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The Real Story of Mr. Lizard

imgresEvery August I drag out Husband’s and my wedding pictures when we celebrate our anniversary and share them with anyone who will look. And every year someone, now one of our Grands, asks, “What’s he doing?” The picture shows a man, dressed in a white jacket and black pants, bent over and reaching for something under a church pew.

August 3, 1969. Because Byrdstown First Christian Church wasn’t air-conditioned, the windows were raised, hopefully, to allow a breeze. Large fans had circulated air before the 4:30 p.m. ceremony, but were turned off when the wedding music began.

I stood downstairs, directly under the sanctuary, with Dad. The bridesmaids had walked up the steps and down the aisle. Dad kissed my cheek and assured me that I would always be his little girl and he was happy that I was marrying the man I loved, and then, using his white handkerchief, he blotted tears and sweat from my face. Dad and I took deep breaths and waited for silence. When the organ music stopped it was our cue that the rest of the wedding party was in place and we should walk up the steps.

The music stopped and Dad and I heard screams and stomping. Where the guests leaving the church?

Dad left me standing at the bottom of the steps and ran upstairs. Some women stood on pews and many guests stood in the aisle. Two groomsmen, bent from the waist, stretched their arms under pews. T. D. raised his hand. He held a small blue-tailed lizard between his thumb and fingers. The guests applauded. The lizard was taken outside and left near a huge oak tree.   And when the organist hit the first note of the wedding march, Dad walked me down the aisle to Husband’s side.

It was a beautiful wedding. Bridesmaids wore yellow dresses and carried green Shasta mums. Husband’s little sisters were junior bridesmaid and flower girl. Groomsmen wore white jackets and black bowties. Ferns, candles, sprays of flowers adorned the church. And what is remembered most about our wedding? Mr. Lizard.

Most people guessed he crawled inside thru an open window. Not unusual, especially on a hot day. And that’s exactly what I assumed until a few months ago. During a family gathering, I sat with Husband’s cousins around Aunt Bill’s dining room table.

“You know, I need to tell you something,” cousin John said. “Remember that lizard at your wedding?” A few heads nodded. Some people laughed, remembering the commotion.

John took a deep breath. “Well, all these years, I’ve felt guilty. You know everyone thought that lizard came in through a window? It didn’t. Dad did it.”

“He what?” I exclaimed.

“Dad found it outside on the church porch and stuck it in his suit coat pocket. He took it out and let it go right where we were sitting. No one knew except me. Not even Momma. And all these years, I’ve felt bad about it. I’m really sorry.”

I was surprised and immediately accepted John’s apology. It never occurred to me that anyone, not even an uncle who liked to play jokes, was responsible for Mr. Lizard. John’s parents are both deceased, but John apologized profusely for his dad. “He shouldn’t have done it.”

Maybe not. But it’s a good story, and now I can tell the real story about Mr. Lizard. A much better story than the one I’ve told for 46 years.





A Clear Blue Sky October Day

search-1When I drove past the Putnam County Courthouse yesterday, I paused to remember an event that took place there on October 28, 1938. The day my parents married. I don’t have a single picture of them on their wedding day. Just pictures in my mind.

Mom was young, only 19. Dad was 26. Seems quite a gap in ages. But I’m sure Mom was mature for her age; she was the oldest of three sisters and had been forced to take the responsibility of her family’s daily home life when her mother became ill. Dad had completed three years of college and taught in the Pickett County schools and worked with his grandfather on the family farm.

One summer Sunday afternoon after Mom graduated from high school, she and Dad were among the many young people who gathered for a weekly pick-up baseball game in a farm field. After the game, Dad offered Mom a ride home and that was the first time they were in a car together. Mom’s sister told me that after that Sunday afternoon, Dad was always around their house.

With both their parents’ blessings, Dad and Mom travelled alone from their homes in Byrdstown to Cookeville on that October day in 1938. Mom worn a plum colored, knee-length satin dress that she’d made. When they arrived at the courthouse, they had all the paperwork in order and a judge agreed to marry them. All they needed was a witness.

It was suggested that someone from a store could be a witness. While Mom waited in the judge’s office, Dad walked across the street to Terry Brother’s Department Store (now the Lighthouse.) As soon as he walked in the store a sales clerk asked if he needed someone to ‘stand up with him and his bride.’ So their only witness was a woman who had apparently witnessed many other weddings.

Mom and Dad took a weekend honeymoon trip to the Smokey Mountain National Park. As they drove through Lenoir City late that Friday afternoon, they heard music, a high school band playing. Dad took advantage of the situation and told his new bride, “Listen, the band is playing just for us.” That’s the only event of the honeymoon that Mom shared with her younger sisters.

I wish I’d known my parents on their wedding day and during their early years of marriage. By the time I came along, they’d been married for almost nine years and they had my brother, five years older than me. Dad had served time in the army during World War II. While he was away, Mom divided her time living with her parents and her mother-in-law.

The best glimpse I have of my parents as a young couple is a letter Dad wrote to Mom on March 20, 1946, from Karlsruhe, Germany, where he was stationed as a solider. The first lines are, “This is the letter I’ve dreamed of writing. I’m on my way home.” And the last lines read, “Darling, I do love you. Right now I’m just so darned happy.”

I can imagine that on a clear blue sky fall day in 1938 inside the Putnam County Courthouse, a beautiful bride and a handsome groom were both just so darned happy.


Who Gives This Bride?


Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 2.53.52 PMWhen my friend Kae Fleming said that Santa would escort her son’s bride down the aisle, I knew there was a good story.


It seems that for years, Santa had surprised the Fleming family while they ate Christmas Eve dinner at a Chinese restaurant.  Unknown to Kae’s son Drake, Santa was their family friend, Bobby, who owned the local dry cleaning business.  Like other children, Drake noticed Santa’s red suit of hanging in the dry cleaners and accepted Bobby’s explanation that Santa had to get his clothes cleaned, just like everyone else.  Every Christmas Eve, Santa held Drake on his lap and gave him a small gift.


Bobby lived on a big farm close to the Duck River where he invited friends to play, fish, swim, and ride 4-wheelers.  Among Bobby’s guests were Drake’s family and Bobby’s girlfriend and her two young daughters.  It never occurred to Drake or the other children that Bobby was Santa; he was a friend who cleaned their clothes and had a great place to play.


Fast forward to Drake’s high school years.  For four years in homeroom class, his assigned seat was beside Kayla Floyd, Bobby’s girlfriend’s daughter.  By the fall of their sophomore years, Drake and Kayla’s friendship morphed into a romance.  A romance that blossomed and grew.  They played team sports: football for him, softball for her.  They went to proms, hung out with friends, courted like high school sweethearts do.


And then they graduated.  Drake accepted an appointment to West Point in New York, and Kayla chose to enroll in Tennessee Tech and play on the softball team.  Separated by 850 miles, Drake and Kayla continued their courtship with late night phone calls, daily texts and emails, and sporadic visits during their college years. They stayed committed to each other and to completing their educations.


One summer night last year, Drake’s family hosted a picnic gathering for family and friends.  Drake asked everyone to bow their heads for grace and right in the middle of the prayer, he said, “Y’all can raise your heads now, in case you haven’t figured out why you’re here.”  And then he dropped to one knee and proposed to Kayla.  The picnic turned into an engagement party.


As the wedding plans were made, Kayla chose Bobby – the man who was Santa and had invited Drake’s and Kayla’s families to play at his farm – to walk her down the aisle.  Although Bobby and Kayla’s mom’s relationship ended years earlier, a special bond between Bobby and Kayla stuck.  Bobby mentored and encouraged her as an athlete, a student, and a young lady.


Now Drake and Kayla have graduated from college and will wed on June 14 at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Columbia Tennessee.   Drake’s mother said, “Bobby will walk Kayla down the aisle to give her away to Drake!  He’ll wear a tuxedo, but probably should’ve considered a Santa suit!”


Surely, Bobby will wear his Santa suit for the reception.  And I hope they stage a photo of Drake sitting on Santa’s knee and Kayla, in her beautiful white wedding dress, holding Santa’s hand.

Imagine the questions that Drake and Kayla will be asked later.  Why did Santa come to your wedding?  Is that really Santa?

Yes, for this bride and groom, Bobby is really Santa.