The Wedding Machine

The Wedding Machine | When wedding bells ring, these can-do matriarchs answer the call

When my youngest sister announced her engagement, it had been nearly a decade since my mother and her army of friends had coordinated such a large-scale event. When my husband and I tied the knot years before, he respectfully dubbed the ladies “The Wedding Machine,” and in the background of our well-worn photos you can see their gears grinding: There’s one pressing the wedding gown, there’s one arranging gardenias cut from her backyard, and there’s one more tying tiny satin sashes on little sacks of rice. With great awe (and fondness) I recall them marching around our 500-guest reception in heels, silk suits, and double-strand pearls, guarding the gift display, directing cars to the parking field, and even plunging the over-taxed toilet in the foyer’s half-bath. The members of the Machine reside in the Upstate, so when my sister settled on a wedding in the heart of Charleston on Memorial Day Weekend, I presented the case for a professional wedding coordinator. “No, no,” my mother said, shooing me away, “The Machine can travel.” She was right: They had once transported their flowers, silver trays, and monogrammed linens all the way to New Jersey for one son’s rehearsal dinner. So the ladies rolled up their sleeves and were Charleston-bound. The first snag concerned hotel accommodations. Not only was the wedding scheduled for a holiday in one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, but it also fell at the start of the Spoleto Festival. When it looked as though the bridal party would have to split up into 12 different groups around town, my ever-charming (and desperate) mother managed to talk the Meeting Street Inn into scraping together rooms for the happy couple, their attendants, and the immediate family of the bride and groom. The next hurdle involved the flowers. The Machine wanted rose arrangements fashioned from their very own exquisite gardens, but how could they keep Upstate blooms fresh until Saturday evening when the festivities kicked off the Thursday prior? After ruling out all sorts of outlandish schemes to keep the delicate petals from browning, one Machine associate finally volunteered to make two 200-mile trips back and forth in one 24-hour period. He brought the flowers for the rehearsal dinner on the Friday afternoon, drove back to the Upstate that evening, and then brought the next set for the reception down at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning. By late in the afternoon on the eve of the Big Day, all seemed to be going well, and it looked as though Upstate gals were going to pull the Lowcountry wedding off without a hitch. But then my mother inspected my sister’s dress. She peeled back the dry cleaner’s cellophane to see the organza tiers had been pressed backwards, making the thing look nothing short of bizarre. She frantically called the Machine’s seamstress to no avail and then collapsed into an un-Machine-like heap, moaning, “Disaster...disaster!” A member of the bridal party (and apparent Machine lady in training) took over. The lass grabbed the gown and bolted to the cleaners, and, despite the thick and crazed holiday traffic, she made it over the Cooper and back with the repaired dress. In the end, I have to admit the wedding was magical. Yes, I had to lug several flower arrangements from St. Michael’s to the Carolina Yacht Club in heels so high every single one of my toes blistered, but it was worth it. I have attended many slick and polished wedding receptions in the usual Charleston venues, but none of them had the special homegrown touches of this one—the monogrammed linens; silly, stuffed bride and groom dolls; and the old cherub candelabra vase that had been used as the centerpiece at my mother’s own wedding, not to mention at every one of our family christenings, debutante luncheons, and baby showers thereafter. And at the close of the starry evening my beautiful baby sister and her fresh-faced young husband boarded a getaway yacht at the end of the club dock while hundreds of their nearest and dearest friends showered them with rose petals (Upcountry petals, of course). My mother and I cheered until we were hoarse and were the last ones to leave the moonlit water’s edge that night. When we glanced back toward the parking lot, we could see the Machine dutifully loading linens and vases and wedding gifts into their cars for the trip home. “Well,” I said, resting my head on my mother’s shoulder. “Y’all did it...again.”

Illustration by Ken Delrossi