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McFadyen's Musings: The Wedding Gift



As a concession to our whirlwind engagement, Susanna and I did not register for wedding gifts at the conventional and more elegant places that brides usually choose. Instead, we registered at a farm supply store, figuring we could guiltlessly retain a new wheelbarrow and steel-handled shovel in the event of an equally rapid separation. It was a good call.

In our 25 subsequent years together, we have rolled that wheelbarrow for miles and miles. Some folks left the choosing up to us.

For instance, Grandma Stocks, my new grandmother-in-law, gave us a $100 bill.

When we newlyweds stopped at the Food Lion in Southport for our honeymoon groceries, I meandered next door to the hardware store and spent the gift on a flounder light and new car battery. (I knew Reggie already had a 7-foot gig at his house where we were headed.) I justified the purchase by surmising that Grandma Stocks was giving me the money, since I was the new kid, whereas she could have given Susanna money anytime over the past 29 years.

Nonetheless, I confess to a little nervousness when Susie came out of the grocery store. I knew the marriage would last when she laughed and congratulated me on my acquisition. She seemed genuinely rewarded by her three fat flat fish when she woke for coffee on day three.

Many, however, ignored our cute little ploy to deflect attention away from our impulsive and even foolhardy decision to marry 11 weeks after meeting each other. Most of those were on my side of the equation. Most were my mother’s strongest allies in honoring what was classy and proper. Mom excelled at proper, both in manners and in friendships.

So, lots of ladies around here who watched me grow up (and who immediately embraced my charming fiancée) still went to Holmes Gift Shop and Betty Kelly’s to acquire touches of elegance for our hearth and home.

One of those was the mother of my No. 1 running mate in those years. Being the mother of a teenaged Jimbo MacRae certainly had to have taken some emotional toll on Kathy Whitfield Gamble. I grew up terrified of her elder son with his jean jacket and disheveled hair and fearless demeanor. Despite how sweet she was to us post-collegiate boys, she surely suffered angst during Jimbo’s formative years with his propensity for ignoring the rules of proper society.

Let it be fairly noted herein that Jimbo MacRae evolved into James C. MacRae Jr., respected and laudable attorney in our fair town – a success by all measure – and my fine friend. Let it also be noted that some of his mellowing must be attributed to the love of his steadfast mom.

Kathy Gamble was a Southern belle. There would be no Gin and Grain Store shopping for her. She went to Holmes Gift Shop. There she found and purchased a one-of-a kind Italian cake plate. The crystal reflected blue and gold lights which danced across the walls of the room when you carried it. According to Mom, it was a treasure. When Susie and I cut our cake moments after “I do” that July Saturday morning, it rested upon the cake plate gifted by Kathy Gamble.

We waited to leave town until Sunday. My First Presbyterian Church became our church that morning. The ample sanctuary flowers were placed in our honor. So, when church was over and hands shaken and necks hugged, we loaded those flowers into my pick-up’s passenger seat and belted them in. As my bride was sliding into the middle seat, Mom handed over the cake plate, which she had lovingly washed and wiped before returning. I put it on the floor board beneath the flowers and off we went.

A week at the beach meant the flowers would go to waste in our house, so I crossed Grove Street, staying on Ann Street to its near end. On the right, the cemetery plots of both my maternal and paternal grandparents rested side by side. I intended to spread the flowers between all the treasured headstones.

We parked parallel and exited my side, walking around to the passenger door. I opened it so as to remove the flowers. Our treasured Italian cake plate, given to us by one of the matriarchs of my life, Kathy Whitfield MacRae Gamble, had shifted during the brief journey and crashed into 1,001 pieces on the asphalt and the concrete curb. It was the first intensely sad moment in my married life.

We never replaced the irreplaceable, as there was not another one like it. Kathy died of cancer five months after we married. We never replaced her either.

That wedding gift lived a very short life. In its entire existence, it only had one task. To my way of thinking, it was a life worth living.

It was enough – that one task of displaying our cake on our hallowed day.

I do hope Kathy agrees.

Bill McFadyen can be reached at propertybill@nc.rr.com.