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Family Tradition

by Kim Bonner

Kim is a Florida native and graduate of Stetson University. Her work has appeared in the Barely South Review, Flying South Literary Journal (Pushcart Prize nominated) and I was one of twenty winners in  the 2020 Nickie's Prize for Humor Writing, sponsored by the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop. She lives in southwest Florida with her family and assortment of rescue animals.

Our first clue that the wedding would be a low rent affair came when the invitation announced that the bride and groom were registered at Tractor Supply. After ruling out baby chicks, garden hoses, and saddle soap, we settled on a pair of decorative spurs fashioned into key hooks.

“This is tacky,” my mother complained. “They are your father’s people, not mine.”

I could have pointed out that her family tree included a convicted swindler who briefly had his own cult. Instead, I ran my hand wistfully across a box containing a Breyer Appaloosa mare and foal.

“They’re probably serving alcohol,” my mother muttered. She gestured at the box I held. “Put that back. You got plenty of toys.”

When the day of the nuptials arrived, we wore our second-best Sunday dresses. As it turned out, the wedding was outside, the seats were hay bales, and the minister was a little drunk.

“We’re overdressed,” I hissed to my sister.

“Ya think?”

The bride sauntered down the aisle, an erstwhile tomato garden, wearing a gauzy white dress, sheer enough for us to see her polka dot panties. She was barefoot and holding what appeared to be a patch of scrawny flowers. A matching headpiece topped off the ensemble.

“She’s going to get ringworm,” my mother mumbled in disapproval.

“Before we say our vows, my best friend and cousins are singing a song for ya’ll,” the bride announced. She scratched her arm and nodded toward a trio of portly girls. They lumbered to the makeshift altar (A trellis made of PCV pipe and festooned with purple and white crepe paper) in matching lavender dresses, sporting straw bonnets with peacock feathers glued on top. As they launched into an a cappella rendition of “You Light Up My Life,” I found myself giggling uncontrollably.

“Wait a second, ya’ll. We messed up the words and need to start over again,” the friend said. Her peacock feather had started to droop as they gamely launched into version two.

Then came version three. The fourth time was the charm when they managed to sing the right words, out of tune, at the same time, right until the bitter end.

“Do we applaud?” I asked, having only been to one other wedding, which had been in a church and not attended by a drunk minister or a chorus of supremely untalented singers.

“No. They might do an encore,” my sister whispered back.

“Hey everybody, we are gathered to witness the union of these two people,” the minister began. He paused to belch loudly.

As the vows were being exchanged, the bride furiously scratched her left arm, then her neck. By the time the rings were exchanged, she’d started surreptitiously rubbing her butt. The friend who’d messed up the bridal serenade was grinning like a possum in a fresh cornfield. When they got to “Kiss the Bride,” red welts had sprouted on the bride’s neck.

“Ya think she got the clap?”  murmured a man behind us.

We felt my mother’s disapproval boring through us while we tore into the buffet potluck dinner, cooked in the undoubtedly unhygienic kitchens of our relatives, but still delicious. The bride struggled to scratch her scalp with her bouquet while she held out her plate.

“Child, you got into poison oak,” said one of the older ladies as she spooned out generous portions of banana pudding.

The bride blanched and stared at her bouquet. She looked at her crimson arms and again at the bouquet, and repeated the process until her jaw dropped. By this time, the best friend, several beers in at the secret keg in the garage, was primed and ready.

“That’s what you get for stealing someone else’s man, you—“  she launched into a profanity laced tirade in which she crowed that the hand made floral arrangement, her special contribution to the wedding ensemble, was actually dollarweed laced with poison oak. In between curses and name calling, I gathered that the vengeful bestie had been plotting her revenge ever since her then-boyfriend, the groom, had ditched her at the Circle K, taken the bride four wheeling, and never looked back two years earlier.

“She could have just bought her a pair of shoes,” my sister remarked.

The bride let out a gutteral howl and rushed the friend, who had to be a solid 350 pounds. She tackled her with the efficiency of Mean Joe Greene on Super Bowl Sunday. Hair flew, and sadly, the banana pudding was upended in the ruckus.

“You wanna get married? HERE’S SOME FLOWERS!” the bride screamed, shoving the poisonous concoction in her friend’s face.

When the men finally separated them, it was agreed that the cake cutting and line dancing would be postponed until such time as the bride could get a shot of Benadryl and the friend could sober up. Disappointed, but with full bellies, we wished the newlyweds well and headed home.

Many years later, when the bride passed away after a short bout with cancer, we attended her funeral and ended up sitting next to that same friend. She wept inconsolably the whole time. When the benediction was over, she leaped from the pew and dashed to the front, knocking over wire pedestals holding mums and lilies.  It took four grown men to pry her away as she tried to climb into the casket with the deceased.

“I’m going with you!” she cried, flapping her arms in protest.

For us, it wasn’t an uncommon sight, four men, each gripping a hand or foot, hauling a hysterical, morbidly obese woman out of a family funeral. But there was a small part of me that suspected the whole thing was an act, and that she’d made the casket run just to deliver another poisonous bouquet to accompany her man-stealing friend into the afterlife.

Maybe I’m cynical, but if my man ditched me at a Circle K and took off four wheeling with my best friend, I’d be holding a grudge too. 

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