One of a series of “Stories for My Great-Grandchildren”
Excerpt from “An Oklahoma Story – Growing Up on Polecat Hill”
By Ruby Beard Tuggle
Edited by Greg Bennette
Illustrated by Carol Bennette
On the morning of her wedding day Mildred asked me to go with her to get the flowers that friends had told her she might have from their gardens, and to gather fern-like asparagus foliage to use in the bouquets we would make. How lovely our house looked! In my imagination, I saw my pretty sister standing amid those beautiful bouquets, promising to love, honor, and cherish Harry Pickett.
By late afternoon all was in readiness: Mildred’s wedding gown, new dresses for Mama and Henryetta and Laurine and me, pretty clothes for Elinor and Marjorie, Daddy’s good suit and Frank’s best trousers cleaned and pressed.
Pans of warm water in the bedrooms served for bathing. That is, for everyone except me. For me nothing but a tub bath would do. I drew generous amounts of water from the well, warmed it on the kitchen stove, poured it into the bathtub in the tiny room that opened off the dining room and had a small window that looked out upon the east porch. There I bathed in luxury, scrubbing elbows and knees and wishing I could have a bath like this every day.
At last I was satisfied that I was clean. I stepped out of the tub, dried myself off and slipped into an old red bathrobe. But I had a problem. Wedding guests had started to arrive and all of them crossed the east porch and assembled in the dining room. I was trapped.
I decided to make a run for the bedroom where I had carefully laid out the clothes that I would wear for this very special evening. I slowly opened the door and peered out. At that moment Brother Gunckel, the minister, stepped directly in front of the door! Only by forcing him aside could I get out. My heart sank. No way could I show myself in my old bathrobe to these perfectly dressed, dignified people. I simply had to wait until they left the dining room.
As I sat in my cubbyhole-bathroom I began to sweat. For what seemed hours I sweated and waited and wished that Brother Gunckel would quit talking so that everyone would move from the dining room to the living room. At last, thank God, they did. But was I free? No! Doors left open between the living room and dining room made my escape route perfectly visible to guests, now seated for the ceremony.
There was only one way I could escape. I had to climb out the tiny bathroom window, get an ice pick from the ice box on the back porch, pick open the hook on the bedroom window screen, and crawl inside.
Mildred, I knew, would stay in the bedroom until she heard, “Here comes the Bride”. Would she notice my clothes and wonder where I was? Or would she, or someone else, hang them in the hall closet which was all too visible from the living room? At last I heard the music.
“Now,” I thought, “hurry, hurry, hurry and you may yet see your sister married!”
One leg went over the tiny window sill, and I was half way out when I heard a car pull into the driveway. Oh, no! What would people think? Ruby crawling out of the window while Mildred was being married!
Back I went and peered out to see who the late arrival was. Aunt Etta got out of her car and dashed toward the front door. Hurry now! Out the window I went again, grabbed the ice pick, opened the window screen, and crawled into the bedroom. What a relief! My clothes were still there.
By now I knew that the ceremony was sure to be over. Mildred was married and I had missed the whole thing. I realized that at any moment people would start pouring from the living room into other parts of the house. In the mirror I saw that my naked body was red where my robe had faded and I was wet with sweat. Frantically I clawed my way into my fresh clean clothes while Brother Gunckel’s voice droned on and on in prayer.
I prayed, too. “Please God, let him pray a little longer, just another minute!”
When at last I heard him say “Amen”, I was dressed. My hair wasn’t combed and I hadn’t had time to wipe the sweat from my face and to put on make up when Mildred’s best friend, Hassel, came into the bedroom. “Ruby,” she exclaimed, “how pretty you look! I’ve never seen you so radiant.”
I glanced at myself in the mirror. I was ‘radiant’ alright. My cheeks were flushed as no rouge could have made them. My skinny, sun-tanned arms had a rosy glow, thanks to my faded red bathrobe. My hair was more becoming than I could have fashioned it with a comb. Excitement had heightened the vibrance of my young body. Yes, I guess I did look as pretty as I had ever looked in my life.
“I thought that preacher would never finish that prayer,” Hassel whispered as Henryetta came into the room. “Look. I’ve sweat clear through my dress.”
“Me, too,” Henryetta answered. “He sure is one long-winded preacher!”
I had to agree. And, I thought, maybe God loves me more than I knew!
My painful disappointment at not seeing Mildred and Harry married was great enough without adding embarrassment to that pain. I told no one. It was many years later when Mildred died that I told Harry what Brother Gunckel’s long wedding prayer had meant to me. My story brought laughter at a time of great sorrow. “How I wish Mildred could have heard this,” Harry said. “She would have loved it!”