Going to the Chapel: When I was a teenager, I went to several
friends’ weddings. Folks back then got married at an early age. While
most students waited to get married following graduation, there were
students at my high school that marriedwhile still in school. They could
continue to attend but only after the girl signed an agreement stating
that she would not get pregnant.
My neighbor who was twelve-years-old did get married, signed the agreement, did not get pregnant, and graduated with honors. Two of my sister’s unmarried classmates did get pregnant, and they were forced to leave school. My sister married while in the tenth grade, and she quit school. Gossip spread that she married because she was pregnant. With an “I’ll show them” attitude my stubborn sister did not get pregnant for a couple of years following her wedding.
Sally Ann, one of my classmates, married a suave California boy. Not too long after the wedding, the groom was killed when his vehicle was hit by a train. Sally Ann returned to school, and she may have been the youngest widow to ever attend Marmaduke High. Shortly after graduation, she remarried a young man who was one in our class. Her second wedding was held a couple of miles up the highway from town in the very small Tokio Missionary Baptist Church. The building was located right by a Cotton Belt railroad crossing. People living in the area knew the train schedule. Weddings and funerals at churches near railroad tracks were timed so noise from a passing train did not interrupt the service.
While driving to the church to attend the wedding, I thought about a man who lived in Marmaduke, and well into adulthood had never in his life had ventured out of the county. One day one of his friends decided the man needed to cross the county line, and drove him a few miles north from Greene County into Clay County. On their way saw the Tokio Missionary Baptist Church. When the fellow saw the church he said, “Hell, the bombing didn’t hurt it much.” He thought it was the “Tokyo” that had been bombed in World War II.
There were just a few cars in the parking lot of the small church when I arrived for Sally Ann’s wedding. Because it was the second time around, the bride opted to not wear white. Instead, she wore a blue formal dress. It was the same one that she had worn to our junior-senior banquet. Several of the town’s elders considered dancing to be sinful, and because of their influence, our school did not allow dances to take place. We had a banquet in place of a prom. Still wanting to at least dress up for the occasion, girls attending the banquets wore formal attire. Sally Ann’s junior-senior banquet dress became her second-time-around wedding dress. It was a large and fluffy formal with a hoop skirt underneath. The netting on the dress reminded me of puffed crepe paper that adorned floats in a parade.
The wedding ceremony was different from any I had previously witnessed. The officiating preacher shouted a fire and brimstone sermon intermingled with traditional wedding vows. I was afraid he was going to pass out. He hyper-ventilated gasped and turned red while talking as fast as a southern preacher could possibly talk. He was loud enough that I don’t think fellow attendees heard me snort a time or two while I tried to stifle laughter. Following the high-pitched service, a reception line was formed, and guests congratulated the newlyweds. I tried to keep a straight face when I lied and told the bride that the ceremony was a good one. After everyone had offered their congrats to the couple, it was time for cake and punch. Instead of the traditional sweet gooey iced white cake, the bride and groom locked hands and sliced into a chocolate cake. Guests whispered quietly about the shocking departure from the white cake tradition. I thought it appropriate because it was the bride’s second time to be married. I did regret that the punch was alcohol-free. I needed a drink.
Following the events at the church, an additional wedding celebration took place several miles away in a bowling alley in Paragould, Arkansas. Only the couple’s closest friends attended, and I was among the lucky few. The bride still wearing her blue formal dress bowled several games. I didn’t pay much attention to the pins when she slung the ball down the alley. My eyes were fixated on her dress occasionally flying up and revealing be matching blue panties.
Sally Ann bowled a good game, and the couple remained married for many years.
Talk of the wedding lasted almost as long.