You know how some girls spend their lives planning the perfect wedding?
Not me. I was NEVER going to get married.
Men were jerks; I was more than ready to be completely self-sufficient. I was going to have an awesome group of girlfriends, an apartment in Chicago, and be an award-winning journalist for the Chicago Tribune. I was going to have a little dog named Shotzy and interview lots and lots of famous people.
I thought when I was older, 45 or so, I’d meet someone. He’d be funny and short with dark, curly hair. Maybe by then, if we’d both been seasoned enough, there’d the possibility of a relationship.
Soon I learned when we make plans, God laughs. Or in my case, where God experienced a hysterical fit of uncontrollable mirth.
There I was, fresh out of college at 22 and engaged to be married. To a tall, serious, light-haired Swede who needed me to explain the humor in everything from Far Side comics to Saturday Night Live sketches.
I knew nothing about planning a wedding. I had no clue where to start or what to do. If it hadn’t been for my mother, my aunt Kathy, and my cousin Charity, I may have gone completely insane.
Mom, still grieving from Dad’s death the previous year, was a solid rock for me. Not only did she manage to pull the funds together to give me an amazing wedding, we only had one huge, screaming argument in the parking lot of Best Buy. And even that ended in tears of laughter when we realized what we were doing.
I think I gave Aunt Kathy the surprise of a lifetime when I told her I was going to ask her daughter, Charity, to be my Maid of Honor. Aunt Kathy was delighted, but knowing our history, asked me why.
I was honest. “Charity is the closest thing I have to a sister.”
Charity and I experienced a rocky relationship in childhood and tense, tenuous teenage years. It wasn’t until college when we formed a combined bond of friendship and family. Going through that process made me realize Charity was absolutely the sister I’d never had.
We (still) couldn’t BE more different, and yet I love and cherish her for exactly who she is and wouldn’t change her for the world.
It was Aunt Kathy who helped put the wedding together, and Charity who spent countless hours advising me on the finer points of everything from cakes to wedding favors.
I will never be able to repay her for personally hand-wrapping what seemed like thousands of Hershey kisses in cellophane and arranging them in gorgeous rose-bouquet centerpieces. I couldn’t have picked a more dedicated Maid of Honor.
My entourage gave me free reign to make choices, only stepping in when it looked like I was going to make a fool of myself. I nixed traditional flowers and replaced them with bronze lanterns. I carried my mother-in-law’s wedding Bible down the aisle. I chose my intended’s wardrobe which everyone later said made him look like a priest.
Perhaps, what I am most proud of is the fact I managed to sneak both an Allison Krauss ballad (When You Say Nothing At All) and Trisha Yearwood song (How Do I Live) into our ceremony, in spite of our conservative church’s music policy.
The day of our wedding came and went. I remember thinking everything went perfectly. That day is such a blur. It’s true what they say, “Your wedding is the most expensive day you’ll forget.”
After our honeymoon, we raced back to our new apartment, eager to view our wedding video. My Uncle Bruce had thoughtfully offered his talents as our videographer.
Imagine our dismay when the video stalled and refused to play. Brett monkeyed around with it for a while but to no avail. We were disappointed, but the wedding was still fresh in both our minds, so we put the video back on the shelf and resolved to fix it later.
Every couple of months, we’d try to play it again. No such luck.
We took the defunct video with us in the move to our new house and added it to our growing VHS movie collection. As the switch from VHS to DVD loomed, I carefully sorted through our VHS tapes, saving only the ones I thought were worthy. Our broken wedding video made the cut.
Eventually, I moved a full container of our meaningful VHS tapes into the basement where they sat for years.
About a month ago, I was clearing out our basement, packing, and preparing for our eventual move to an apartment. I came across the VHS container. Brett carted the whole thing upstairs where we both examined it closely.
“What are we going to do with all these?” I said. “I know the Salvation Army doesn’t want them. I mean, it’s an obsolete technology. We’re just going to have to throw them away.”
As I sorted and stacked the tapes for disposal, my husband pulled one tape out of the mix.
“Is this our wedding video?”
“Honey,” I explained patiently. “You know that thing is never going to work. Let’s just scrap it.”
“Let me play with it,” Brett suggested and squirreled it away into the living room before I could snatch it away.
A few days later, Brett was applying for a job at Woodman’s when he saw a service advertising VHS-to-DVD transfer. He excitedly took our video in - only to get a call later saying the tape was too damaged. He was crestfallen.
“NOW, can I scrap it?” I asked, impatiently. I realize this makes me sound heartless, but I am ruthless when in de-cluttering mode.
Brett only shrugged and tucked the video away, while I sighed and rolled my eyes.
Yesterday, I woke up bright and early. I lugged my laptop into bed, connected to the Internet, and settled in to watch the season finale of Dollhouse online. The theme music was just starting when Brett opened the bedroom door.
“Can you come downstairs for a second?”
I struggled not to scream. “What is it?”
“Just come downstairs.”
I felt the familiar irritation poking at me. “What IS IT, honey? I’m comfortable, and being pregnant makes it a chore to move!”
I am only this hard on Brett, because we’ve HAD this conversation a MILLION times. I’ll be sitting somewhere, absolutely comfy, and Brett will say, “Come look at this.”
I’ll say, “What is it?”
He’ll say, “Just come look.”
I’ll drag myself wherever he is, and 99% of the time, it’s a complete waste of time.
“We’re out of milk,” he’ll say, opening the fridge.
“Is that a brown recluse spider?” He’ll point to a daddy long legs.
“Does this look weird?” He’ll question, referring to any number of things.
I always end up angry, saying “Why did I have to get UP for THIS? Seriously, we could have had this WHOLE exchange without me moving AT ALL!”
So, my patience was paper-thin. “What IS IT?”
“Just come downstairs,” my husband said for the third time.
“ARGH!” I screamed as I threw back my covers and unceremoniously clomped down the stairs. “WHY ARE YOU LIKE THIS? JUST TELL ME WHAT IT IS ALREADY!”
Brett was waiting at the base of the stairs. I screwed my face up at him and shot him one heck of an evil look as I followed his pointing finger into the living room.
I figured he saw a cute commercial – one that would be surely OVER by the time I got downstairs. What a pain.
Instead, I was shocked into submission as I saw the interior of Windsor Baptist Church on our television screen.
“What is this?” I asked, collapsing onto the couch.
“It’s our wedding video. I fixed it. I was up all night unspooling the old tape onto a different tape, and I finally fixed it.” Brett said proudly.
I tore my gaze away from the screen and studied the tools spread on the floor.
“How long did this take you?” I asked, incredulous.
“16 hours. I wanted to surprise you on your first Mother’s Day. I thought this would be something Sammy might want to have someday.”
Tears pricked my eyes.
Brett snuggled onto the couch next to me, and for the first time in 9 years, we saw our wedding unfold before our eyes.
As Uncle Bruce’s camera scanned the packed-out auditorium, we called out familiar faces. I picked out my friends from college, my (then) new job, and friends of Mom and Dad. I felt a jolt when the camera panned over, and I saw Aunt Kathy.
There she was, in her glorious halo of white hair, talking and joking with the people around her. She was taking photos and laughing. “It’s Aunt Kathy,” I said, joyously, soaking up every second the camera stayed on her.
The camera moved on to Brett’s side of the church. “It’s my mom,” Brett choked out, on the verge of tears, as we watched our sweet Jean walk down the aisle with Mom.
Uncle Bruce’s ability was proven, as the camera swayed and stayed right where we needed it.
We pointed out all the dear friends and family who have since gone on. Brett’s mom and grandfather, Aunt Kathy, Aunt Sheran, John Haynie, Ollie Pryor, Oscar Vandervort – all there, at our wedding, smiling and laughing, enjoying the day.
Tears ran down our faces as we tried to take in this unexpected gift.
We watched our younger, skinnier selves take the leap into the future, guided by Pastor Larsen.
Pastor had already been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Ours was the next to last wedding he would perform. He would die one year later, exactly one day before the tragedy of September 11, 2001.
And yet, for this moment, there he was, giving us a biblical challenge for our years ahead. He was smiling, rejoicing to perform the wedding of the daughter of one of his dearest friends. Little did we know, he’d be rejoicing in heaven, along with Dad, in less than a year.
The two of us raked in the nostalgia. We cried, but we laughed, too. I saw friends and family I had no idea had even been there.
“Michelle was pregnant at my wedding?!” I was shocked.
Uncle Bruce painstakingly captured every wedding moment - the pre-event auditorium scan, the ceremony, the newly-married couple greeting everyone, our lovely carriage ride, even down to the last moments of the reception.
We treasured every second, every additional moment the camera lingered on Jean, Aunt Kathy, and Pastor.
When the video finally wound down, the screen fuzzed to static. I was emotionally exhausted but unbelievably thrilled. I couldn’t believe I had almost thrown this treasure out.
I was suddenly grateful Brett hadn’t been willing to give it up. He’d set his stubborn, Soderstrom mind to save this video. He hadn’t given up, despite the discouragement from me, and I was the one who had benefited.
He’d given me the perfect first Mother’s Day gift – a present from the past. A present for the future.
I can’t wait until the day we can show this video to Sam, and I can tell him what lengths his father went to preserve those precious moments for his son. And his wife.
Happy Mother’s Day to me, indeed.