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Fifty Christmases Ago

As Christmas 1965 approached, our house, Stone Gables, was buzzing with excitement. Windows had to be washed, every piece of furniture polished, the Christmas tree dressed early instead of, as our tradition was, on Christmas Eve. This was to be a different Christmas. Charles and I were getting married on December 20.

Looking back, I’m amazed that my mother was so calm through the whole season. It was “a time set apart” for her, my younger sister Suzanne, and me. Suzanne was commuting to a nearby college, I was teaching a combined first and second grade class at a local school. Mamma was there every afternoon when we got home to help us meet the newest challenge, to smooth the wrinkles of any plans that went awry, and, if time from homework and grading papers, etc. allowed, to read together as in the “old days.” We laughed ourselves silly over some book about a Dr. Latimer.

Charles and I had become officially engaged on my birthday in September. Though I caught Mamma crying in the laundry room she insisted they were tears of joy. As plans for our wedding in December developed, she never tried to put it off until spring or until June. When we planned a Monday afternoon wedding she never tried to dissuade us, to warn us that we might have very few guests at such an odd time. She never once reminded me that my sister and I were the last of ten children, that Dad had died not too long since, that my next oldest brother was in the service stationed in Germany, and that Charles and I could just wait a little while. To tell you the truth, she had become particularly fond of my Charles. Who wouldn’t?

Charles came up often from Athens where he was in his second year of Veterinary school. He applied himself to working on the grounds around Stone Gables, and Mamma was quite charmed. With my brothers so scarce, Charlie in Germany, Stan running a country store from 6:00 a.m. till about 9:00 p.m., the nandinas were out of control, young oak sprouts in the lily beds, and the thorn hedges wild and ragged. She was, though, quite startled sometimes at the subjects of conversation Charles and I got into.

One day while taking a break from work Charles was describing to me the manner in which farmers kept their cows having calves on schedule. It had, in part, to do with artificial insemination. Mamma walked into the parlor, took a seat, always interested in whatever was being discussed. However, as she realized what Charles was talking about she turned quite red in the face, got up abruptly, and left the room.

Monday, December 20th, 1965, dawned crisp and lovely with blue sky framed by bare oak and fuzzy pine. I think Stan closed his store that day. Anyway, he came for breakfast. As we ate eggs, grits, bacon and toast (actually, I was too excited to eat!), the boys talked about the great adventure they’d had the night before climbing Blood Mountain as a bachelor party for Charles. I ignored the conversation pretty much, still feeling stung that John and Stan had taken the South Georgia boys on a mountain trip leaving very convincing suggestions with both Mamma and Stan’s wife Zelda, that they were likely going to leave them on some country road and let them find their way back home. I poured Charles’ Dad some more coffee and realized with relief that he, at least, thought the whole episode a great joke. I still wasn’t quite sure about Charles’ mother. I can just see her now that dark night peering out a window and saying, “Don’t you think they should be back by now?”

Mamma served a wonderful lunch and, contrary to superstitious tradition, Charles and I sat together on the piano bench eating fried chicken and pimiento cheese sandwiches. Ginger had arrived from Dug Gap to help Mamma in the kitchen. Suzanne and I had been busy, with my friend Betty’s help, doing hair, ironing our dresses, then dashing down to welcome the florist who’d come to set up poinsettias and candelabra in front of the arch. Three sisters had gotten married ahead of me but theirs were summer weddings in front of the great fireplace banked with greenery. Mamma said the preacher’s legs would get too hot if I had mine there!

Upstairs again, I heard Mrs. Cook arrive to arrange the reception table. Brother Dick, student campus minister in Athens, arrived with great laughter erupting over something, probably to do with his flight from Athens to Toccoa in his private plane. Rev. Holmes, my local pastor, arrived. They would both take part in the ceremony. Suzanne and I could hear their voices along with others as she and I were donning our finery. Her red dress was gorgeous and, thanks to Mamma, I was very happy about my wedding dress.

My dress, ordered from Montgomery Ward only three weeks before the wedding, had arrived just the week before and, miracle of miracles, fit perfectly. Her ordering my dress was another sign of Mamma’s patient calmness in the midst of flurry that fall. The dress I had planned all along to wear, a special satin one worn by my sister-in-law, had finally arrived at the end of November. But when I saw that it was obviously ivory, not white, I’d burst into tears. The little girls’ white dresses would not “do” with this one, no matter how beautiful it was. Mamma picked up the Montgomery Ward catalog and said with absolute conviction, “We’ll order one. It will get here in time.”

“Nervous?” asked Suzanne arranging my train behind me.

“No. Not really. Just shaking a little bit.”

Betty came in with her radiant smile, ready to pin my veil in place. “The way you look now, maybe I’ll reconsider and plan to get married,” she said cheerfully. “Last night I wasn’t sure.”

We stood ready on the balcony out of sight of the guests: flower girls Carol and Jill, Suzanne, Stan (who would give me away), and I. Ron Collins, a dear friend from the University, began to sing. Stan gave me a careful, sideways hug. “We just wanted to give Charles a good welcoming into the family,” he said. “No hard feelings?”

“Of course not! But if you had left him up there….”

Stan grinned. “I know, it wouldn’t have been safe for me to come in the door.”

There was a pause after Ron’s solo as he sat down. In that quietness Suzanne whispered frantically, “I can’t find the ring!” As she felt about in her bouquet, the ring hit the floor and rolled, rolled, rolled toward the edge of the balcony and the open arches. Carol and Jill giggled and both grabbed for it. Carol had barely gotten it back in Suzanne’s hand when Zelda started playing the wedding march.

It was time. Stan and I passed the big piece of coral Dad had brought from Florida, passed the oak seat where I’d read into the sunset so many times, passed the bookcase full of “Heidi,” “Little Women,” “Girl of Limberlost,” along the straight stretch under Dad’s painting of “A Walk in the Snow,” around the turn and down the last flight past the arched stained glass window Dad had created. And now I could see Charles waiting for me, handsome and smiling. Everything else receded into the background.

We enjoyed saying our vows. It was as if no one else were there except us, and yet it was as if the whole world were celebrating with us. As we lit one candle from two we quoted together from the book of Ruth (with shaking hands!): “…Whither thou goest I will go, and where thou lodgest I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God…”

During every Christmas season we’ve celebrated our anniversary, sometimes at a Sunday school party, sometimes at a family party, sometimes with delightful little shopping trips, very special evenings out, always with beautiful Christmas decorations. This year, celebrating our Fiftieth, will, again, like fifty Christmases ago, be different. We are very blessed to have reached this milestone and we don’t take it for granted. Fifty Christmases ago we were blessed to pledge to each other. Now we’re blessed far more. As Charles likes to say, “I love you more than yesterday, less today than tomorrow.”

Why is this anniversary different? Because this time we’re going to have a party and celebrate with our friends. And what can be better than that?

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