By Tanya Ward Goodman | The Next Family
Under a grey sky, I drove from Louisville to Frankfort, Kentucky. Dry grass rolled out across the hills on both sides of my small, red rental car. I stopped at a white clapboard house and bought bourbon balls and fudge for my husband and children.
“That’s the real Kentucky,” the tiny, white-haired woman behind the counter told me. “That’s just what people get.”
The air inside was heavy with the scent of caramel. It was with great self-control that I put the candy, unopened, into my suitcase. I looked at the tiny blue numbers of my car clock and hit the road. I didn’t want to be late for the wedding.
A few months before, Mayra had called to share the news.
“My boy,” she said. “He’s engaged.”
I honestly couldn’t believe it. “But he’s a baby,” I said.
“I know,” she said. “But he’s in love.”
She asked if I would come to the wedding and before she’d finished asking, I’d said, “Yes.”
I love weddings. I love them because they not only celebrate the love of two happy people, but they also provide a wonderful way to gather all the disparate folks in your life in one place to share in joy. A wedding is a union of two people, but also a union of family and friends. When I am able, I always say “yes” to a wedding.
Frankfort is a small town and my hotel was only a few blocks from the First Baptist Church where the ceremony would take place, but I still managed to get lost. I was out of breath when I rushed into the church lobby. An usher asked me which side I was on and I told him the groom’s and then I saw Mayra. Her eyes were bright with emotion and we hugged for a long time. I pulled back to admire her red gown and her carefully curled hair. I was so glad to be there.
While she prepared to walk the aisle with her son, I was taken to the front pew and seated with her two daughters. We hugged and laughed and talked. We peered into the tiny screen of my phone at photos of my kids. They complimented my jacket, I expressed my amazement at their ability to walk in their extremely tall, sparkly shoes. They were as beautiful and kind and generous with their love as Mayra.
I left my camera in my pocketbook for most of the wedding, but I don’t need photos to remember what it felt like to watch my friend walk down the aisle on the arm of her son. I was nervous for her and happy for her. I felt her sorrow and joy all mixed together. I could almost see the love she felt for her boy and the hope she held for his happiness floating around them, bright as stars.
When Mayra took her place next to me, I held her hand and made sure she had a tissue. I watched the bride in her Cinderella dress float down the aisle on the arm of her daddy and watched while these two lovely, young (so young -- just 22 years old!) people promised to love and cherish each other.
I was the only guest to make the trip to Kentucky (I came from Los Angeles) and so I looked after Mayra’s coat and met the parents of the bride. I made small talk with the nice woman who organized weddings for the church. I made sure my friend had a glass of tea. I danced with Mayra’s husband and watched tearfully as she danced with her son the tall, handsome Marine.
“Your dress is perfect,” I told her. “It looks great with Brian’s uniform.
“That’s why I picked it,” she said. “I wanted us to match.”
After we ate tacos and drank more sweet tea, we tossed birdseed as the happy couple headed off to meet their new life. The music started to wind down and the bride’s family began to stack the chairs. I went into a photo booth with Mayra and her husband and we made silly faces as the camera flashed again and again.
We stood for a while in the parking lot of the church, shifting back and forth on our feet in the cold. They would drive their big truck back to Houston in the morning and I would take my little red car off to Lexington and then to the Louisville airport.
I thought about the odds of us meeting here. In her life Mayra had travelled from Guatemala to Los Angeles to Houston. Her son had traded Texas for Hawaii where he met and fell for a girl from Kentucky. I’d come to Los Angeles from San Francisco with friends I’d met in Chicago, though I’d grown up in New Mexico. I thought about all the paths my life had already taken and all those paths, as yet unknown, where my children might lead me. I felt lucky and loved and loving.
The girls skittered off to the truck on their high heels, legs long as fawns’, and Mayra and I shared one last hug. She thanked me for coming and I thanked her for having me, but I realized that sometimes there really aren’t enough words.
Tanya Ward Goodman is a writer living in Los Angeles. Her memoir "Leaving Tinkertown," which chronicles her experience with her father's descent into Alzheimer's will be published by the University of New Mexico in the fall of 2013. In addition she has published numerous essays and currently writes in the Urban Dweller section of The Next Family.
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