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The Wedding  婚礼-The Wedding

Like Anna, Jane and I didn’t have a long engagement.? After graduating from law school, I’d started as an associate at Ambry and Saxon, for Joshua Tundle had not yet been made partner. He was, like me, an associate, and our offices were across the hall from each other. Originally from Pollocksville—a small hamlet twelve miles south of New Bern—he’d attended East Carolina University, and during my first year at the firm, he often asked me how I was adapting to life in a small town. It wasn’t, I confessed, exactly what I’d imagined. Even in law school, I’d always assumed that I would work in a large city as my parents had, yet I ended up accepting a job in the town where Jane had been raised. I’d moved here for her, but I can’t say I’ve ever regretted my decision. New Bern may not have a university or research park, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in character. It’s located ninety miles southeast of Raleigh in flat, low country amid forests of loblolly pines and wide, slow-moving rivers. ?The brackish waters of the Neuse River wash the edges of the town and seem to change color almost hourly, from gunmetal gray at dawn, to blue on sunny afternoons, and then to brown as the sun begins to set. At night, it’s a swirl of liquid coal. My office is downtown near the historic district, and after lunch, I’ll sometimes stroll by the old homes. New Bern was founded in 1710 by Swiss and Palatine settlers, making it the second oldest town in North Carolina. When I first moved here, a great many of the historic homes were dilapidated and abandoned. This has changed in the last thirty years. One by one, new owners began to restore these residences to their former glory, and nowadays, a sidewalk tour leaves one with the feeling that renewal is possible in times and places we least expect. Those interested in architecture can find handblown glass in the windows, antique brass fixtures on the doors, and hand-carved wainscoting that complements the hard-pine floor inside. Graceful porches face the narrow streets, harkening back to a time when people sat outside in the early evenings to catch a stray breeze. The streets are shaded with oaks and dogwoods, and thousands of azaleas bloom every spring. It is, quite simply, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Jane was raised on the outskirts of town in a former plantation house built nearly two hundred years earlier. Noah had restored it in the years following World War II; he was meticulous in the work he did, and like many of the other historic homes in town, it retains a look of grandeur that has only grown with the passage of time. Sometimes I visit the old home. I’ll drop by after finishing at work or on my way to the store; other times I make a special trip. This is one of my secrets, for Jane doesn’t know I do this. While I’m certain she wouldn’t mind, there’s a hidden pleasure in keeping these visits to myself. Coming here makes me feel both mysterious and fraternal, for I know that everyone has secrets, including my wife. As I gaze out over the property, I frequently wonder what hers might be. Only one person knows about my visits. His name is Harvey Wellington, and he’s a black man about my age who lives in a small clapboard house on the adjacent property. One or more members of his family have lived in the home since before the turn of the century, and I know he’s a reverend at the local Baptist church. ?He’d always been close to everyone in Jane’s family, especially Jane, but since Allie and Noah moved to Creekside, most of our communication has taken the form of the Christmas cards we exchange annually. I’ve seen him standing on the sagging porch of his house when I visit, but because of the distance, it’s impossible to know what he’s thinking when he sees me.? I seldom go inside Noah’s house. It’s been boarded up since Noah and Allie moved to Creekside, and the furniture is covered, like sheeted ghosts on Halloween. ?Instead, I prefer to walk the grounds. I shuffle along the gravel drive; I walk the fence line, touching posts; I head around to the rear of the house, where the river passes by. The river is narrower at the house than it is downtown, and there are moments when the water is absolutely still, a mirror reflecting the sky. Sometimes I stand at the edge of the dock, watching the sky in the water’s reflection, and listen to the breeze as it gently moves the leaves overhead.? Occasionally I find myself standing beneath the trellis that Noah built after his marriage. Allie had always loved flowers, and Noah planted a rose garden in the shape of concentric hearts that was visible from the bedroom window and surrounded a formal, three-tiered fountain. He’d also installed a series of floodlights that made it possible to see the blooms even in the darkness, and the effect was dazzling. The hand-carved trellis led to the garden, and because Allie was an artist, both had appeared in a number of her paintings—paintings that for some reason always seemed to convey a hint of sadness despite their beauty. Now, the rose garden is untended and wild, the trellis is aged and cracking, but I’m still moved when I stand before them. As with his work on the house, Noah put great effort into making both the garden and the trellis unique; I often reach out to trace the carvings or simply stare at the roses, hoping perhaps to absorb the talents that have always eluded me.? I come here because this place is special to me. It was here, after all, that I first realized I was in love with Jane, and while I know my life was bettered because of it, I must admit that even now I’m mystified by how it happened.? I certainly had no intention of falling for Jane when I walked her to her car on that rainy day in 1971. I barely knew her, but as I stood beneath the umbrella and watched her drive away, I was suddenly certain that I wanted to see her again. Hours later, while studying that evening, her words continued to echo through my mind. It’s okay, Wilson, she had said. I happen to like shy.? Unable to concentrate, I set my book aside and rose from the desk. I had neither the time nor the desire for a relationship, I told myself, and after pacing around the room and reflecting on my hectic schedule—as well as my desire to be financially independent—I made the decision not to go back to the diner. This wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the right one, I thought, and resolved to think no more on the subject. The following week, I studied in the library, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t see Jane. Each and every night, I found myself reliving our brief encounter: her cascading hair, the lilt of her voice, her patient gaze as we stood in the rain. Yet the more I forced myself not to think of her, the more powerful the images became. I knew then that my resolve wouldn’t last a second week, and on Saturday morning, I found myself reaching for my keys.? I didn’t go to the diner to ask her out. Rather, I went to prove to myself that it had been nothing more than a momentary infatuation. She was just an ordinary girl, I told myself, and when I saw her, I would see that she was nothing special. I’d almost convinced myself of that by the time I parked the car.? As always, the diner was crowded, and I wove through a departing group of men as I made my way to my regular booth. The table had been recently wiped, and after taking a seat, I used a paper napkin to dry it before opening my textbook.? With my head bowed, I was turning to the appropriate chapter when I realized she was approaching. I pretended not to notice until she stopped at the table, but when I looked up, it wasn’t Jane. Instead, it was a woman in her forties. An order pad was in her apron, and a pen was tucked behind her ear.? “Would you like some coffee this morning?” she asked. She had a briskly efficient demeanor that suggested she’d probably worked here for years, and I wondered why I hadn’t noticed her before. “Yes, please.” “Back in a minute,” she chirped, dropping off a menu. As soon as she turned away, I glanced around the diner and spotted Jane carrying plates from the kitchen to a group of tables near the far end of the diner. I watched her for a moment, wondering if she’d noticed that I’d come in, but she was focused on her work and didn’t look my way. From a distance, there was nothing magical in the way she stood and moved, and I found myself breathing a sigh of relief, convinced that I’d shaken off the strange fascination that had plagued me so much of late. My coffee arrived and I placed my order. Absorbed in my textbook again, I had read through half a page when I heard her voice beside me.? “Hi, Wilson.” Jane smiled when I looked up. “I didn’t see you last weekend,” she went on easily. “I thought I must have scared you away.” I swallowed, unable to speak, thinking that she was even prettier than I remembered. I don’t know how long I stared without saying anything, but it was long enough for her face to take on a concerned expression.? “Wilson?” she asked. “Are you okay?” “Yes,” I said, but strangely, I couldn’t think of anything more to add.? After a moment she nodded, looking puzzled. “Well . . . good. I’m sorry I didn’t see you come in. I would have had you sit in my section. You’re just about the closest thing I have to a regular customer.” “Yes,” I said again. I knew even then that my response made no sense, but this was the only word I seemed able to formulate in her presence.? She waited for me to add something more. When I didn’t, I glimpsed a flash of disappointment in her expression. “I can see you’re busy,” she finally said, nodding to my book. “I just wanted to come over and say hello, and to thank you again for walking me to my car. Enjoy your breakfast.” She was about to turn before I was able to break the spell I seemed to be under. “Jane?” I blurted out. “Yes?” I cleared my throat. “Maybe I could walk you to your car again sometime. Even if it’s not raining.” She studied me for a moment before answering. “That would be nice, Wilson.” “Maybe later today?” She smiled. “Sure.” When she turned, I spoke again. “And Jane?” This time she glanced over her shoulder. “Yes?” Finally understanding the real reason I had come, I put both hands on my textbook, trying to draw strength from a world that I understood. “Would you like to have dinner with me this weekend?” She seemed amused that it had taken me so long to ask. “Yes, Wilson,” she said. “I’d like that very much.” It was hard to believe that here we were, more than three decades later, sitting with our daughter discussing her upcoming wedding.? Anna’s surprise request for a simple, quick wedding was met with utter silence. ?At first Jane seemed thunderstruck, but then, regaining her senses, she began to shake her head, whispering with mounting urgency, “No, no, no . . .” In retrospect, her reaction was hardly unexpected. I suppose that one of the moments a mother looks most forward to in life is when a daughter gets married. ?An entire industry has been built up around weddings, and it’s only natural that most mothers have expectations about the way it’s supposed to be. Anna’s ideas presented a sharp contrast to what Jane had always wanted for her daughters, and though it was Anna’s wedding, Jane could no more escape her beliefs than she could her own past. Jane didn’t have a problem with Anna and Keith marrying on our anniversary—she of all people knew the state of Noah’s health, and Anna and Keith were, in fact, moving in a couple of weeks—but she didn’t like the idea of them getting married by a justice of the peace. Nor was she pleased that there were only eight days to make the arrangements and that Anna intended to keep the celebration small.? I sat in silence as the negotiations began in earnest. Jane would say, “What about the Sloans? They would be heartbroken if you didn’t invite them. Or John Peterson? He taught you piano for years, and I know how much you liked him.” “But it’s no big deal,” Anna would repeat. “Keith and I already live together. Most people act like we’re already married anyway.” “But what about a photographer? Surely you want some pictures.” “I’m sure lots of people will bring cameras,” Anna would counter. “Or you could do it. You’ve taken thousands of pictures over the years.” At that, Jane would shake her head and launch into an impassioned speech about how it was going to be the most important day in her life, to which Anna would respond that it would still be a marriage even without all the trimmings. It wasn’t hostile, but it was clear they had reached an impasse.? I am in the habit of deferring to Jane in most matters of this sort, especially when they involve the girls, but I realized that I had something to add in this instance, and I sat up straighter on the couch. “Maybe there’s a compromise,” I interjected. Anna and Jane turned to look at me. “I know your heart is set on next weekend,” I said to Anna, “but would you mind if we invited a few extra people, in addition to the family? If we help with all the arrangements?” “I don’t know that we have enough time for something like that . . . ,” Anna began. “Would it be all right if we try?” The negotiations continued for an hour after that, but in the end, a few compromises resulted. Anna, it seemed, was surprisingly agreeable once I’d spoken up. She knew a pastor, she said, and she was sure he would agree to do the ceremony next weekend. Jane appeared happy and relieved as the initial plans began to take form. Meanwhile, I was thinking about not only my daughter’s wedding, but also our thirtieth anniversary. Now, our anniversary—which I’d hoped to make memorable—and a wedding were going to occur on the same day, and of the two, I knew which event suddenly loomed largest. The home that Jane and I share borders the Trent River, and it’s nearly half a mile wide behind our yard. At night, I sometimes sit on the deck and watch the gentle ripples as they catch the moonlight. Depending on the weather, there are moments when the water seems like a living thing. Unlike Noah’s home, ours doesn’t have a wraparound porch. It was constructed in an era when air-conditioning and the steady pull of television kept people indoors. When we first walked through the house, Jane had taken one look out the back windows and decided that if she couldn’t have a porch, she would at least have a deck. It was the first of many minor construction projects that eventually transformed the house into something we could comfortably call our home. After Anna left, Jane sat on the couch, staring toward the sliding glass doors. ?I wasn’t able to read her expression, but before I could ask what she was thinking, she suddenly rose and went outside. Recognizing that the evening had been a shock, I went to the kitchen and opened a bottle of wine. Jane had never been a big drinker, but she enjoyed a glass of wine from time to time, and I thought that tonight might be one of them. Glass in hand, I made my way to the deck. Outside, the night was buzzing with the sounds of frogs and crickets. The moon had not yet risen, and across the river I could see yellow lights glowing from country homes. A breeze had picked up, and I could hear the faint tings of the wind chime Leslie had bought us for Christmas last year. Other than that, there was silence. In the gentle light of the porch, Jane’s profile reminded me of a Greek statue, and once again, I was struck by how much she resembled the woman I first saw long ago. Eyeing her high cheekbones and full lips, I was thankful that our daughters look more like her than me, and now that one was getting married, I suppose I expected her expression to be almost radiant. As I drew near, however, I was startled to see that Jane was crying.? I hesitated at the edge of the deck, wondering whether I’d made a mistake in trying to join her. Before I could turn, however, Jane seemed to sense my presence and glanced over her shoulder. “Oh, hey,” she said, sniffing. “Are you okay?” I asked. “Yes.” She paused, then shook her head. “I mean, no. Actually, I’m not sure how I feel.” I moved to her side and set the glass of wine on the railing. In the darkness, the wine looked like oil. “Thank you,” she said. After taking a sip, she let out a long breath before gazing out over the water. “This is so like Anna,” she finally said. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but still . . .” She trailed off, setting the wine aside. “I thought you liked Keith,” I said. “I do.” She nodded. “But a week? I don’t know where she gets these ideas. If she was going to do something like this, I don’t understand why she didn’t just elope and get it over with.” “Would you rather she had done that?” “No. I would have been furious with her.” I smiled. Jane had always been honest. “It’s just that there’s so much to do,” she went on, “and I have no idea how we’re going to pull it all together. I’m not saying the wedding has to be at the ballroom of the Plaza, but still, you’d think she would want a photographer there. Or some of her friends.” “Didn’t she agree to all that?” Jane hesitated, choosing her words carefully. “I just don’t think she realizes how often she’ll think back to her wedding day. She acted like it’s no big deal.” “She’ll always remember it no matter how it turns out,” I countered gently. Jane closed her eyes for a long moment. “You don’t understand,” she said. Though she said no more on the subject, I knew exactly what she meant. Quite simply, Jane didn’t want Anna to make the same mistake that she had.? My wife has always regretted the way we got married. We had the kind of wedding I’d insisted on, and though I accept responsibility for this, my parents played a significant role in my decision. My parents, unlike the vast majority of the country, were atheists, and I was raised accordingly. Growing up, I remember being curious about church and the mysterious rituals I sometimes read about, but religion was something we never discussed. It never came up over dinner, and though there were times when I realized that I was different from other children in the neighborhood, it wasn’t something that I dwelled upon. I know differently now. I regard my Christian faith as the greatest gift I’ve ever been given, and I will dwell no more on this except to say that in retrospect, I think I always knew there was something missing in my life. The years I spent with Jane have proved that. Like her parents, Jane was devout in her beliefs, and it was she who started bringing me to church. She also purchased the Bible we read in the evenings, and it was she who answered the initial questions I had. This did not happen, however, until after we were married.? If there was a source of tension in the years we were dating, it was my lack of faith, and there were times I’m sure she questioned whether we were compatible. ?She has told me that if she hadn’t been sure that I would eventually accept Jesus Christ as my Savior, then she wouldn’t have married me. I knew that Anna’s comment had brought back a painful memory for her, for it was this same lack of faith that led us to be married on the courthouse steps. At the time, I felt strongly that marrying in the church would make me a hypocrite.? There was an additional reason we were married by a judge instead of a minister, one that had to do with pride. I didn’t want Jane’s parents to pay for a traditional church wedding, even though they could have afforded it. As a parent myself, I now view such a duty as the gift that it is, but at the time, I believed that I alone should be responsible for the cost. If I wasn’t able to pay for a proper reception, my reasoning went, then I wouldn’t have one.? At the time, I could not afford a gala affair. I was new at the firm and making a reasonable salary, but I was doing my best to save for a down payment on a home. Though we were able to purchase our first house nine months after we were married, I no longer think such a sacrifice worthwhile. Frugality, I’ve learned, has its own cost, one that sometimes lasts forever. Our ceremony was over in less than ten minutes; not a single prayer was uttered. ?I wore a dark gray suit; Jane was dressed in a yellow sundress with a gladiola pinned in her hair. Her parents watched from the steps below us and sent us off with a kiss and a handshake. We spent our honeymoon at a quaint inn in Beaufort, and though she adored the antique canopy bed where we first made love, we stayed for less than a weekend, since I had to be back in the office on Monday.? This is not the sort of wedding that Jane had dreamed about as a young girl. I know that now. What she wanted was what I suppose she was now urging on Anna. A beaming bride escorted down the aisle by her father, a wedding performed by a minister, with family and friends in attendance. A reception with food and cake and flowers on every table, where the bride and groom can receive congratulations from those dearest to them. Maybe even music, to which the bride could dance with her new husband, and with the father who had raised her, while others looked on with joy in their eyes. That’s what Jane would have wanted.

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