|Publisher:||Open Road Distribution|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.38(d)|
|Age Range:||8 - 12 Years|
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The Final Farewell
By Patricia Wiles
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2013 Patricia Wiles
All rights reserved.
It was late summer in Armadillo, Arkansas, and hotter than the Cow Palace restaurant's Great Balls of Fire Cow Pattie with double jalapenos. Dr. Alfred Leopold Wallace stood in front of the flower-covered archway, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
I couldn't help but think that since it was like an oven outside, it was a perfect time for my old half-baked, eighth-grade life sciences teacher to marry someone as half-baked as himself — Cassiopeia, otherwise known as Gladys Penelope Melon. Cassiopeia was Melonhead's mother — Melonhead being one of my two best friends at the time. Melonhead liked to say his mother was a free spirit. Most people just thought she was weird.
Cassiopeia wore togas, ate tofu, and claimed she could feel people's auras. Yet I couldn't say she was weird for having her wedding at the Paramount Funeral Home. It was my parents' home and business, after all, and my mother and Cassiopeia were good friends in spite of their different personalities.
Besides, this wasn't the first wedding we'd had at the Paramount. Marcy and Marshall had said "I do" in our outdoor sitting area a few years before. Mom and Dad had hired Marcy as an apprentice during their first year at the Paramount. She was so affectionate, warm, and fun that my parents couldn't help but love her. Soon Marcy was calling my parents Momma and Daddy K. And Mom and Dad were telling people Marcy was their daughter — never mind the odd looks they got because they were white and Marcy was African American. I didn't care what anyone else thought either. To me, Marcy was truly my sister.
When Marcy finally gave in to her boyfriend Marshall's proposals, she wanted to have her wedding at home — our funeral home. The setting, though it sounded creepy, was anything but. Mom had cultivated the sitting area outside into a major flower garden, almost like something you'd see in a magazine. There was a kidney-shaped fish pond with plenty of fat koi, antique iron benches to sit on, and a cool ancient-looking sundial Mom had picked up at the Memphis Mega Flea Market.
So when Cassiopeia announced her engagement to Dr. Wallace, Mom offered to host the ceremony. Like she said, if you ignored the hearse that was parked close by, the sitting area made a great spot for a wedding.
Dr. Wallace's high-pitched complaint interrupted my thoughts. "Is it time to commence with the ceremony?" He tugged at his bow tie and stretched his neck. His face was red — either from nerves or from the heat-absorbing black tuxedo. His white chrysanthemum boutonniere had withered to brown and now hung limp from his lapel.
I loosened my tie so the sweat could run freely past my collar. "Shouldn't be long. Marcy got the bouquet out of the refrigerator a minute ago."
My grandfather set up the last folding chair and wiped his brow. "Here's your first lesson in marriage. Doc. Women are never ready on time for anything."
There was a brief, merciful blast of cool air when Melonhead opened the French doors. "Mom's on her way." He trotted down the aisle and took his place as best man.
Mormons that meet in small congregations call their lay ministers branch presidents. Armadillo had as small a Mormon congregation as you could get. President Carter (not to be confused with the former president of the United States) was our branch president. He took his place under the arch. He held a Bible in one hand and a marriage license in the other. His wife herded their two young sons, Dylan and Derek, to a row of seats in the back. Their daughter Dani — my other best friend — mopped my forehead with a tissue.
"You're going to melt in that suit."
I nodded. "It's kinda warm."
She took a handheld, battery-operated fan from her bag, held it to my face, and turned it on. "How's that?" I laughed. "Maybe it will dry the sweat on my lip."
"Dani!" Lily B, Marcy and Marshall's daughter, burst through the doors, releasing another blessed gust of air-conditioning. She ran to Dani with outstretched arms. "Dani hold me?"
"You betcha." Dani picked up Lily B and set her on her hip. "Who's my bestest three-year-old friend?"
Lily B's black eyes shone. She smoothed Dani's hair with her chubby brown hands. "Dani is my best friend of all."
"What about me?" I stuck my bottom lip out in a pout. "What about Uncle Kevin? I thought I was your best friend."
Lily B shook her head. "Silly Unka Kebin."
"Who told you I was silly?"
Lily B giggled. "Mommy."
Dani laughed. "I think you're silly." She poked Lily B's tummy. Lily B poked her back.
Marcy stuck her head out the doors. "The bride's on her way." She then stepped out and held the doors for Dad as he carried out the CD player and a stack of CDs.
"Gam-pa K!" Lily B shouted. She squirmed out of Dani's arms and ran to my father. "Gam-pa K, can I play wif it?"
Dad almost dropped the CDs when Lily B grabbed his leg. "No. It's time for the wedding, princess." Dad set the player and the discs on a small table behind the last row of chairs. "Where's your flower basket?"
Lily B clamped her hands over her mouth and ran back inside.
"She's so funny," Dani said. "Isn't she adorable in that flower girl outfit?"
"Yeah." I checked my watch. Cassiopeia was already ten minutes late.
"When I get married, I'm going to have five bridesmaids, and my flower girl is going to wear a pink taffeta dress and real roses in her hair. Pink ones."
"I didn't think you could have stuff like that in a temple wedding."
"You can't. That's why I'm having a real wedding ceremony first. I want to walk down the aisle and wear a beautiful dress with a long train covered in sequins. The church will be full of flowers, and there'll be a photographer taking pictures and everything."
Our church met in the old Fix-Rite Hardware store. It would look stupid to have a big wedding in there. I laughed. "If you're going to get married in our church building, make sure you don't trip as you walk through the talking doors that say 'Welcome to Fix-Rite.'"
Dani scowled at me. "I don't mean our church building. I'll rent the big Baptist church downtown — the one with the huge stained glass windows." Her eyes glazed over as she daydreamed. "We'll even decorate the outside. Pink and white silk bows on the doors, silk streamers twirled around the handrails — it'll be gorgeous."
"What about marrying in the temple?"
"I'll go to the temple — right after the big wedding. Like the next week, maybe after the honeymoon."
"Two weddings? That's dumb."
"Why can't I have the big wedding I want? Everybody else has them. If I go to the temple later, it shouldn't matter as long as I do it."
Mom peeked out the door. "We're ready!" She nodded to Melonhead and then to Dad, who was standing at attention next to the CD player.
Dani went to sit with her mom. After she sat down she smiled and waved at me. I smiled back.
I'd never heard Dani talk like that before, like going to the temple wasn't all that important. Most of the time, she was the one telling me that I wasn't taking church things seriously. I wondered what had made her change her mind.
Melonhead walked backwards from President Carter to the French doors, unrolling rice paper on top of the yellow carpet runner. Cassiopeia would tiptoe over it on her way to the makeshift altar.
The patio light flickered — the signal that Cassiopeia was ready.
Dad punched the ON button, and the bridal march began.
Honey, Melonhead's little sister, was the maid of honor. She wore a gauzy yellow dress and carried a bunch of wildflowers tied together with a thin yellow ribbon. The rice paper made soft crackling sounds with each step of her bare feet. Dr. Wallace gave her an awkward wave.
Lily B was next. When her feet touched the rice paper, she giggled.
"Go on," Marcy whispered. "Follow Honey."
The yellow ribbons on the ends of her dark braids flapped as she nodded. She took slow, careful steps, hamming it up for the crowd.
"The petals — drop your petals."
Lily B frowned at her mother. She didn't understand.
"In your basket, baby." Marshall leaned over Marcy's pregnant tummy and pointed to the yellow basket Lily B carried in her hand.
"Oh! Da petals!" Lily B reached in the basket and pulled out a handful.
Marcy nodded. "Good girl. Now drop them."
Lily B put the petals back in the basket and raised it over her head.
Marshall and Marcy were frantic. "No, Lily!"
"Petals!" Lily B squealed. She turned the basket over and was hit by a deluge of multicolored rose petals. She threw the basket down and ran to Honey, ripping the rice paper with her tiny feet. "See my petals? Dey're on my head!"
Honey brushed the petals off Lily B's head. Murmurs of laughter flowed through the crowd.
The French doors opened and Cassiopeia emerged. She looked like some kind of elf princess in her bare feet and flowing white dress. She let her wavy brown hair float free instead of brushing it up into a bun like usual. An enormous wreath of wildflowers circled the top of her head, and she carried an even bigger bouquet of wildflowers in her arms.
As track one of the Blissful Music for Blushing Brides CD concluded, Cassiopeia took her place beside Dr. Wallace and handed the flowers to Honey.
President Carter cleared his throat. "We are here today to witness the marriage of Cassiopeia — I mean, Gladys Penelope Melon — to Alfred Leopold Wallace."
Dr. Wallace leaned toward President Carter. "Doctor. Don't forget the Doctor. I'm a Ph.D., you know."
President Carter dabbed at the sweat dripping from his temples. Then he raised his voice: "We are here today to witness the marriage of Gladys Penelope Melon to Dr. Alfred Leopold Wallace."
Dr. Wallace nodded his approval. Then Cassiopeia took Dr. Wallace's hand, and all at once his legs began to wobble.
The ceremony went on, the phrase until death being repeated more times than I cared to hear. I never gave it much thought until after my parents were sealed in the temple, and I had been sealed to them, during my junior year of high school. Since then, whenever I heard the until-death-do-us-part portion of a wedding, it made the whole ceremony seem pointless. I reminded myself, though, that this wedding wasn't pointless to Cassiopeia and Dr. Wallace. They just didn't have a testimony of eternal families yet. Would they ever?
Melonhead stood beside Dr. Wallace as his best man. His hands were behind his back, and I chuckled to myself when I noticed that his fingers were crossed.
I was going to miss Melonhead.
Soon the ceremony was over. "You may kiss the bride," President Carter said to the new Dr. and Mrs. Wallace.
Dr. Wallace pecked Cassiopeia on the cheek.
Everyone clapped and cheered, including Dani.
I frowned. If anyone here should have a testimony of eternal families, Dani should. Why was it more important to her to have a big wedding than to have her wedding in the right place?
Later, in the guest kitchen, I was sitting alone at one of the tables and eating a huge chunk of wedding cake when Dr. Wallace sat down beside me.
"So, Kevin Kirk, you are a senior. The time has come for you to consider colleges. Have you narrowed your selection?" Dr. Wallace shoved a big piece of cake in his mouth. A blob of yellow icing hung from his lip as he chewed.
I wiped my mouth with my napkin, hoping he'd get the hint. He didn't.
"I've thought about it."
"I assume you are still an excellent student?"
"Are you still interested in life science?"
"I'd like to major in biology."
Dr. Wallace finally wiped his mouth. But instead of getting rid of the icing, he just smeared it. "I've accepted a position at Nelson–Barrett University. They have one of the most prestigious research programs in the South," he said, sounding like he'd memorized the line from a recruiter's brochure.
"Congratulations." Of course I already knew he was going to teach there. Melonhead and I had been talking about it for weeks. I was happy for Dr. Wallace. I knew he liked teaching life sciences at Armadillo Middle, but his dream had always been to teach and do research at a real university. But I wished Melonhead didn't have to move with him.
"They are recruiting students for their new undergraduate research program. They are offering a limited number of full scholarships."
The pineapple punch was so sugary it made my teeth hurt. I popped a few salted peanuts into my mouth to counteract the sweetness.
"These students will assist the professors on various projects. I want to recommend you to the committee."
I choked on the peanuts. I grabbed another yellow cocktail napkin and coughed into it.
Dr. Wallace slapped me on the back with his bony hand. "Should I perform the Heimlich maneuver?"
I shook my head no and coughed some more.
Dr. Wallace handed me my punch cup. "Take another sip."
The syrupy punch slid down my throat. I almost gagged from the sweetness, but at least it made me stop coughing. "You would do that for me? Recommend me for a full scholarship?"
"Of course," Dr. Wallace said matter-of-factly. "Research is in your nature. You would be a credit to the school and to the program. Why wouldn't I consider you?"
I wanted to hug Dr. Wallace, but of course I didn't. "You bet I'd be interested."
Then — just as clear as Dr. Wallace's offer — I heard another voice: What about a mission? I looked around, but there was no one else at our table. My heart beat so hard it made my eardrums throb.
I heard it again: What about a mission? I tried to shove the thought to the side, but it wouldn't stay there.
Dr. Wallace stood up. "I will pursue the necessary paperwork." He picked up his plate and cup. "Where is the nearest trash receptacle?"
I pointed to the opposite side of the room with my right hand — the hand with the missing pinky. I'd lost that pinky in the eighth grade because I ignored Dr. Wallace's instructions during a field trip and tried to pick up a water moccasin.
Dr. Wallace noticed my hand. "Our last course together ended tragically. This time, however, you are more mature. You will have a greater appreciation for the fundamentals of research." His face cracked into a stiff smile. "I am eager to have you again as my pupil."
"Thanks, Dr. Wallace. I appreciate your help."
As he walked away, my ego floated right out of the chair; then —
What about a mission?
I could hear the air hissing out of my deflating dream. This wasn't fair. Couldn't I go to college first and then go on a mission? I'd go right after graduation. It shouldn't matter when I served a mission as long as I served one.
I smacked myself in the forehead. What was I doing? That was the same thing Dani had said about marrying in the temple. I sighed. Still, I didn't want to burn all my bridges. Who knew what could happen?
I got up and dumped my plate and cup in the trash, then followed the other well-wishers outside to see the Wallace family off. Melonhead was waiting for me in the parking lot.
"I have to go." He nodded toward the moving van.
"Knoxville isn't that far," I lied. "Just six and a half hours away."
"We'll keep in touch."
Melonhead sniffed. "I want to know when you get your mission call. You'll be the first one to know when I get mine."
I felt my face turn red. "I'll call you."
Melonhead's voice was soft and reflective. "Thanks for teaching me about the gospel. It means a lot to me." He glanced back at his family. "I hope someday it will mean something to them too."
Behind us, my mother was embracing Cassiopeia. I would never have imagined the two would end up good friends. But Melonhead and I were friends from the moment we met. He was an easy person to get along with. And he was always honest — a quality I wished I had. I figured now was a good time to start emulating him. "Thanks for all the times you told me the truth, even when I didn't want to hear it."
The U-Haul engine roared. Melonhead's blue eyes filled with tears. He blinked hard, trying not to cry. I hoped I wasn't that obvious.
He held out his hand. "Good-bye, Kev."
My stomach felt hollow in spite of all the cake, punch, and nuts in it. I gripped Melonhead's hand tight, hoping this would not be the last time I'd see my friend.
"We don't have to say good-bye. We'll see each other again. Maybe we'll be in the same mission."
We wrapped our arms around each other. His dark suit coat was stiff and warm from the sun. For an instant I sensed that Melonhead would be a powerful missionary. Then, like always, he said what I wished I'd said first.
"I love you, Kevin."
I swallowed hard. "I love you too, Melonhead."
He patted my back, and we broke our brotherly embrace. We looked at each other's tear-streaked faces and burst out laughing.
"See you in the mission field, Elder Kirk."
"I'll be watching for you, Elder Melon."
Excerpted from The Final Farewell by Patricia Wiles. Copyright © 2013 Patricia Wiles. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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