In 2009, I married a southern boy, the man of my dreams. He won me over with his dreamy southern accent and manners to write home about. The ceremony was a beautiful, fall event on the lawn of a historic southern home. Yes, I said that right—fall. In fact, the-other-side-of-Halloween and how-soon-can-we put-up-Christmas-lights part of fall. And you know what? It was a sunny, 80-degree day in the hills of East Tennessee when we said, “I do.” It ended up being so sunny that day, that my soon to be husband was squinting to see me as I walked down the aisle. He jokes the only thing brighter than the sun was my smile. Southern charm and warm falls, more reasons to live in the south.
Yes, the tales you hear about the weather down south are true. There are occasional 70-degree days in January, Indian summers that stretch into November, and, yes, guests could have worn flip-flops and linen shirts to our late fall wedding… if the weather served as their only fashion barometer. The harshness of the northern winter is unbearable once you experience a southern snowstorm. Southern snow happens two to three time a year, rarely sticks, and when it does kids and adults get a snow day!
We decided to marry in Tennessee because it represented us best. My husband is from a small, little town (population size 10,736) in the middle of rural Tennessee. I am from a mid-sized, bustling suburb of 50,000 northwest of Chicago. We met in south Florida and managed a long distance relationship through several years, two graduate degrees, four jobs, and many road trips with stays in places like Boston, Washington, DC; and Key Largo, Florida. Knoxville was our place, the place where we chose to start our life and set our roots. It was also a neutral meeting ground for my northern and his southern family.
By bringing our families and friends together in Tennessee, I hoped they would gain a more intimate look at our life, my decision to marry a southern boy, and my new fondness for other things southern (seersucker, no state income taxes, and sweet tea).
The venue was a historic confederate home nestled amongst the banks of the Tennessee River. You read that correctly, a confederate home. They still exist. The Bleak House, named after the Charles Dickens novel, was not bleak at all but a beautiful plantation home maintained by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Chapter 89. As you can imagine, this setting had my northern and his southern guests up in arms (armed not with guns, but jokes). Our union brought together the north and south, but this time in peace and celebration. During the Civil War, this home served as headquarters for the Confederate Lt. General James Longstreet during the Siege of Knoxville. For our wedding, it served as the first official meeting ground for my northern and his southern family.
My husband really loves me, as he reminds me every time he brings up that our wedding broke a cardinal rule of being a southerner – don’t get married, have children, or commit to any other annual activity on a college football Saturday. Explosions periodically interrupted the beautiful outdoor ceremony, as the University of Tennessee Volunteer football team played its homecoming game only a short two miles down the river. Every time the team scored, an impressive round of fireworks celebrated the accomplishment. The preacher performing the ceremony, my husband’s brother, joked that the Civil War had started again (canons not fireworks) and that the Yankees were back in town (meaning my relatives). I will get into that word Yankee in another story.
It was a riot watching the two cultures come together. His sweet, country Granny and my true German Oma conversed over a glass of sweet tea. His family shared their traditional style of buck dancing. Mine shared a piece of Black Forest German chocolate cake. Somewhere in the festivities I began to feel at ease about my new Southern life, and based on the smiles and laughs of the guests, I knew my relatives would still claim me.
Even today, my northern relatives tell stories of my southern wedding. They tell their friends it was a legendary wedding, unlike any other. Not only did it have sweet tea and sunny 80-degree fall weather, but it also was the day the north and south came together to celebrate a union.