Story by Joan Wester-Anderson
Our only daughter, Nancy, has a difficult birth order position; she’s the youngest, with four older brothers. She spent her childhood trying to be regarded as a person rather than a toy, and usually failed. “I’ll bet she’s spoiled,” little old ladies in the supermarket would tsk-tsk, while watching a brother push her in the grocery cart. Well, if you consider seeing how far the cart could tip without spilling the baby–or tickling her ’til she screamed–as “spoiling,” I suppose she was. (There were times when she’d ask to be put into the playpen, just to avoid the line of fire.) “Stop!” I once shouted as I spied a son pushing her far too vigorously on our backyard swing.
“She’s too little to go that high!”
“Look, Mom!” he yelled in delight, “she’s flying!”
Time passed, Nancy went to school, met some girls and learned what skirts and pierced ears were all about. Since she could wrap Daddy around her little finger, she was sometimes useful to the Fraternity as a go-between; she had also learned to run extremely fast, so she was no longer in physical danger. But she was still “the kid,” craving respect and equality in vain. Nor did her high school or college experiences elicit much interest from our sons, since the last always graduated as she entered. “Been there, done that” was their consensus. They left for jobs in other states, and occasionally flew her in for vacation weekends, but she remained Little Sister, someone to pat on the head like a puppy. They’d be doing it when she was fifty. She’d never catch up.
Nancy met Scott in college, and a year after graduation, they became engaged. It was time to plan a wedding. As she and I went through the reception checklist, one dilemma emerged. “I want to dance with Dad first,” she explained, “and then each of the brothers, before I dance with Scott.” It made sense, I guess–they had all been her surrogate fathers. But if five musical numbers preceded the newlywed dance, wouldn’t guests be falling asleep into their sherbet cups?
Then one day I happened to hear Bette Midler’s Wind Beneath My Wings, and our problem was solved. Not only were the lyrics perfect, the song had enough verses to accommodate every male. Nancy would begin by dancing with Dad, we decided, then each brother would cut in, suavely handing her from one to another, and back to Dad for the final lines. Then she and Scott would dance to a song all their own.
By long-distance phone, I informed each son of his mission. “Great!” said one. “Just to enliven things, I’ll pick her up and toss her to Tim.”
“I’ll spin her around,” suggested another. “I wonder if she’d wear skates.?”
“NOW HEAR THIS!” I responded. (I am not above yelling at a 28-year-old if necessary) “This is her big day. Try to behave like humans. Be dignified.”
The evening before The Wedding passed in a blur of airport runs, with all brothers eventually present and accounted for, along with their tuxes for ushering duties. (Would they behave as handsomely as they were going to look? I wondered.) Nancy and her bridesmaids were staying overnight too, wearing torn jeans and plenty of hair rollers. The household rocked with laughter and reminiscing, the stuff of which memories are made. I promised my husband I wouldn’t cry.
Finally it was morning. The florist, hairdresser, photographer, and others commandeered our dwelling, and then the limo driver was at the door. Nancy drifted serenely into the living room, all in white…and everything stopped. Everyone looked. The brothers were stunned. “Is that…you?” one asked.
Many marvelous hours later, Bette Midler’s familiar voice began, and the room hushed as Nancy and her father glided onto the dance floor. Slowly, tenderly, as if he were holding a treasure, he managed to maneuver her just where she should be… The first verse ended, he blinked furiously and, yes! handed her off to our eldest.
“Did you ever know that you’re my hero?” Eldest moved her smoothly around the floor (where had he learned to dance?), then Second Son cut in, looking almost professional. “You’re everything I would like to be…” and this unemotional engineer gently kissed her cheek before presenting her (like a precious piece of porcelain) to Number Three.
Three seemed dazzled at his sister’s poise, uncharacteristically at a loss for witty retorts. Another revolution, more grins, and then–perfectly coordinated–the handoff to Youngest. “Fly, fly, you let me fly so high…” I heard his excited voice across the years, saw the swing swooping once more up to the clouds.
The moment was ending. “Thank you, thank God for you…” Yes, she was singing to her dad, telling him in ways only fathers and daughters know, how very much he meant to her. Then I did cry.
Guests applauded and wiped tears, and even the deejay told us he had never seen anything as sweet. Sweeter still, though, was the metamorphous that had unexpectedly occurred that night, not only our daughter going from Miss to Mrs., but our sons seeing her, perhaps for the first time, as a woman all her own. They would listen to her views with genuine attention now, even ask for her opinion from time to time. And if one did slip, and pat her head, her own newfound maturity would allow her to see it for what it was and always had been–a gesture of love.
Weddings bring all kinds of changes. Aren’t they wonderful?