Wedding bell blues
Taking the vows in Tritown
by Sally Cragin Warner
Illustration by Lennie Peterson
Dum-Dum-da-dum. Dum-Dum-da-Dum. No, Pastor Washburn Henry ("Call me Wash!")
isn't humming the theme from Dragnet, though scant days ago he might
have been. Rather, the Mendelssohn "Wedding March" is weaving through his mind
like a persistent ivy tendril prying into a basement window sash. It is wedding
season in Tritown, and All Faiths, Tritown's leading house of worship (formerly
known as the Presby-Metho-Congo-Baps until the Episcopals joined and brought
another set of hymnals -- blue, in case you're wondering), is the busiest place
in town on the weekends. Which is saying something, given how many local
ag-culture students recently discovered the Rod 'N Reel Club's lights are so
dim that an amended Triple-A card gets them through the door and on a bar
But here is Wash, enjoying a comfortable afternoon in Hollis the Mountain Man's
canoe, gliding across Picture Pond and trailing an angling pole behind him.
Early afternoon on Saturday, during the peak wedding season. No obligations
until the Sunday-morning service. What could be better?
Before last night, he thought he'd been lasso'ed into the most ghastly,
complicated, time-consuming conjoining of two souls imaginable. Instead he is
free, lazily trailing his fingertips along the cool brown water and admiring
the closed fist of a bullhead lily growing toward the surface. Yesterday, he'd
felt like that bulb, submerged and tightly wrapped. But now, he is free to
bloom. At least for today and perhaps until the next vestry meeting, when
Treasurer Horace G. Bosely is sure to bring up the matter of the imminent fire
inspection and the mysteriously high water bill. Suddenly, a flash of silver,
and a jerk on the line. Wash has no intention of eating anything he catches in
Picture Pond, but fishing is a manageable enjoyment with immediate rewards and
Unlike Cheryl Perret of Weddings by Cheryl. Oh, how flattered he'd been to
receive the call last winter -- just dialing outside the local area code made
him feel part of a wider world. Pastor Wash is happy enough in Tritown, and he
and his wife think the kids got a perfectly fine education. But even now, after
so many years, he hankers for outside notice. A minister's life is a ceaseless
round of occasions, triumphal (weddings and baptisms) and somber (funerals);
and the repetition of names only drives home how isolated he is.
And then comes Cheryl Perret, a wedding consultant from the biggest big city in
the region. She'd done a drive-by through town and giddily pronounced All
Faiths attractive and dignified and so "Old New England." She also
mentioned Pastor Wash had a reputation as an "understanding officiant." At
that, Wash's antenna should have twitched -- he'd had the occasional barefoot
couple in the '80s (when the '70s finally hit Tritown), and he certainly is
open to alternative music, given AF is so often between organists. It could be
worse: a colleague told a hilarious tale of the bridal party arriving on
horseback and being mildly put out that the betrothed had to stable the
transportation at the door. In his years of service, Wash has united scores of
folks, many of whom stayed married, but few think to bring their children back
to his parish when the time comes. So an out-of-town couple about whom he could
have no expectations, save the zipless pleasure of pre-marital counseling, held
Cheryl glided into All Faiths six weeks ago like an ocean liner in full holiday
trim. The central aisle, the clear-glass windows, and the organ tone met with
her approval; the musty smell (strongest only in the back, he assured her) did
not. The narrow, high-backed pews drew an approving nod, but the threadbare and
mismatched velvet kneelers received a tight-lipped grimace. And when she
surveyed the church and asked if just the blue hymnals could stay (as AF
amalgamated more creeds, it acquired a flotilla of hymnals with a variety of
bindings), Wash said, "Well, we don't necessarily use the hymnals in a
wedding service." At that, Cheryl remarked, "It's the color. It won't go with
the Bride's Theme."
Wash knew. He'd met his match. Time to bring out the big guns. On Cheryl's next
visit, he gleefully introduced her to Hollis's Aunt Winnie, the altar guild
directrix and spiritual and temporal anchor of the vestry. As he did so, Wash
winked at Delia Ellis Bell, the Partial Yankee (there was a questionable
great-great-grandmother), who was now serving as the interim organist.(Well,
she did have all those years of piano, and she played nice and slowly so
the older folks could read the squinty type as they sang).
Pastor Wash did not have to wait long for Winnie to draw first blood. "A
blue-and-white wedding!" she exclaimed. "What a lovely, lovely idea. I
never understood why people thought blue was such a poor-folks color
. . ." At this, Cheryl's face acquired a blue-ish tinge. Winnie wiped
her saber and thrust again. "Oh," she said thoughtfully, "unless it's because
of the flowers. You don't see blue roses, do you? Well, if the dear
little couple want flowers, you can use some of the delphinium from the church
garden. And there are those cornflowers all over the road in front, but
of course you'd have to wait till July for them." Cheryl sputtered, and then
turned back to Wash who had gracefully backed out of the sanctuary.
But Winnie's victory is but the opening salvo. In the weeks since, Wash has
come to dread the telephone's first ring of the day. Could the choir-stalls be
cleared out of the sanctuary to make room for a string quartet? Oh, and the
flags and banners as well? The baptismal font would have to be moved to make
way for the sixth and seventh groomsmen, and the lectern as well to accommodate
the matching bridesmaids. Grandmother of the bride is now in a wheelchair (her
new hip delayed): could a temporary ramp make it to the side door? And that
pine tree out front was smack in the way of the whole-family wedding photo on
the front steps of the church. At this, Wash snapped like a chopstick in the
hands of a hungry diner. He had been quite ready to remove it, as Lorencz the
Hermit had nearly toppled off the church's wooden ladder cleaning last year's
fistfuls of white-pine needles from the gutters. But not before this Wedding by
Cheryl, by God.
For the most part, he deflected calls to Winnie, who was happy to act as his
"temporary secretary." Delia watched this master manipulation with great
interest. And so the day before the wedding, seconds after Cheryl's nth
call of the day to say the white roll-up carpet would be delivered late, and
the flowers at 6:30 a.m. Saturday, Wash almost didn't answer the phone
when it rang again, seconds later. A quivering young woman's voice (that he
recognized as the bride to be) stammered, "Reverend Henry . . . um,
well, I couldn't reach Cheryl, but, um, well, Niles Heatherton, our family
friend -- he's a minister -- well, he had this golf tournament this weekend at
Hilton Head, and it turns out it's been canceled. Do you think . . .
he could do the wedding tomorrow? I know . . ." Wash forced himself
to count to 10 before replying. And his relief knew no bounds.
For one brief shining Saturday, he is as free as the birds that twitter over
Picture Pond. Not just birds -- a hawk -- a wise old raptor who'd never let
himself be cornered.
"Everything okay out there, Father?" calls Hollis, who's wheelbarrowing a
five-gallon bottle of amber-colored homebrew to the water's edge. "Thought you
might like to wet your whistle."
"Don't mind if I do, Hollis," calls back Wash, slowly paddling to shore.
THE NEXT DAY at the morning service, Wash finds a gorgeous, if
brilliantly sapphire floral altarpiece waiting. With a note. And a rather
sizable check -- more than he'd quoted, and he'd quoted high. And a scattering
of sparkly silk petals in the vestibule. But most noticeable are the flushed
and beaming faces of Winnie and Delia. They'd attended, of course: Winnie in
her role as senior vestry member and key-holder; Delia in her role as de facto
organist, and she'd adored playing along with the quartet, even if the
musicians had a different concept of andante than she did. "Ladies," says Wash.
"I take it all went well?" Winnie nods, and Wash continues. "I still can't
figure out how they ended up here. So far from where they're from."
"Well, Wash," says Winnie, who'd dispensed with everyone's honorifics the day
she turned 75. "That's the most interesting part. Her people were from Maine,
and his from Connecticut. The family had some objection to the city, so they
took a map and measured the miles. Tritown was the exact midpoint for each of
"Huh," says Wash. "Well, I guess there are worse places to be than the
"Well," says Delia, exultantly. "The best part is that one of the bridesmaids
adored the space and wants to have her wedding here. Don't worry, Father
Wash," she says hastily. "It's not till next year."
Sally Cragin Warner can be reached at email@example.com.