My baby girl will be married outdoors next Saturday; we are praying for sunshine. She’ll stand with her fiancée before a rough cedar altar they crafted themselves in honor of The Carpenter who melded their hearts.
I am trying to prepare myself for the final farewells. But today Katie is home like always, pattering around the house in her bare feet, short-shorts, and muscle t-shirt stained with paint. Bouncing from her cell phone to the laptop computer to the printer and back to the phone, she occasionally stops to hug our dog. “Oooooooo, Tyler, little puppy, you are the sweetest puppy in the whole wide world.” Tyler is our elderly fourteen-year-old Australian shepherd who loves Katie dearly, and has no idea that she is about to leave him for good – for another lover who owns another dog, no less.
I think to myself, What happened to the cherub-faced kewpie-doll “Golden Book” baby? Today her maturing heart-beauty spills all over the place. Katie’s strands of sun-streaked hair play in the breeze, and her sparkly blue eyes and coquettish laugh make me feel loved to the core.
Katie’s three older siblings have already left home, so I am no stranger to this spot. And yet after Saturday, my nest will be permanently empty. This time the goodbyes will only punctuate the fact that her dad and I are – alone.
It is now late evening, and Katie is still busy with details. She drives over to her new in-laws’ house to pick up some things, then returns to ask me, “Okay, so should I work on that next painting project, or should I call it a night and get some sleep?” I am soaking it up, every last word and look. A week from now only a memory will fill the spot in front of my refrigerator where she speaks.
“I’ll go paint this stuff outside, in the shed,” she decides. I think to myself, Okay, I will sit here and daydream. I’ll forecast the wedding day to focus me away from the empty nest. I place my glass of iced tea next to my laptop computer, and begin typing.
I’m envisioning the wedding ceremony in the low, grassy ravine next to Burnett Creek where nearly two hundred guests observe from wooden folding chairs. Two tiny gentlemen bear the rings on custom-made pillows. Two young ladies also assist - one sprinkles flower petals and the other carries Katie’s long, elegantly beaded veil. Katie’s blind friend recites an original poem written for the occasion; there is prayer and joyful singing. Bride and groom exchange original vows, pledging to love, cherish, and trust God. I cry; I am so proud! Katie’s beauty honors her first true love: Jesus. I cry again.
Afterwards, I join the other guests in sprinkling the couple with an “outdoorsy” alternative to rice or birdseed: handfuls of dry “helicopter” maple seeds! Husband and wife drive away from the site in a golf cart with a hand painted sign - “JUST MARRIED” - draped across the back.
The dinner reception follows in a big outdoor tent, complete with candles, flowers, and tiny twinkling lights strung high above. My home-baked wedding cakes are cut and consumed. Music and dancing continue long after the meal.
Sunday afternoon, we join the happy couple at the reception tent to help organize various rented items and return borrowed ones. It is another fun day, full of lingering excitement and the joy that comes when extended family members celebrate important events together.
But today is Monday, not Saturday, and I’m finishing the last of my iced tea while sitting on a kitchen chair in jean shorts and a t-shirt. Katie flies in the house and back out again, holding wet paintbrushes. She is decisive and busy and happy.
Here at my kitchen table, I continue to envision the events of the upcoming weekend, and wonder about the moment Sunday afternoon when I say good-bye to Katie. What will it be like, exactly, to close the door on more than three decades of parenting? How will I feel as I watch Katie ride away in her new husband’s red pick-up truck? I plan to shout and wave, “Bon voyage, you two!” and mean it. But I will also long for the next time she hurries across our back porch to greet Tyler: “Puppy! It’s my puppy! Oooooooo, how I love my precious little puppy doggy!”
That will be another day for celebration.
Author’s note: This coming Saturday, Sept. 10, is the date of my daughter’s wedding. I wanted to wait until Sunday to write my challenge entry and thus capture the true “bon voyage” experience, but was afraid there would be no time (or energy) to do so! Instead, I wrote this entry Monday night in anticipation of Sunday’s farewell that will mark the final emptying of my nest.
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