My son, Will Graham, sent me this picture from his travels over central Alabama. He’s a sales representative for Covetris, a large veterinary drug company. He calls or sends pictures often while on the road from Birmingham to Montgomery, from Tuscaloosa to Anniston and points between. When I saw this picture of a yucca plant I was immediately reminded of my sister’s wedding in 1952, particularly the cake Mamma baked.
Pat was the oldest girl of ten children and hers was the first wedding to be held in our house, Stone Gables. She was teaching school in Virginia that year having recently graduated from UVA where she’d met David Peck. During her spring break they came to Georgia to finalize plans for their June 12 wedding.
We were mighty intrigued with David Peck. Mamma was won over for two reasons: he obviously cared deeply for her precious daughter, and he was a master at reciting poetry. We all laughed and cringed at his dramatic presentation of “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” Daddy discovered he was a very good conversationalist and was openly impressed that, with a doctorate in chemistry, David would always make a good living. We all were taken with David’s sudden peals of contagious laughter.
Pat wanted my little sister, Suzanne, and me to be flower girls. I was nine and she was six. We were eager to do anything for Pat so, though we weren’t sure what being a flower girl meant, we readily agreed. Suzanne thought she was to move to West Virginia and pick flowers for Pat so was very happy to learn she didn’t have to leave home. Ginger would be the maid of honor and, with Mamma’s help, make all our dresses. Our uncle, Burns Gibbs, aka as Uncle Pete, would officiate along with David’s father, a Methodist minister. Jackie would be in charge of decorations. And Mamma was to bake the wedding cake.
That whole spring was packed with preparations for the wedding. Daddy hired a family friend to finish plumbing our big old house. Mamma set us to work washing the dozens of windows. Suzanne and I greatly enjoyed skating with old towels on the newly waxed slate floor in the Hall where the wedding and reception would take place. The boys worked diligently trimming shrubbery, pulling weeds, and mowing.
Everyone was busy, but as the big day came closer and closer Mamma’s focus was on that wedding cake.
The hens had slowed down on their laying so the week before the wedding Mamma declared we’d have no more scrambled eggs. She’d need plenty for the cake. She started three days before the day baking layers, and it was good she started early. Because the first layers were very obviously lopsided. Daddy laughed and said she could pile extra icing on the dipped sides but Mamma didn’t think that was funny. Daddy patiently (which was hard for him!) began sliding thin chips of wood under legs of the wood burning stove to level it. It took two more bakings of layers to produce the perfect ones Mamma wanted. We kids were not sympathetic with Mamma because we thoroughly enjoyed eating all those lopsided layers!
At last the day before the wedding Mamma and Jackie hauled the fully iced cake to the buffet. Mamma told us not even to breathe until the cake was in place. Daddy admired it and said she’d be in practice for the next four daughters’ weddings but she shook her head and said, “This is my first and last wedding cake.”
When Pat saw the cake she was overwhelmed at its beauty, stood back admiring it, gave Mamma a big hug. “But,” she said cautiously, “it needs a decoration on top. It’s sort of–plain, don’t you think? I wish we had a little bride and groom to put on top.” Of course we didn’t have a bride and groom. Nobody had thought of that.
The morning of June 12, the big day, David overheard whispered conversations about the bride and groom figures. He quietly left and came back hours later with a little package. Pat opened it and squealed with pleasure. She herself set the bride and groom on top of the cake. Then Jackie said wait a minute, that she had one more idea. She came back in the house with her hands full of ferns and yucca blossoms. She carefully wound ferns into an arch, then hung two yucca blooms right in the middle over the bride and groom, perfect wedding bells.
It was almost time to get dressed for the long-expected occasion. All this time I had been so enthralled with preparations I hadn’t absorbed the devastating reality: Pat, my adored oldest sister, would no longer be spending school holidays with us. She and David would live in West Virginia, far, far away. The big beautiful cake, all our pretty dresses, the floor so shiny we could see ourselves in it, the house full of house guests–it was all so exciting. But suddenly I needed my safe place. I dashed out the back door, hid behind a big hemlock tree, and burst into tears.
Only at a wedding would anyone drive so far behind the house they would see a little girl crying under a hemlock tree. But there was a crunch of tires and there was Uncle Pete in his fine gray suit walking towards me. He knelt down where he could look me in the eye and next thing I knew I was crying on his shoulder. “Look,” he said. “I cried when my sister, your mother, got married. It’s okay. You’re getting a new brother, you know.” Somehow the idea that this very sedate preacher uncle had cried when Mamma got married made me want to laugh. Uncle Pete loaned me his handkerchief and said we’d best be going inside.
The wedding was beautiful. Aunt Ruth directed us to descend the stairs at just the right time. Pat was gorgeous and radiant in her elegant white gown floating down the stairs on Daddy’s arm. I think David winked at me as we all stood in our places in front of the big north fireplace which was banked in greenery.
And that cake with yucca blossom bells over the little bride and groom was the most marvelous cake ever, bar none. But it really was the last wedding cake Mamma baked, though there have been many more weddings at Stone Gables.