A small wedding day detour

An unexpected stop taught a young groom a lot about his new wife.

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A pretty flower in a greenhouse is, well, just another pretty flower. But put it in a pot and take it someplace where beauty and light are in short supply, and that flower becomes special, like a rainbow in a storm.

I witnessed this phenomenon on what would be one of the more memorable days of anyone's lifetime.

The name of the "flower" was Marianne, and she had shining brown hair. Think of a young Natalie Wood, though Natalie was never quite as talkative.

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Natalie, I mean Marianne, had agreed to marry me, and, like any bride-to-be, was all ebullience with regard to plans for the ceremony and reception.

Whereas I had been willing to shoulder my share of the burden by arranging to rent the backroom of a local hangout, Marianne gently apprised me that such a venue was not exactly ideal, and that a well-regarded restaurant, along with the seasonally correct floral arrangements, dance band, and so on, had all to be researched and reserved.

So I stepped out of the loop, graciously deferring to her for all matrimonial superficialities. I saved my opinions for graver matters, such as world peace, nuclear proliferation, and prospective contenders in the World Series.

On the eve of the big day, Marianne proudly reported that everything – from seating arrangements to the color of the bridal couple's limousine – was in readiness. Guests had sent their RSVPs, the check for the minister's stipend was written, and the honeymoon suite reserved.

At the rehearsal party that night, we received news that my grandmother on my mother's side of the family had been hospitalized and would miss the wedding. Because it wasn't serious, she insisted that we not change our plans.

The ceremony went off without a hitch. The bride was a vision, the guests looked happy to be there, and, except for all the posing required by the nagging photographer, I was having the time of my life.

My brother and best man, Net, was driving us from the church to the reception, where food and drink and music awaited. But on the way, when he made an unexpected turn down 95th Street, Marianne touched my hand before I could ask what was going on.

"I asked Net to make a stop at Little Company," she said quietly.

She meant the hospital, Little Company of Mary, where Grandma lay in bed on the third floor.

I considered the parking, the elevator, the delay. I envisioned all the other patients we'd pass, gawking at us from their rooms.

And meanwhile, at the restaurant, all our guests would be wondering what happened to the newlyweds. We really didn't have the time for this, I thought.

When Net turned left and the dingy yellow building loomed ahead, my mood on this big day turned gray.

I will admit to taking some pleasure in the stares we got when Marianne swept in through the double doors, trailing her veil. As we entered the elevator, a patient also heading upstairs was amazed, too.

When she saw us, Grandma sprung upright in bed, her surprise boomeranged into a wide grin, and then melted into tears as Marianne rushed forward to hug her.

I stood back – could have been invisible – and took in the scene. I was proud of the youthful beauty in snowy gown, reflected in the glistening eyes of all four women in the ward.

As Grandma bragged to her roommates about who we were, she started crying all over again, till Marianne calmed her by describing the church service, the bridesmaids' dresses, and the like.

It was approaching 30 minutes, but I suddenly discovered patience, which I wasn't known for. Nothing else that day would surpass the power of this moment and its revelations about living, about people, about compassion, and a little about my own shame. Also something incredible and indelible about my ... wife. Yes, she was suddenly my wife.

Thirty-seven years later, she is still my wife, still that sudden rainbow, eager to lend light and hope in a storm.

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