A few years ago, I went to a friend’s wedding. I arrived at the chapel early. I sat in the front pew while the piano played.
It was the best seat in the house. I wanted to see my buddy’s expression when he stumbled over the words “I do.”
The chapel was adorned with white flowers and greenery. The woman seated beside me was the elderly aunt of the bride.
“My name’s Irma,” she said, presenting her white-gloved hand. “How do you know the groom?”
“We grew up fishing together,” I said.
She looked at me like I had cockroaches crawling out of my eye sockets. “Really? I thought he hated fishing.”
That’s when I had a feeling something was wrong.
And I was correct. When the young groom took the altar, I realized I’d never seen him before in my life.
I started having chest pains. I was at the right church on the wrong weekend.
Soon, the pianist played the familiar chords of matrimony and the congregation stood. I was going to sneak out the back, but I was too late. The rear doors swung open.
The bride walked the aisle, wearing a gown that was elegant enough to break your heart.
Beside me, Aunt Irma was becoming emotional. “Doesn’t she look just radiant?”
“Does she ever,” I said. “I hardly even recognized her.”
We took our seats. The minister asked who gave the bride away. A white-haired man said, “Her mama and I!”
But when the old man sat alone in his pew, I began to wonder where the mama of the bride was. I almost asked Aunt Irma about it, but I didn’t want to pry.
Anyway, it was a beautiful ceremony. The bride and groom recited vows they’d written themselves.
The groom read a sonnet so eloquent it made most women in the audience disgusted with their own husbands.
When the girl read her vows, they were so sweet and heart-wrenching, half the congregation was dehydrated afterward.
Aunt Irma was sniffing so hard that I handed her a Kleenex. She hooked arms with me and said, “You know, you’re very cute.”
I started looking for fire exits.
When the preacher announced the young couple, the people applauded. The newlyweds left the chapel accompanied by the song, “Lean on Me.”
I’ve never heard this song at a wedding before or since, but it works.
The people in the pews actually started singing softly. Aunt Irma began humming. And even I started swaying a little.
I was so moved to hear a crowd gently murmuring these lyrics, that I started to get leaky eyes.
Aunt Irma seemed genuinely concerned about me.
“I’ll be fine,” I told her. “It’s just allergies.”
“There now,” she said, squeezing my hand. “What you need is a real woman to hold you tight.”
The reception was in the fellowship hall. I almost left without attending, but I suddenly felt very bad for intruding on a personal ceremony then bolting. It seemed rude, somehow.
So, I made a brief appearance. Aunt Irma got me a glass of tea that was sweet enough to melt paint off a fire hydrant.
I was just in time for the father-daughter dance. The white-haired man slow-danced with his best girl. And if there’s anything more beautiful than a father-daughter dance, I don’t care to know what it is.
When the dance floor opened, Aunt Irma asked if I wanted to cut a rug. I declined, and told her that I had a titanium hip I was still making payments on.
But she wouldn’t accept my answer.
So, old Irma and I danced the “Cha Cha Slide” together. And when the DJ played “I Can’t Help Falling in Love,” I had to warn Irma to watch where she placed her hands.
Before I left the reception, I clipped a twenty-dollar bill to the money tree beside the bridal cake. I was almost to the door when I was stopped by the bride and groom.
“You look familiar,” the bride said. “Who’d you come with?”
“He’s all mine,” said Aunt Irma, grabbing my arm. “I’m divorcing your uncle Edward, deal with it.”
Before the couple could say anything else, I hugged the bride, then shook the groom’s hand.
And in the young man’s eyes, I saw the same boyish face I used to see in the mirror. He looked like I did on the day of my wedding. Naive, hopeful, innocent.
It’s the beautiful ignorance of a young man who has no idea how magnificent his own life will turn out to be. I wish I could’ve explained it to him, but I couldn’t. As it happens, I’m still learning about it myself.
“If you ever wanna go fishing,” I said. “Call me.”
Then, for no reason at all, Aunt Irma slapped my behind.