Now let me say at the outset, I am woefully unqualified to write about Southern weddings. True, I have been to a few, been in a few, seen ‘em done fancy and done plain, seen ‘em outdoors, seen ‘em
in church, seen ‘em at home. I have been a groom, a best man, an usher, and the father of the bride. But I have never been a bride. So how can I be expected to know much? For down here in Dixie, weddings are a woman thing. Growing up, my family consisted of Mama, Daddy, little brother and me. Mama was the only woman
around the house, so I was spared that wedding stuff – at least most of it. Mama went to “showers,” but never took any soap. As for the actual ceremony, not being cute enough to be a ring bearer, I was left at home with Daddy, who
happily agreed to look after me. But as time passed, I could not avoid the wedding frenzy that seemed to kick into high gear as June
approached. By the time I graduated from high school I had been around weddings enough to be able to break them down into three categories:
There are the small, private affairs that take place in the probate judge’s office, often just ahead of the obstetrician. In my hometown courthouse the judge’s office was right across from Daddy’s, and frequently my father was called over to witness the proceedings and sign the certificate. Once I was there, and since Daddy was busy, I was enlisted to witness a hastily arranged nuptial. The young lady was, well, young. The young man was equally young and visibly nervous. The father of the bride, whose presence confirmed that he had given his permission, if not his blessing, looked on sternly. The ceremony was conducted quickly, but when it came time to sign the form, the groom was so shaken that he had trouble holding the pen. So the judge asked the now father-in-law to sign for him. The man took the pen, paused for a moment, looked at his now son-in- law and asked, “Boy, just what is your name?”
Then there are the “after-preaching” weddings. The happy couple would arrange with the minister to simply appear at the back of the church just as the last hymn was being sung. As those notes faded the organist would strike up the “Wedding March” and the two would simply walk down the aisle and tie the knot. No need to
send out invitations or worry if anyone would show up – the audience was there and captive. The preacher and organist were in place. And there were flowers on the altar.
Finally there are the big, big and bigger weddings that are planned and carried out with an awe inspiring attention to detail. Questions I never thought to ask were asked and debated and resolved – should the bridesmaids dresses be the same length from the floor or the same length on the bridesmaid? Hair up or down? And just how pretty should the bridesmaids dresses be – pretty enough, but not so pretty as to detract attention from the bride.
I remember watching one of these weddings unfold and observing, to no one in particular, that “D-Day was not planned so well” – to which a friend of the bride retorted “D-Day was not this important.”
It is the bride and the wedding that matter. Who do families and friends stand up for when she walks down the aisle? To whom does every eye turn, while the other participant sneaks in from a side door? He is not even the “best” man.
Until they are pronounced husband and wife, the groom is little more than an incidental necessity. Only then does his role become clear. As one newly-minted mother-in-law told her newly-minted son-in-law, “Now get me some grandchildren.”
And like any well-raised Southern boy, he did what he was told.
Harvey H. Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at JSU. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.