A Soldier Marries
The RRR tells a story from the past. Because it's about a wedding it may seem strange that so much of it is about men. But there was only one woman that day... at least that I could see.
We turn back the calendar to this day in 1971. It was nine years since an unknown rock group from Liverpool called the Beatles had been the opening act for the angrily androgynous Little Richard on his British tour. Richard Nixon was president of the United States. Men had already walked on the moon. The rock concert at Woodstock was a fading memory. And the RRR, dressed in a borrowed suit stood shaking like a leaf in the wind at the front of a Baptist Church in northwest Iowa.
It was 20 minutes past 2 in the afternoon. The wedding had been supposed to start at 2 sharp. Pastor Ben, the gentle silver haired preacher, waited patiently with us in his office at the front of the sanctuary as it got later and later. My best man, younger brother "Pablo" practiced standing with his hands casually behind his back so the huge bandage on his injured thumb wouldn't show. He checked and re-checked that he had the ring. I paced the office.
What was going wrong? Had She changed her mind and disappeared? Was She ill? At about 2:15 I couldn't stand it anymore. I KNEW there had to be some sort of tragedy. I opened the exit door to the outside from the pastor's study intending to walk around to the front of the church to see what the hold up was. In front of me blocking the door stood my father's friend Roger. A WWII Navy vet and a blacksmith, he was as solid and immovable as an oak tree stump. "Get back in there." He stated flatly.
"But something's wrong, they're 15" late!"
Roger folded his massive arms across his barrel chest. "Everything will be fine. GET... BACK... IN... THERE...!" He had been a combat veteran fresh from the war, waiting at the front of a church 25 years before. No young groom with cold feet was going to escape past him.
I got back in there.
At twenty minutes past 2 the organist paused and the music at last changed to our cue. We went out and stood at the front of the church. The bride's maid was escorted to the front, but I didn't see her. Her daughter the flower girl, insufferably cute must have scattered rose petals, I didn't even notice. I was looking at my mentors and role models. My father who raised me to work hard, shoot straight and tell the truth. His father, my grandpa, hill billy, hobo, cowboy, horse whisperer, farmer, fisherman. Uncle Elmer, the ex-marine who was in some of the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific. Uncle Dale, toting his 8mm camera that recorded the only pictures we still have of that day. He flew C-47 Sky Trains in WWII. His son, cousin Jim, recently returned from the war I had been in three weeks before, a hot-shot helicopter gunship pilot. My grandmother's brother who fought in the trenches in France in WWI. My soon to be brother-in-law Richard, husband of the bridesmaid, father of the flower girl, and veteran of the Korean War. The men of the church and the relatives who had watched me grow, advised me, taught me. Strong, brave men. God fearing, proud and hard working. Brothers in arms.
Then the music changed, the congregation stood and in walked my future father-in-law escorting the most beautiful woman in the world, his daughter, to give away to this stranger. Walt had his problems. A marriage that wouldn't work, a career as a preacher that dissolved when the marriage did. He lived in a shack without plumbing on a bluff over the Missouri River. He roofed one house at a time with Teutonic deliberation and precision for small pay. He wandered the west in a Jeep station wagon toting his roofing tools and ladders from one job to another. He wore an ancient suit and a look of pride and carried himself with dignity.
But when he turned the corner to the center aisle and started down, matching his speed to that off the Wedding March, I wasn't looking at him. My bride, wearing the dress she and her sister had stayed up three days and nights sewing, clung to his arm and walked towards me, her face glowing with love and happiness. She had already put up with more than most women would have stood for. In the rage and shame of a boy turned into a man overnight in battle, I had tried to break off our engagement seeing myself as too tainted and unlovable to be a husband and father. She would have none of it. She told me I'd have to come home and take the engagement ring off her finger myself. I'd come home. And now I was ready to put another one on the finger with it.
"Who gives this woman to be wed?" Pastor Ben asked.
"I do!" Walt exclaimed and strode to the back of the church and sat down under the balcony. His hurt pride wouldn't allow him to say "Her mother and I", nor to sit by his ex-wife at the front. I looked into my bride's eyes and saw that same stubbornness and pride that would carry us through 34 years to this day and I saw all the love a woman has in her heart to give. I took her hand in mine and we turned toward Pastor Ben to recite the ancient ritual.
34 years today. Tonight she woke me up to go to work and gave me a slice of fresh baked bread and told me she loved me. You can guess, Ranger Readers, that I consider myself the luckiest man in the world. You guess right.