Almost every girl has a memory or story of "catching the bouquet" at a wedding. It's only natural that I should share mine, right? Well, many...many years ago, like all young girls after a wedding ceremony, I dashed at the chance when the announcement came of the bride throwing her bouquet. At that time, numerous friends were married over the summer and I had failed at all my bouquet-catching attempts. This time, however, the bouquet practically landed in my arms, almost as if it were meant to be...and there was no shoving, trampling, or tug-of-war involved! Everyone knows the tradition that the bouquet-catcher is "supposed" to be the next to be married, BUT what I didn't know was the special tradition that came with this particular bouquet...
I actually didn't know the bride very well. The groom and his family were long-time friends with my family and we basically grew up together. I'd only met the bride once before at a family party when they announced that they were getting married. That's the back-story, now here's the interesting part. Shortly after catching the bouquet and before the wedding pictures were to be made, the bride tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I would sit and talk with her in the reception hall, before the other guests entered. I kindly accepted but remember wondering if I'd done something wrong or offended someone. As we sat down she smiled and began to tell me the bouquet story; the tradition that had been unknowingly passed to her, the tradition that had just been passed to me, and the tradition that would be passed to many other lucky girls in the future.
The bride began her story by speaking of a young girl of about thirteen years in age who lived in the rural South sometime in the early 1900's. She explained that the young girl's family was very poor and owned a small farm, but even though her family had little, they were very happy and content in life. One hot summer day, the young girl's mother asked her to walk to the local general store to purchase some flour. "I think it was flour, or was it sugar. I can't quite remember which it was," the bride stated appearing to be deep in thought. "Keep going, keep going!" I urged the bride as at this point I was dying to hear this story and how in the world it related to me today. The bride smiled and continued, explaining that at the general store as the young girl was requesting the flour or sugar or whichever item it was, she heard a loud rumble that was different than anything she'd ever heard. As she was paying and thanking the old cashier, the rumble suddenly stopped and she dismissed the noise as summertime thunder. As she was exiting the store and examining her change, she slipped on the store's front step, tumbling to the ground along with the large burlap sack that she was carrying. And that was the day that her life changed forever.
The young girl was trying to get up and dust off her dress, when suddenly she noticed a boy, about the same age as her, extending his hand to help. As their eyes met, they both smiled and stared at each other, her hand in his. She was so taken by his kind eyes and warm smile, that when they finally broke eye contact, she noticed the boy was dressed in strange clothes and when he asked if she was okay, he had a very peculiar accent. The boy introduced himself and said that he was from England and that he was in the United States with his father who had an important business meeting to attend. As they sat together on the store's front porch, both smiling and talking, the boy told her about their travels and that they had gotten lost and had stopped to ask for directions.
Knowing that he would have to leave very soon, the boy vowed that he would see the girl again some day. As he was speaking to her, the girl heard the same rumble as she had inside the store and noticed a small crowd gathered on the other side of the store. She had been so taken by the boy that she had only focused on his eyes, the sound of his voice, and the wonderful new feeling she was experiencing. They walked around the store towards the rumbling noise and the small group of on-lookers and she stopped in awe when she saw it. She, like most folks in that area of the country, had never seen an automobile before and she stood frozen for a few moments, taking in the sight of its strange but majestic beauty. She also noticed a man, dressed in the same manner as her new friend, motioning for the boy to hurry along. The boy turned to her one last time, taking both of her hands in his and again promised that this would not be their last meeting. With one last assured smile, the boy hurried over to his father's car and they drove away, leaving a trail of dust and a young girl, who was full of hope.
A man with a camera entered the reception hall and asked if the bride was ready to start with the wedding photos. I quickly told the photographer that we'd need ten more minutes then quickly turned back to the bride with an eager smile and asked her to keep going. She laughed as my inquisitive enthusiasm became very apparent and agreed that we must hurry along with the story now and continued. She said that after their encounter at the store, weeks and months passed and that the young girl thought of the boy every day. And although sometimes she wondered how he would ever find her again, she trusted his parting words and knew in her heart that they would reunite someday. After months of waiting and hoping, the girl received a letter from England. As it turns out, the girl learned that after she had walked home from the store that day, the boy told his father that he lost his pocket watch. Since they hadn't traveled too far, the father agreed to turn the car around and return to the store so that the boy could ask the storekeeper if anyone may have found it. The boy felt bad about lying to his father, but knew his father would understand one day. With the watch safely in his pocket the boy quickly entered the store and asked the storekeeper about the young girl and her family. Knowing that the young boy had helped the girl after her fall on the steps, the old storekeeper was happy to help the young boy and scribbled her family's address on a scrap of paper.
In the letter the young boy wrote about his feelings and how months ago he saw the most beautiful girl in the world. When I saw you fall, I knew that for the rest of my life I wanted to help you, care for you, protect you, and to make you smile. Over the next few years, many letters found their way back and forth between England and the young girl's small farmhouse. When the boy was old enough to travel on his own, he would visit the girl during the summer and help her family on their farm. The bride continued, as you may have already guessed, after years of writing letters and visiting, the young boy, now a young man, proposed to the girl. What the girl didn't know until after the proposal was that the young man and his family were very wealthy. The young man planned a fairytale wedding for his bride-to-be, with all the finest furnishings, clothing, and decorations. Overjoyed, but from a humble upbringing, the girl had just one request: she wanted to pick local wildflowers with her mother as they did on their Sunday walks and she wanted to use those flowers to make her own bouquet. To her, amid the fancy decorations and dresses, the simple bouquet represented her and her austere life.
Before the wedding, the girl and her mother walked along the long dirt road adjacent to their home and they talked, stopping occasionally to select the most beautiful wildflowers for her bouquet. During their outing, the mother talked about life, marriage, and how wonderfully proud she was of her daughter. The mother then said something to the girl that she would never forget: "I didn't need anything from the store that day, but I knew something wonderful and good would happen if I sent you. It's a mother's intuition and one day you'll understand when you have children of your own." When they returned home, the mother helped the girl arrange her bouquet, cut the stems, and they used a piece of lace from the mother's wedding dress to wrap the stems together. The girl's father then used one of his military pins to secure the lace-wrapped bouquet. The girl was so happy and proud of her bouquet, but asked her parents how she would ever be able to part with it when it was thrown after the wedding. The mother replied, "When you walk down the aisle, the bouquet you carry will represent your life and all those that love you dearly. When you stand at the alter and look into your husbands eyes, you'll be looking at your future. And while you will have to pass this bouquet on to someone else, this is all about the memories we're making and that will always remain in your heart. Just make sure that whoever catches this bouquet, that they know just how special it is."
The wedding was even more beautiful than the girl could ever imagine. She took in every moment and remembered her mother's words: she was making memories to last a lifetime. After the vows were exchanged at the alter and the couple was officially married, the young man whispered the most loving words she'd ever heard. "I was so touched by your love of family and how you made this bouquet that I think we should build a home on your family's farm rather than buying an big house in London. As I told you in my first letter, I want to make you happy and see you smile." My mother was right all along, the girl thought, letting go and filling my heart with love has brought me everything that I ever wanted.
When it came time to throw the bouquet, she took a deep breath and let it go. She turned just in time to see a pretty young girl with blond hair smiling proudly as she caught it. At that moment the bride knew exactly what she must do. At the party after the wedding, the new bride sat with the young girl under a large oak tree and told her the story of how she met her husband and fell in love, and of the love her parents showed throughout her life and in making the bouquet. "I'd like to ask a very special favor of you," the bride said and the young girl eagerly nodded and smiled. "This bouquet was made by my parents and I with great love. I ask that when it's your time to get married that you spend time with your parents or the people who are most special to you and together, make your own bouquet. I have written my love story in this leather notebook. After you make your bouquet, add your story to the notebook, and with it pass the tradition of making a bouquet with loved ones to whomever catches your bouquet. The young girl was so happy with this request and when it was her time to be married, she did indeed pass on the tradition. Young girls for many years have passed on the bouquet tradition and the notebook, each adding their own life stories. A tradition build out of love will always remain strong. And now, here we are...
I was at a loss for words at the end of the bride's story. As I was wiping away tears, the bride turned and retrieved an old brown leather notebook from her bag and handed it to me. With shaking hands, I gladly accepted and assured her I would keep the tradition going. We hugged tightly once more and then she hurried out of the empty reception hall for her wedding photos. Still stunned and amazed, I exited the back of the reception hall and found a large oak tree to sit under and began reading. I re-read the first handwritten entry and it was almost word-for-word as the bride had told me. By the time my own wedding was near, I'd practically memorized every story in the notebook. I did indeed make my own bouquet with my mother and grandmother and I gladly passed on this tradition of love. As far as I know now, the notebook and bouquet tradition has been passed on twice since my wedding day and young girls are making memories by making their own bouquets and reading my story of love also. Although we're much older now, the bride who gave me the notebook is now one of my best friends and we often speak of all the love held by one book and the homemade bouquet tradition. It's made all the difference in our lives.