Sarah, the daughter of some lifelong friends of ours, was getting married in Ontario in early October 2013. Six months before, she’d asked Priscilla to do her wedding bouquets. They’d emailed back and forth to settle on flowers, colors, and designs. Priscilla hadn’t known then how dependent she’d be on a wheelchair by the fall, but I suspect she would have agreed to do the bouquets just as eagerly even if she had known. Our friends generously invited us to stay in their home for the wedding weekend, and that made things much easier.
Sarah found just the dishes she wanted for her trousseau, at a great price—in the United States. She asked if we’d bring them across the border and we said sure, have them sent to us.
We left on a Thursday to give ourselves time to settle in and get organized before the Saturday wedding. When I packed our car, I spread the boxes of dishes out across the floor of the trunk. I put the transport wheelchair behind the driver’s seat and the aluminum walker, for short indoor trips, behind the passenger’s seat. The only way to fit in Priscilla’s regular wheelchair was to disassemble it and lay the pieces on top of the boxes in the trunk. I piled most everything else we brought onto the back seat. There was just enough space left that we could still see out the rear window.
When we got to the border, we duly presented the letter Sarah had given us authorizing us to pay the duty and bring the dishes to her. The customs agent examined the details, noted the manufacturer, and exclaimed, “Those are my favorite dishes, too! And she got such a good deal.” Then she waved us on without charging any duty. An early wedding present from the Government of Canada.
When we arrived at our friends’ house we found eight other family members already visiting with them. These included two athletic young men, Sarah’s brother and her cousin’s husband. I asked them to help me get Priscilla up the steep, narrow stairs from the front door to the main floor in her wheelchair. The best approach seemed to be to back her right up to the steps, tilt her backwards 45º, and then for the three of us to lift her practically off the ground, so that the wheels just grazed the steps going up. Priscilla had babysat the brother as a child and I told him, “She carried you around when you were younger, now’s your chance to carry her.”
When Priscilla landed at the top of the steps she spun the wheelchair around, spotted Sarah, and exclaimed joyfully, “You’re getting married!” This, a relative later observed, took all the focus off Priscilla being in a wheelchair and “made it all about Sarah” from the time we arrived. He said he really appreciated that. We greeted one another warmly, but further celebrations would have to wait. Most of us were tired from traveling that day, so we didn’t visit long before we settled down for the night, some in nearby lodgings and the rest in various corners of the house.
Our friends were hosting a catered rehearsal dinner for 40 the next evening. Under any other circumstances Priscilla would have spent the entire day helping to set up and decorate for A PARTY! But she seemed able to accept that her role was different now. I sat with her on a couch by the front window, staying out of the way while others moved furniture and put out chairs. We conversed with an ever-shifting assortment of family members about their life stories and in many cases their faith as well.
The guests started to arrive around 4:00 and the house was packed by the time the caterer brought the food at 5:00. Everyone wandered in and out of the kitchen, filling and refilling plates and conversing with fellow guests, changing seats with every trip. After the meal most of the group went over to the wedding venue for the rehearsal. Sarah, her attendants, and her mother would stay there overnight, to make getting ready for the wedding easier the next day. The few of us who remained at the house cleaned things up and then settled in for a bit more conversation before making it a relatively early evening, in light of the full day we knew was coming.
Priscilla had to make six bouquets the next morning in time for them to be delivered to the venue for pre-wedding pictures, so we set the alarm for 7:00 and got right to work. The first task was to find the flowers. I was told they’d been put in the “cold room.” Wherever that was. Fortunately Sarah’s father was already up and he guided me through the downstairs office, stepping in the dim light over a bridal attendant’s husband sleeping soundly on the floor, to a nondescript door at the far corner. The cold room. We pulled the flowers out as quietly as possible.
Priscilla set up at the dining room table in her wheelchair and worked away steadily, improvising creative approaches to make striking bouquets out of a combination of flowers that included some she’d never used before. “She’s very talented,” remarked Sarah’s grandmother. If only she knew. Priscilla had been praying in the weeks leading up to the wedding, “Lord, please let me still be able to use my hands in October, so I can do Sarah’s flowers.”
By 10:30 Priscilla was able to turn the finished bouquets over to Sarah’s father, who rushed them down to the venue in time for the photographs. We’d met our first major challenge for the day. Now we needed to meet the second. We had to get to the wedding.