recovering from COVID-19, I am still getting over the tail end, but am feeling much better now. My wife has been great the whole way through this badness by taking care of us all. We are originally from Mississippi, but I live in Pennsylvania now.
Can you cheer me up today?
I have here a story from a man who I will call Pete. Pete wrote me a letter describing a unique wedding toast he received in 1982.
The story begins when Pete was making an all-night road trip from Fort Walton Beach, Florida, to Charleston, South Carolina. He was on his way to get married. His fiance’s family lived in Charleston.
They throw fancy weddings in Charleston. They don’t cut corners like we do here in the Florida Panhandle. At my cousin’s Florida wedding, for instance, the bride and groom wore matching camouflage and cut their wedding cake with a Buck knife.
But in Charleston they do things differently. I have visited Charleston, and frankly, I felt underdressed.
So Pete was on his way north. He would be arriving the day before his wedding. No sooner had he gotten out onto I-10 than he saw a man hitchhiking on the shoulder.
Pete faced an immediate crisis of conscience when he saw the hitchhiker. On the one hand, Pete was raised Methodist, and Methodists are required by federal law to pick up hitchhikers. On the other hand, Pete was in a hurry.
He pulled over. It was an old man with weathered skin and rags for clothes. Pete asked where he was going.
The old man said, “Don’t care. Where’re you headed?”
The old man reached into his pocket and gave Pete all the cash he had, which wasn’t much. The guy said, “South Carolina’s good with me.”
Now, if the story stopped here, it would be a nice story about being kind to strangers, and about how Methodists kick proverbial denominational butt, etc. But remember, this story is about a wedding toast.
When Pete got to Tallahassee, he stopped at a gas station. He was filling his tank when he met a man wearing army fatigues and carrying a duffle bag. The man was unshaven and longhaired. He said he was on his way north and needed a ride.
Pete told the man to get in.
Soon, Pete and his two new friends were cutting through the Georgia night, passing peanut fields in the dark. They hadn’t traveled more than 25 miles when they saw another young man on the side of the road, sticking out his thumb. This was getting weird.
Pete was starting to wish he’d been born a Presbyterian.
The hitchhiker was young. A teenager. Pete asked the kid where he was going. The kid said he was on his way to visit family in Virginia. And anyone who is familiar with Methodism knows what happened next. Pete told him to buckle up.
Pete tells me, “I just couldn’t see how it was fair to pull over for one, but not the other guy.”
Thus, they rode across the Great American South, jetting across the low country at night. Four complete strangers. Pete says it felt like he was in a bizarre movie. A movie he sincerely hoped didn’t turn out to be a suspense thriller.
It was fun, Pete admits. The four men had a wonderful conversation on the way to Charleston. Pete says he completely lost track of time talking about music, books, movies, and all the other things people used to talk about before they got smartphones.
Then, even though these men were complete strangers—and this is where the story gets interesting—Pete got a little carried away and invited them to his wedding without first asking his wife.
When he got to Charleston, he rented the men a motel room for the night, which was no small fee. And the next day, he broke the news to his fiance about his impromptu wedding guests. As it turned out, his finance was very excited when she heard the news. And by “excited” I of course mean that her head rotated 360 degrees like the girl from the “Exorcist.”
“YOU DID WHAT?!” his future bride was saying between kidney shots.
That afternoon, Pete and his fiance arranged for the men to attend the wedding and reception. Before the ceremony, Pete took one of the men to a barbershop, and he also outfitted the men with sports jackets.
I’m running out of room here, but to make a long story even more tedious, the wedding was a smash. Pete and his wife exchanged vows while three guys in a back pew sat shoulder-to-shoulder like Larry, Moe, and Curly. And at the reception, Pete recalls that, without a doubt, these three men enjoyed the open bar more than anyone else.
The best moment of the night came just before dinner, when the city’s elite were raising glasses to toast the happy couple. One of the hitchhikers stood. He raised a champagne flute. Pete almost had a nervous breakdown waiting for the man to speak.
The old man used a loud and sincere voice. He didn’t say much, he didn’t draw much attention to himself. He simply held his goblet high and said, “Thanks for the lift, Pete.”
Pete says that there was a deep emotion in the air. He also says that nobody in the ballroom had a clue what the old man was talking about.
Except for maybe the Methodists.
Get well soon, Bulldog.