5:30PM – Toby hustles the two of us down the stairs and into our designated spot for the grand entrance. I notice that the oppressive heat and choking humidity have subsided a bit. I hear music drifting through the tops of the grand oak trees, a piano and orchestra arranged by my son. I look at Kaitlin by my side, she is positively glowing. The last thing she says to me before we turn the corner and escape the seclusion of the lush green hedges is, “I love you daddy!”
5:32PM – As we make our way down the sweeping turns of the brick walkway, I look up and recognize the faces of some of my best friends on this planet. I see men and women who all had a hand in raising her, in shaping her character. Some of them have come from far away to be here. I remember warnings from many of my buddies that I would cry at this moment, but all I feel is deep gratitude. Just about the time we got to our stopping spot a soft, cooling breeze swept over the assembly. I managed to get through my four word speech, “Her mother and I,” without incident. I take my seat on the front row beside my wife.
5:37PM – The minister, Gordon Fort began the proceedings by reminding all that this date, July 12, 2014 would have been my parent’s 67th wedding anniversary, then proceeded to read from some of my Dad’s notes we had found just a couple of weeks ago when cleaning out his house after his death. They were in a small dog-eared three ring binder of wedding services he had done over the years. When I heard Gordon reading his words, I looked up at the top of the trees now swaying in the unexpected breeze. I wondered if he was watching, if he knew how much I miss him.
5:42PM – It was time to play my guitar. Kaitlin wanted Paula to sing and me to play the Steven Curtis Chapman song, I Will Be Here, so although it had been at least a year since I had played and longer than that since Paula had sung at a wedding, there we were beginning the song. That’s when the oddest thing happened. For the first time all day, I became overcome with emotion. I felt my palms sweating, my heart began beating loudly in my ears, my fingers began to tremble. Luckily, I never look at my hands while playing, so I buried my chin in my right shoulder and stared at the ground throughout the entire song. By the time it was over I had recovered my composure.
5:50PM – I hear Gordon introduce the happy couple as “Mr. and Mrs. Jon Manchester.” I look at Jon and he has a smile splashed across his face as big as Texas. Actually he’s had it all day. It’s as if he has a clothes hanger turned upside down stuck in his mouth. The poor guy is hopelessly in love and just can’t help himself. They disappear past me as they make their way up the walkway amidst raucous applause. It’s over. The deed has been done.
6:00PM thru 7:30PM – This is the part of weddings which I hate, everybody standing around eating cheese and crackers and fruit waiting for the photographers to do their work. Between the several summons I received to appear for pictures, I began bargaining with the Almighty over the promises I had made when praying for cool weather. While the weirdly timed cool breezes that blew during the actual ceremony were a nice touch, I’m not sure that it would qualify as “cool.” I mean, I made my request pretty clear and despite the aforementioned cool breezes, it was hot and sticky both before the service and now after the service. Any impartial observer would side with me on this one, but with God, you never know.
7:30PM thru 9:15 Dinner is served after interminable picture taking session, the only bright spot being when Toby showed up with a plate of crudités for all and two iced coffee drinks for the bride and groom. Never have little squares of cheddar cheese with carrot sticks and ranch dressing tasted so good. Actually sat down at my table and ate for at least 12 minutes. Rest of time spent making the rounds talking with the guests like a shameless politician.
9:20PM – Bride and groom begin introduction of each of their bridesmaids and groomsmen. Kaitlin as poised and graceful in front of a crowd as her mother always is, and equally beautiful. After the introductions it was time for the father/daughter dance. Kaitlin chose that great song from “The Jerk,” You Belong To Me. Halfway through dance I was kicking myself that I didn’t arrange to have a trumpet handy to whip out for the solo. Truly wonderful moment. Later there was a dance for all married couples. At various times during the song, the DJ would ask those couples who had been married less than a certain number of years to be seated. The last couple standing were my in-laws. Cool.
10:00PM – After several wonderful and moving toasts from various members of the wedding party, it was my turn to give the final toast before the cake cutting. Again, my palms began to sweat, again with the loud beating heart, I began. Except for a final perfunctory paragraph acknowledging that there was, in fact, a groom on the premises, my words were mostly about Kaitlin and what a gift she has been to my life.
10:20PM – Kaitlin throws her bouquet and Jon throws the garter. Jon’s throw was particularly impressive, since he wrapped it around a 2002 Ohio State National Championship commemorative football before sending a spiral into the amassed gaggle of single men. In true Ohio State form, Jon’s brother, the intended target, dropped the ball. Yet another incomplete pass by the Buckeyes.
10:35PM – Couple finally pass through the gauntlet of sparklers on the way to their getaway car. Taillights disappear and they’re gone.
11:55PM – Arrive home after lengthy clean up made infinitely easier by my helpful family who stayed until the bitter end helping us pack everything up. Potential mother of the bride meltdown avoided when all the leftover food from the reception was trying to be loaded into Pam’s car. There just wasn’t any room yet Pam was determined to squeeze it all in. When I noticed the wild expression of exhaustion and panic in her eyes I knew that she was unable to make one more decision, so I did. I carried an entire large pan of mashed potatoes and several other gargantuan containers of meat and vegetables back into the manor house with the simple declaration, “There is no way in the world anyone will eat any of this food!!”
12:30AM – After unloading the cars, we all collapsed on the sofas in the den, too exhausted to even speak. It was all over. After 18 months of planning, 6 months of deciding, 3 months of organizing, and three weeks of 20 hour days, it was all over.
Someone on Facebook made a comment about this picture, “The Perfect Family.” Nothing could be further from the truth. We are like every other family on Earth, full of flaws and flawed people. But this I know, the people in this photograph love each other, without qualification or reservation. Each of them have been a blessing to us and instrumental in helping Pam and I shape and form Kaitlin’s character. Without these people, and without Emmett and Betty Dunnevant, none of this day would have been possible.