[Sidebar] The Worcester Phoenix
May 26 - June 2, 2000

[Tales From Tritown]

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 stool.

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 worthy adversaries.

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 great appeal.

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 them."

"Huh," says Wash. "Well, I guess there are worse places to be than the middle."

"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 aiolia@aol.com.

The Tales From Tritown archive

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