It was the summer of 1979 and my new mustard yellow Sony Walkman wasn’t much larger than the Doobie Brothers cassette tape it played. Three Mile Island was a hot topic in the newspapers, an upstart cable network company called The Entertainment and Sports Network was about to start broadcasting sports 24 hours a day, Ford Pintos seemed to be blowing up everywhere, and every red-blooded American boy had a Farrah Fawcett poster in his room (until they got married and their wife made them get rid of it). But, if not for Google Search, I would not have been able to recall any of those memorable events that summer because they were all background clutter compared to our wedding in June of 1979. OK, if am being honest here, I will admit that I was able to remember that poster.
Libby was the first of the Willis girls to get married and this wedding was going to be a big deal, but at that time, I had no idea what it meant to Libby or the others who would help with the planning and to the many who would witness the ceremony that day. I was clueless about the amount of preparation involved leading up to the wedding day and only later did I realize what it meant to Libby to have her mom and sisters work so closely with her on those preparations. I don’t think I am the least bit out of line when I say to you that no matter how stressful the time was before the ceremony and no matter how tired she must have been when the wedding day finally arrived, Libby was stunningly gorgeous on her wedding day and by far the most beautiful bride ever (hey, it is my blog, after all ).
Libby’s family of five sisters viewed weddings completely different than did my family with it’s four boys, and like my brothers (and most other guys I knew) I did everything I could to avoid weddings, mainly because they could ruin a good day of hiking or fishing since they normally happened right in the middle of an otherwise, perfectly good Saturday, not to mention that you would have to stop what you were doing, take a shower and get dressed up right in the middle of the day. It was hard for my male brain to understand why people planned weddings during the day, it seemed to me that if you planned a wedding for either 8:00 in the morning or 9:00 in the evening then it would allow all of your potential guest the time to enjoy their Saturday and yet, still attend the wedding.
My job during the weekend of the wedding was to make sure I was at the rehearsal on Friday night before the wedding and then, on Saturday, get my tux, my car and me, to the wedding on time. Now, I certainly wouldn’t want to leave the reader with the impression that all I did was show up, because there was a whole lot more to my part in this wedding than that; I had to say “yes ma’am” often during the rehearsal when I was told what to do by Libby, her mom, her sisters or any other female with the authority to do so, which, in effect, was every female over the age of twelve. In addition to saying “yes mam” at the rehearsal, ,I had to say “I do” and “I will” at several different times the next day during the ceremony itself, no easy task since the two phrases were not interchangeable (something I learned the hard way during rehearsal). So the groom (me in this case) had to listen intently to the preacher’s questions and be prepared to give the appropriate response at the appropriate time during the ceremony.
Libby and I had built our friendship on planning events together throughout high school but I learned that I was a lost ball in high weeds when it came to wedding planning, so very quickly I took my place in the matrimonial pecking order. After all, this was Libby’s day and I came to realize that everyone came to see her, not me.
Now, if Libby were looking over my shoulder as I typed this, which she often did, she would say something like, “Now Barry you shouldn’t write that, the wedding was not about me, it was about the vows we made before God in front of our friends and family”, but lets face facts here, this was Libby’s day.
On Saturday June 9th 1979, right in the middle of an otherwise perfectly good Saturday, Libby and I were married in front of several hundred people packed into the pews of Flintstone Baptist Church . Among those witnesses in attendance were friends and family from both the Willis and Gilley families, our respective churches, Flintstone Baptist Church and Chattanooga Valley Church of the Nazarene, Olan Mills Studios, Red Food Store, Chattanooga Valley High School and Mercer University. Libby had so many friends and family in the wedding party that I told her if the number of bridesmaids grew any more I would be forced to go out and make new friends in order to have an equal number of guys on my side of the church just to balance out the number of girls in the bride’s entourage. There was, however, one obvious omission from Libby’s bridesmaids lineup, Helen Buckner (soon to be Helen Hawkins) was not among the ladies in blue (see A First Date for that explanation).
There was a tremendous amount of preparation that went on during the months, weeks and days before the wedding and I was, of course, oblivious to most of it. With a very limited budget to decorate, plan for and accommodate the 400 or so guests, the Willis family and their friends either made or borrowed nearly everything for the wedding to decorate the church in what had to be the social event of 1979 in Flintstone, GA.
Libby was calm, confident and radiant in her long flowing white lace dress as her dad prepared to walk his girl down the center isle of the church. For the moment, I too was calm and confident as I stood in a small room behind the organ waiting to enter the church, but then, my pastor mentioned to me that he saw a funny thing happen to a groom once during a wedding when someone painted the words “Help Me” on the bottom of his shoes to be seen by everyone as he knelt for the prayer during the ceremony. I nervously laughed about the poor guy’s misfortune, but then, out of curiosity, I looked at the bottom of my black shoes and saw the words, “Help Me”. Suddenly, the musicians began playing the song which was my queue to make my entrance but I was sitting on the steps to the choir loft nervously pulling the white athletic tape off of the bottom of my rented shoes. I was late walking in (so I already messed up on one of the things I was supposed to do) and my once calm mind was reeling with thoughts of, “I wonder what else they did…” I eyed my groomsmen as I walked by to see which one was responsible, only to conclude that they all looked guilty. Libby told me later that my hands were shaking as I held hers during the vows, but I said everything I was supposed to say when I was supposed to say it.
Although my role was limited during the wedding preparation I distinctly remember a conversation Libby and I had about a current trend in weddings to change a lot of the traditional vows, modifying or even eliminating parts that many viewed as “too restrictive” or “rigid”. Libby and I both wanted the traditional language in the vows and ironically, during our discussion of those vows she laughed and said, “Barry, you had better be sure about this ” til death do us part” thing because I plan on living a very a long time”.
I only had a couple of things to do during the wedding, one of which I messed up, but for more than a year I had been planning a month long honeymoon, promising Libby that it would be unlike any other, and I planned to keep that promise.