Another wedding. Once more we raise our glasses and offer the family toast, Like Whit and Sweet, the toast that has been included in Moss family weddings for generations. Once again I am a bridesmaid, another Moss family tradition so it seems. At least this royal blue, A-line frock is a wear-again.
“Mandy, come here darling. You simply must meet Harwin. He's a new partner in the firm. Isn't he delicious?” Aunt Julia grabbed my arm and pulled me across the room to confront the object of her latest matchmaking. Awkward .
Sara rescued me in the most timely manner. “They're waiting for us, Mandy. Hurry...gotta catch the bridal bouquet, you know.”
Like me, Sara, was nearing retirement age for bridesmaids. Cousins growing up together, we had envisioned ourselves the happy bride in these elegant ceremonies; fate was having a laugh at our expense. Neither of us reached for the bridal bouquet, we had a drawer full.
The evening lagged along with all the usual moments for happy bride and groom. The back table in the corner of the reception hall was empty except for Grandma Pearl, my octogenarian great grand whose ice-blue eyes betrayed her warm, generous nature. Wrinkles of time seamed her face. I plunked down beside her.
“You look tired, Mandy. What's wrong?”
“Gram, do you really believe that there's a soul mate for everyone? Like Whit and Sweet, I mean. Are we sure they even existed? Could be an old family tale with no truth to it!”
“Of course, child, they were real. Sweet was my grandmother's grandmother. She and Whit Moss lived to see their seventy-eighth wedding anniversary. That's a milestone to be sure. People talk to this day about their love story.”
“What's wrong with me, Gram? Mother says I'm too hard to please, but that's not it. I'm beginning to think I'll never marry, never have a love story of my own.”
“Mandy, would you take me home child? I've had enough of the festivities for now and I want to show you something.”
I've always loved Gram's home at the edge of town. Her passion for fresh paint and colorful flowers makes her small cottage look like it belongs on a magazine cover. It always smells good, too. After removing her hat, putting her cane in the closet and changing into a plush baby-blue housecoat, Gram settled down on the settee.
“Mandy, go in my bedroom and open the cedar trunk at the foot of my bed. Bring me the package that's wrapped in a baby blanket and tied with a yellow ribbon. It's at the bottom of the trunk.”
I had only been in that bedroom a time or two; Gram covets her privacy. I found the trunk, removed the quilt covering it and dug deep until I came up with the package.
Gram slowly untied the ribbon laying it aside with care.
“This ribbon belonged to Whit and Sweet's first-born daughter who drowned at age three.”
Gram gently unwrapped the once-white-now-yellowed baby blanket.
“This blanket was made by Sweet for one of their sons. He was stillborn.”
Other items were lovingly wrapped in the package. Gram explained each one until she came to the letters. She handed them to me.
I glanced at Gram as I opened the fragile paper. Her eyes told me she expected this to be a life-changing moment for me.
To Caroline Potter
Charleston, South Carolina
July 20, 1872
Miss Caroline, I hope you will accept my offer of marriage and come to Missouri. I will be a God-fearing husband. I promise to treat you with the utmost respect as a lady. It matters none to me about your past. I will never address it to you. Fare is included to get you here as well as fare to cover your leaving if ever you so choose.
Folded inside that letter was her reply.
August 14, 1872
Mr. Moss, I accept your proposal and agree to be your mail-order bride. I have left employment at Mable's. I will never serve another drink or bed another man exceptin my husband. This letter should arrive before me. Maybe, I should change my name to somethin you choose.
“Gram, Sweet was a...”
“Yes, child. A forgiven woman. A true-life 'woman at the well'. What greater love story is there?”
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