TITLE: The Wedding Garment
By Lois Jennison Tribble
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The Wedding Garment
Abigail squirmed in the sling, as I trudged the half-mile home from our mailbox on Stonebridge Road. I treasured these daily walks with my three-month-old baby; but after reading the invitation, the rebozo chafed us both -- it wasn't designed for power-walking. Pausing to rest, I scanned the embossed stationery again: "Monica Renee Reiner and Mark Allen Price request the honor of your presence at their marriage on Saturday, the nineteenth of June. . ."
The summons disturbed me. It threatened our fragile balance just as suddenly as towering thunderheads menaced the ranch where we lived as caretakers. I raced to the house.
"Anything important?" my husband asked, as he prowled around the kitchen like a hungry lion.
"See for yourself." I piled the mail on the table and reached into the refrigerator to fetch stray leftovers. Two clicks of the striker and the old Wedgewood's back burner flared under the aluminum pan.
"If it's soup again, don't bother," Greg snapped. "Isn't there anything good for lunch?"
"Until a check comes, just be happy we have food." The scent of rising dough from the pans on the counter caught my attention; the sweet aroma and bulging canopies promised fresh-baked bread in an hour or so. He'd need something sooner. "How about corn fritters?"
"Yeah," he said, but his focus fixed on the stack of mail. Watching my husband tense as he absorbed the implications of Monica's invitation, for once I wished only bills had come. Rain pounded against the windows while Greg slipped into his windbreaker. Without a word, he headed for the barn.
"What about lunch?" No response -- I'd better dream up something special for dinner.
It was only spaghetti, but with homemade bread it was filling. My stepson rambled on about our neighbor's new foal, oblivious to our sullen mood. At least Paul sounds happy for a change, I observed, and he didn't balk when I asked him to finish the dishes. I prepared Abbie for bed and nursed her, crooning only five minutes until she slept.
Greg was on the porch, so I opened the door and stepped outside. "It's chilly tonight." To prove my point I zipped my sweatshirt, then eased into the wooden swing. I slid across the seat to snuggle, risking Greg's wrath. He continued to rock. Slow and easy, his rhythmic rocking assured me everything was okay.
Somehow, seeing the star-spangled sky shimmering like this, made everything we'd experienced worthwhile. All the struggles since abandoning the city three years ago -- the loss of steady income; people's smug predictions, "you'll be back"; local yokels dismissing us with their scornful smirks as city-slickers; desperate days when Paul begged to move back to his mom's -- all these things paled beneath starlight. "I hate this place!" Paul hissed just three weeks ago. But tonight, without a fight he'd finished his fourth grade schoolwork plus the kitchen chores. Now we could hear him howling in the shower: "Dreadful sorry, Clementine," just as I had taught him.
"My rich cousin picked a fine time to get married, didn't she?" Greg mused.
"It's not just the gift," I said. "What are we going to wear?"
The tension melted as he chuckled; "Maybe she'll send us something."
"Monica doesn't have a clue. If she knew it would open a hornet's nest, I doubt she'd have sent the invitation."
Greg smiled and took my hand. "True. Maybe if we park down the block and walk, we can spare the parking attendant from embarrassment." Good sign, I thought: he's really planning to go.
"So much for the car," I agreed, "but what about the gas, the gift, and the clothes?"
"No sweat. I'll call the operator for our local fairy godmother." Greg had become infected with fairytales, through frequent exposure.
"I'm serious! What are we going to do?" I said, avoiding the real issue: how could I go if I had nothing to wear? Everyone else had options. Greg's old sportcoat would be passable if pressed, especially if he'd wear the dress shoes I bought at the thrift store. So what if they were too tight, it was only for one afternoon. We could leave Paul with Roxanne, and the baby could wear the pink dress my mother gave us. But what about me? "Maybe you should go alone -- I don't have anything to wear." Now it was on the table.
"Are you nuts?" he scolded. "This is Cousin Monica! Ms. Competition, Ms. Perfect, and my ex-wife's best friend! If I go without you, think of the gossip!"
"People will just say I'm home with the baby."
"Monica will say you got fed up and left me, you mean. You'd better find something to wear -- or I'll drag you there naked!" Greg slammed the door, leaving me with only the stars for illumination.
But there was no fairy godmother, and two weeks later, there still was no dress. We snapped our shoestring budget when the truck sale fell through, but for some reason Greg oozed excitement. "God honors weddings; when we're invited, He expects us to attend -- dressed correctly. Wait and see," he kept saying; "trust God to provide."
"No problem if I were a lily," I muttered, as our old Toyota chugged up the grade. Stopping at the next turnout, I let the impatient driver behind me pass. Maybe if I
pretended. . . it worked for the Emperor -- no, it didn't. That nasty little boy blurted out "The Emperor has no clothes!" and the whole town was in stitches. If I were a lily no
one would care. "Or I could drape my hair like Lady Godiva and ride a horse," I suggested to Abigail. She just played contentedly in her car seat.
Who's kidding who? What am I going to do? Leaning my head on my arms over the steering wheel, I reviewed my resources: no cash, no credit, no time, no forgotten fabric in the closet, no well-dressed friends my size. Okay, if God adorns the lilies, why won't He clothe me? Destitute, I prayed: "Dear Jesus, we need help."
Three miles up the road where the sign boasted, "WE SELL TURKEY EGGS", I turned into Eileen and Hank's place. Cheaper than chicken eggs, the same amount lasted twice as long. "Hi, Janetta," I yelled, in response to their daughter's wave. Janetta was rototilling, at sixteen outworking most boys her age.
As I parked the Corona, Eileen appeared in the entry. About my height but in all directions, her hefty frame barely squeezed through the door on their ramshackle clapboard house. "Come in, Jill," she said. As I entered the living room with Abigail I could hear floorboards in the kitchen creaking under her weight. "Sit down -- I'm making peppermint tea."
Eileen waddled past, handing me a dusty box in one hand and a mug of tea in the other. "Open it," she urged; "it's a surprise." I carefully lifted the tissue paper, covering not one, not two, but three dresses, and held them up in confusion. They looked as if they'd fit me!
"What are these?" I asked.
"Yesterday, Roxanne and I were chatting," said Eileen. "She mentioned you'd be leaving Paul with her next Saturday while you went to a wedding. . . if you found a dress to wear. I didn't tell her, but I used to be about your size."
"Oh, really?" I said, swallowing my skepticism.
"I guess it's hard to believe," she confided, "but when I was husband-hunting, I was thinner. Paid a bundle for these, but I always planned to give them to Janetta. They're yours, if you like. No sense in keeping them; Janetta outgrew them years ago."
"If I like? Eileen, this is an answer to prayer! I can't thank you enough," I said. "May I try them on?"
"Sure," she responded, taking my fussy baby from her car seat. "There's a mirror at the end of the hall." She watched as I slipped into one garment after another. A tailored, silk dress with a buttoned white bodice was our favorite. Its red, biased skirt hugged my waist with a matching belt, then swung down carelessly to caress my knees. "Oh my," Eileen sighed. "I hate to admit it, but that one looks better on you than it ever did on me."
"And it's perfect for the wedding!" I said. "Look -- it even opens in front for nursing Abigail!" Right on cue, Abbie's whimper wound into a wail. I scooped up my squalling infant and fed her while sipping tea. "Even if he will say, 'I told you so,' I can't wait to tell my husband!"
Driving home I wondered -- how was Greg so sure? I passed the hillside where purple lupines and golden poppies waltzed in the wind. Here today, gone tomorrow. Insignificant like wedding garments, and yet. . . in God's economy, is anything insignificant? Suddenly, I couldn't wait to see what God would do next!
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