Maid of Honor Portrait: Three Third Grade Bridesmaids and a Sexy Brilliant Woman Priest
I have lost track of Savannah, the woman who painted this portrait of my daughter, Caroline, wearing the dress she wore when she was my maid of honor at my second wedding.
In the photograph the painting is seated in a chair in my office; in the portrait Caroline is seated on a bench in the garden of the home of Gilbert and Mary Jane Smith where our wedding breakfast was held at two in the morning stretching into break of day.
David and I were married in the middle of the night in the middle of the Vanderbilt campus, at the intersection of Fraternity and Sorority Row in the middle of Rites of Spring, a bacchanalian college festival that involves very loud music and lots of drinking. I had completely forgotten about Rites of Spring when I planned my wee hours wedding.
It seemed such a sweet plan. Run off from the Swan Ball to St. Augustine’s, a tiny A-frame Episcopal church. No light but candles. No music but a single violinist. 40 guests. But it wasn’t sweet. It was loud. It was raucus. Then a miracle occurred. A wedding guest had a word with some of the students at the nearest frat house. Soon enough, the official Rites of Spring were on hiatus and our rite in Spring could begin.
Finally it was so quiet in the church I could hear the strangled sobs of those who did not believe they would see me get to this happy day, as I kneeled with David before the preacher who would bless our marriage.
The preacher, the beatific Becca Stevens, mother of Moses, Caney, and Levi, was almost arrested on her way home from performing the sacrament. She had borrowed a car from a Catholic priest who had so many friends on the Nashville police force he didn’t need up-to-date license tags. She was so young and beautiful and blonde the cop didn’t believe she was a priest. I believe he asked her to recite something from the Bible. I have always hoped that what Becca chose to recite in the early hours of that Sunday morning was one of the verses involving a woman being the first to tell the news Jesus was risen.
I call Becca my sexy, beautiful woman priest, because she is. I love her because she’s committed to the joy beyond tragedy. Becca’s father was a priest who was killed by a drunk driver when she was a small child She blessed our marriage reading from her father’s prayer book. I will never forget being on my knees, looking in her face, and seeing her see, God’s love.
I will also never forget the little girls, Caroline my maid of honor, and Margaret and Ann Parker, my bridesmaids. As I recall the third graders looked sleepy and mesmerized, by the glamour of their first moments at the center of adult doings.
Margaret went on one of our first whole family dates that helped me decide to marry David. The girls had a Monday off. David planned a road trip to Memphis. He called the excursion double King day. We drove from Nashville to Memphis spending the morning at the National Civil Rights Museum and the afternoon at Graceland. Somewhere along the way Margaret said that she realized that David was sticking around and she needed to spend some time getting to know him. When she said that, I realized that we had all conveyed that David was sticking around, and he was, and I realized by his efforts in planning the day, he was willing to campaign for a place not only in my heart and my daughter’s heart but in the hearts of our friends, that he was weaving into the fabric of our community, that he was a keeper.
And I knew this child who made an effort to know him would be an excellent witness to the vows I did not intend ever to break.
Getting back to the Caroline's portrait artist: we lost Savannah when Bob Glynn died. Bob was the godfather of my college boyfriend Alex Bok. Bob was an extraordinary friend, lawyer, and philanthropist. When he died he was chairman of something called the Lampadia Foundation and Savannah was his girlfriend. Bob died quickly and in complicated ways messily. He had a daughter he loved more than anything in the world, and a wife from whom he had been long estranged, and step-children he loved almost as his own. And then there was Savannah the adult joy of his late years. He died and Savannah went back down South. A month doesn’t pass that I don’t think of Bob. He came from proverbial nothing. His father was killed in a shooting when he was a boy and he went on to Harvard College and Law School. He was snobby about wines and literature and schools. He was passionate about food, conservative politics, and children. If he had been alive my daughter would have gone to Groton, for sure. Bob was very opinionated.
It was his opinion that the classics of Brazil should not go out of print. That poor children should live in houses with surrogate parents and art. He made those things and so many more happen. And he told me over and over I should write a book about a black confederate
I married David for me, and I married David for Caroline, and I married David for community. Instead of having a bridesmaids’ lunch, I had a bridesmaids’ dinner. We had it in a restaurant atop of a hotel that spun giving a 365 degree view of the city that I thought the little girls would enjoy that night. Their bridesmaids’ gifts were books, Dorothy West’s The Wedding and Carson McCullers Member of the Wedding, I thought they would enjoy in days to come. While we were at dinner someone stole my car, the black jeep. In it were my wedding shoes and wedding underwear; and the votive candles that would line the aisles at the church. And it had the picture of my father that had lain on the dashboard since Ann, the mother of bridesmaid Ann Parker, and I had driven to Alabama.
I will let you in on a secret about my Bridesmaids Dinner. It was held in the very same restaurant my maid of honor’s father had proposed to me. We were arguing. He silenced me with the invitation to marriage. Then we continued spinning.
My bridesmaids’ dinner was a kind of test for me. I wanted to face the fact I would make, again, promises that I had broken. I wanted to silently ask myself, in the place I had first said “yes,” if I dared make wedding promises again. I had never been sure it was right to go back to the altar, or go back to the twirling restaurant, until after Bob died. Now I am sure.
If Bob had married Savannah we would know her still. I thank God for Henry the Eighth and Becca for being willing to take a chance on me—of recognizing the difference between love broke and serial monogamy, and recognizing that I recognized it too. And I thank God for the miracle of the black jeep getting returned, Daddy's picture intact.