I married him.
In this church with the white country clapboard. Far out on a two-lane memory this summer, I drove to find the steps, the steeple, the door....and wondered if I should open it. Could I open it? I knew the answer before I committed yet another trespass sin. I had to open it.
So I hid behind some leaves as is my usual custom and photographed my memories and my past, retracing my steps up the concrete walk to Mendelssohn's march in my head, touching the doorknob once more.
My dad stood on these steps - right there - I can see him now in a too tight starched white collar with a help-me-I'm-choking expression, ready to walk me down the aisle and get out of that itchy shirt. A few prayers, the 23rd Psalm and a Beethoven interlude later, I was on my way in a 1967 yellow convertible Mustang full of sardines on the motor and tin cans on the two-lane. My veil nearly fell off in the wind as I waved goodbye to life as I knew it as a child to life I would come to know as a child bride.
It was so so long ago.
Time moves quickly when you cross from girl to woman in a fast Mustang. It was time to make beds and do dishes and plant Christmas trees. We were soon in the land of traditions. On our one-year anniversary he covered my eyes with his hands and led me inside like some Pin The Tail On The Donkey game until I could smell the aroma of newly stained wood in the kitchen. I squealed with delight when I saw my surprise.
We were in an antique store which really looked much more like a glorified flea market, owned by two sisters in their eighties with more paraphernalia to sell than you can ever imagine. And there they were. All set out in a dark wood cabinet against a dusty old wall in a hole in the wall place overflowing with spiders and elegant junk. An antique mahogany cabinet adorned with Taylor Smith Taylor USA china in a rose pattern. I couldn't stop staring at them. Oh, we were not shopping for dishes that day. We were just exploring on a Saturday morning after breakfast.
But he saw that look in my eyes, watched as I opened the cabinet and examined the dishes, the markings, the age, the crackling I so love on old crockery...and the color... the deep blue simple brilliance on white etched china as only a southern kitchen could tell.
I remember shutting the doors and walking away. He was ready to leave. But he saw me wistfully start to turn the dusty corner and say goodbye in my mind to those dishes, knowing full well that come my payday I would be back to purchase them. Forty-five pieces for $65.00 was a bargain. But back in the day, sixty-five dollars worth of matching china was not in our budget.
Oh, I knew he couldn't afford them that day. I knew. And for a smidge of a second I felt guilty. Until I saw the smile on his face as he watched me watch her wrap them in newspaper to take home with us. And the blush in his cheeks when I kissed him in front of the lady with the now empty cupboard.
I don't care if it's cracked as long as it's beautiful.
One often says in the heat of an unhinged marriage, "I'd never go back. I would not do that again. What a mistake." And I have said it too. But I have come to understand that even mistakes and immature decisions hold pearls in my memory that will not let me go - nor do I want them to. Neither will I ever forget his kindness to me or his selfless love that day.
So even though Papa shook his head with worry and my dad fought with collars and grumpiness on that faraway wedding day of white, our lives took joyful turns as well; scrapbook-worthy snapshots in unlikely places, a boy who played baseball, and at least one very fine day of blue. And as much as I wanted to believe he did, Papa didn't agree with my decision to become a child bride... but he let me make my own painful turns just the same. I thank him for that.
I would have missed out on so much. I could have chosen a better match but I doubt there is a kinder man. Given some time, you can salvage a lot of wisdom on the coattails of that kind of mistake.
Sometimes when the sun sets in the cupboard on a long forgotten day and I open the cabinet to dust, I see a white starched shirt, daddy squirming in a pew, and dishes being wrapped in paper.
I didn't need to go back after all.
I've been opening the door to that church for many years. The walls aren't white as I remember - they're a lovely shade of Delphenian blue.
Photography Mimi Lenox