We stood at the end of the dock, looking out onto the lake. Tera, my younger sister, sighed loudly. Sissy, the eldest of the sisters, turned towards her and smiled. “Do you remember the first time we were here?” she asked.
Tera laughed. “How could I forget? You pushed me off the dock into the freezing water!” She threatened to push Sissy in, but I stepped between them.
“The sun is about to go down. Let's not ruin the beauty of the moment by causing a ruckus.” I rarely used the word ruckus, but being at this place reminded me too much of Grandma not to use it. I sat down onto the dock and put my bare feet into the water. The others joined me. Soon we were watching the sun slowly and silently slip beneath the horizon as the water gently lapped against our dangling feet. It was the calmness that drew us down to the lake in the first place. We sat, on the edge of the dock with our feet in the water well after the sun was down and the stars had populated the skies.
Finally, Sissy got up. “It's late, we should turn in and get some sleep. We are going to have a busy day tomorrow.” She pivoted and started walking back to the beach house our grandparents had purchased when I was 8 years old.
I looked at Tera, who was leaning back on her hands, her head tilted back and her eyes closed tight. “I'm not ready to go back,” she whispered without opening her eyes.
“I'll stay with you,” I said gently. I turned back towards Sissy, who was already off the lumber and making her way up the slope of the embankment.
Tera sighed again. She sat up straight and turned to look me in my eyes. I could barely make out her face in the light of the full moon. “Tiffy, I am glad you stayed with me. I'm feeling a little bit nervous about tomorrow,” she said softly, her voice quivering a little bit as she spoke.
“Feeling a little bit nervous before your wedding is perfectly normal, Tera. This is a life-changing event and is pretty high on the stress scale.” I put my hand gently on her shoulder.
“Yea, but knowing that doesn't ease the stress one iota.” Looks like we were both falling into Grandma's colorful language, I mused to myself.
“You're right. Do you want to do some relaxing techniques?”
Tera laughed. “Stop it, Tiffany Elaine! I'm not one of your patients needing some guidance. I know how to relax.”
“Great. So why are you commenting that you're nervous?”
“Because I am. Being out here on the dock in the moonlight and the stars reminds me of when we were kids. Everything was so carefree back then. Now we are all grown up and things are far more complicated than they used to be. I miss being carefree.” She splashed the water with her feet.
“We all do,” I sighed. I hugged Tera for a few moments, then got up off the dock. “Time to go in. You need your beauty sleep.”
Tera stood up and followed me back to the beach house. She and I were sharing a room for the night so we quietly slipped into the building, tiptoed to our assigned room, and slipped into bed.
“Remember how we used to sneak out at night and sit on the dock when we were kids?” Tera whispered after we were both snug under covers.
“We didn't fool anyone. Grandma knew we did it. We always left little tracks of sand leading to the room. She never said anything about it, but that's why we had to sweep the floors first thing in the morning before we ate breakfast.”
“That lady was sharp right up to the end. Sometimes I miss her.”
“Me too,” I said quietly. “Now go to sleep.”
The sun greeted us the next morning all warm and bright. Tera bounded out of bed and went immediately to the shower. Meanwhile, I found a broom at the entrance of our door and swept the sand that we had tracked in the night before. I went to the kitchen where I found our mom cooking breakfast.
“I see you found the gift I had left for you this morning,” she said as I put the broom away in the closet. She was smiling as she served up some pancakes.
I pulled up a chair and sat down at the kitchen table. Mom handed me a plate, which I filled with bacon, sausages, and pancakes.
“How did Tera sleep last night?” mom asked as she pulled up a chair next to me. I was stuffing my face with one of the sausages.
“Mmff,” I replied as I hurriedly chewed the food. “I think she slept pretty well. I didn't hear her tossing and turning during the night.”
“Well, that is good news. We have plenty of things to get done before 2:00 pm. Sissy is already outside with the menfolk putting up the garland around the arbor and setting up the chairs. She will be finishing the other flower arrangements once that is done. You can help her, or see what your other sister needs.”
“I think I'll stay with Tera. Sissy likes that busy work but I am the calming force in this family. Tera needs a little distraction to keep her from bouncing off the walls.”
“I heard that,” Tera said as she came into the room. Her wet hair was wrapped in a towel and she was wearing a pink bathrobe.
“We were just talking about what Tiffany could be doing to help move this preparation along,” mom said as she hugged her youngest child and kissed her on the cheek.
Tera sat down and mom placed a plate loaded with heart-shaped pancakes in front of her. Tera shook her head. “I'm too nervous to eat anything,” she said. “How about some orange juice?”
Mom poured her some orange juice and put it in front of my little sister. Tera drank it quickly. Meanwhile, I finished up my food and was cleaning off my things from the table.
“Tiffy, can you help me with my hair?” Tera asked when I returned from the kitchen.
“Certainly,” I replied. Hair was always more fun than working with Sissy. My elder sister was a bit of a perfectionist and a pain to work for. “Have you done your nails yet?” I added.
One look at Tera's hands and I knew the girl hadn't even thought of it. Yea, more things to keep me busy. Tera got up from the table, thanked our mom for the food, and motioned for me to follow her to the room. I kissed mom on the cheek and went after Tera.
Tera sat down in the chair in front of the vanity. She looked critically at her face and hair. Her long, blond locks were still wet, and a bit wavy. She picked a few strands up into the air, then let them fall in disgust. “Whatever am I going to do with this mess?” she asked as she picked up another group.
I walked behind her and put my hands on her shoulders. “Relax! I can handle this. What were you thinking your look was going to be at this event? Modern? Classic? Sophisticated?”
“I think I'd like medieval,” she said with a smile. “That is Paul's favorite time period.”
I glanced over at Grandma's wedding dress and made a face. “Honey, you should have thought of that before you decided to wear that one,” I said gently. “How about I just put your hair up, with curls here and there, and that should look perfect with your dress?”
Tera looked at me through my reflection in the vanity mirror. “OK. That sounds fine,” she said absently.
“OK, then I'll get started,” I grabbed her brush and started brushing her hair.
“Hey, do you remember the first year Grandma and Grandpa had this place? I was only 6, but I have some memories. They are pretty strong.”
“Like what?” I asked as I curved her hair upwards.
“Well, I remember Grandpa had just retired and there was a huge party here at the house. Seemed like over a hundred people came out to wish Grandpa well. There was as much food and sodas as we wanted. We even got to stay up as late as we wanted and got to sample champagne for the first time. You and Sissy stayed awake until the sun came up but I fell asleep in the porch swing.”
I smiled, remembering what a great time we had. “That was the summer we all learned how to swim. Grandpa taught us when we stayed here. Did you know the reason why we were here? Mom and Dad were talking about getting a divorce, but Grandma insisted she'd take care of us so they could figure things out with a counselor. I guess it worked because they are still together.”
“Yea,” Tera said. “I always thought they had a good marriage. Didn't know they had some problems.”
“Aha. Marriages have their ups and downs. The important thing is to try to work it out and always respect each other.” I finished Tera's hair and had her look at it. She smiled and handed the mirror back to me.
“Looks great, Tiffy. What about my makeup?”
“We can work on that. Do you want to put the makeup on before or after the dress?”
“After I guess. What time is it? I'm getting hungry and I'd like to eat before I put the dress on.”
“It's about 10. I'll go to the kitchen and see if I can find something for you to snack on.”
“No, I'll go with you. Being alone isn't the best for me at this time. I'm still a little nervous.”
“OK.” We then walked over to the kitchen where mom had some fresh fruit cut up and in some bowls. She handed one to me and one to Tera.
“I figured you'd be getting hungry by now, especially after you skipped breakfast,” Mom said as she put out some cookies. Tera dug right into the fruit while I grabbed two chocolate chip cookies.
“How are things going outside?” Tera asked between bites of watermelon and peaches.
“I think they are about finished with the decorations. I will be serving lunch at 12 and I think your dad wanted the decorations done before then so he could get the seating arranged. Sissy is helping.”
“So I should wait until after 12 to put the dress on and the makeup?” Tera asked as she stuffed her mouth with a cookie.
“Sounds about right. Maybe you'd want to help fill the bags with Jordan Almonds for the wedding favors?” Mom suggested. I thought it was a great way to distract Tera so I agreed. Tera looked at me, then nodded.
“Ok then, I'll get that set up in the kitchen while you finish your snack.” Mom left the dining room for the kitchen.
I ate about 5 more cookies before we decided to join mom in the kitchen. She had bowls of pastel-colored nuts sitting on the table, along with blue mesh bags and ribbon. There were also little pieces of paper explaining how the five almonds signify for the newlywed couple: health, wealth, happiness, fertility, and longevity.
“Remember to put only 5 almonds in each bag. No more, no less,” advised mom as we sat down at the kitchen table to begin our work. While we were putting the almonds into the bags, Mom left to do something.
“Do you remember Grandma teaching us how to make cookies the first summer here?” asked Tera as she counted out the almonds and put them into piles for me to place in the bags.
“Yes, I remember. I burnt the first batch I made and we had to stay out of the house for hours while the smoke cleared. Grandma was very patient, she never got cross at me for forgetting to set the timer even though I could have burnt the house down.” I put the almonds into a bag, put the note in along with them, then tied it off with a ribbon.
“Grandma was always calm with us. I hope I'm that way with my kids,” Tera said.
“Me too,” I added as I reached over and gave Tera's hand a squeeze.
I counted the little bundles we had put together. “That makes 150. Time to stop,” I said. Tera popped a candied almond into her mouth.
“I love how these feel in my mouth when I crack the candy shell with my teeth,” she said as she chewed the nut. I ate a couple of them too.
Mom came into the room just as we were putting our supplies together. “You finished already? Wow, that was fast. Please put the bags into this basket. I'll make sure they get distributed.
“The caterers will be here soon to get things set up for the reception. Can you two go get the enclosed porch ready for lunch while I get that together?”
We both nodded our heads and headed off to the porch. There was already a table set up in the room, but we had to arrange the chairs around it so the family could eat. I then set the table with the utensils mom had put out. Tera looked at me. “I had another memory,” she said suddenly.
“What do you remember?” I asked as I placed the napkins around the table.
“I remember celebrating Sissy's 11th birthday here that summer when they first bought this place. Grandma had made cake and there were balloons and a piñata. Grandpa hung it up right over there,” she pointed over to the corner where some chaise lounge chairs were.
I nodded. “That's right. We celebrated a few birthdays here, as well as Christmas.”
Soon the whole family was seated at the table enjoying a meal of fruit salad, chicken salad sandwiches, potato salad, and fruit punch. Besides my mom and my sisters, there was Sissy's husband, Ken, my dad, and our brother Jerry with his wife Sara. My husband, Dave, was not able to make it to the wedding. He was deployed in an “unknown location”.
Once the meal was done and the table cleared off, Tera was ready to get dressed. Sissy joined us in the bedroom as we helped the bride-to-be put on her gown. It was the same gown our Grandma had worn on her wedding in the 1940's– a basic ivory silk shift dress, ankle-length, with a jacket made of lace and long lace sleeves. When the dress was on, Sissy put on the lace veil with flowers sewn in while I did Tera's makeup. After Tera was dressed, Sissy and I hurried into our blue bride's maid dresses and quickly put on our makeup. Tera then gave each of us a small pearl necklace to wear.
During our preparation time, the guests began arriving. The other family members acted as ushers and directed the people to the proper location. The minister was already standing in front of the arbor when I peeked out into the yard. Paul was there too, along with his best man, Tim. Jerry was the second man standing up for Paul, but I hadn't seen him in his tux yet.
The ceremony was beautiful! At 2:00 sharp, we lined up on the back porch, and dad played “Here Comes the Bride” on his violin. We walked across the lawn, through Grandma's rose garden fully in bloom, to the arbor now decorated in garlands of white and blue flowers. The guests were seated in white chairs with white and blue flowers tied onto the middle aisle seats with blue ribbons.
The men stood in front of the arbor dressed in black tuxedos with blue cummerbunds. Paul had the goofiest look on his face when he saw Tera, and I thought it was endearing.
The vows were said, the rings exchanged and the kiss planted. Guests were then ushered under a tent that was set up on the other side of the house with a clear view of the lake. After the receiving line was done, people were directed to the tables for the catered meal. Paul had requested roasted chicken, small red potatoes, green beans, and rolls as the meal. It was delicious!
After the meal, the tables were cleared and the tent was set up so people could talk. While Tera and her new husband Paul were mingling with the guests, I walked down to the dock on the lake. As I stared out over the water, I remembered that first summer we spent there. Grandpa had taught us how to fish, then he taught us how to clean them so they could be eaten. I nearly threw up watching the process, but Sissy took to it fine. She can clean a fish faster than most men, and not miss a scale or a bone. We learned how to row a boat, drive the outboard motor, and sail Grandpa's sailboat. He had named it Jessie, after Grandma. We had to sell the sailboat once they had both passed away. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I thought about that sad day.
That day ended the same as the first day we were there so many years ago: a party that lasted all night, with me and Sissy staying up until the sunrise.