“Horseback rides with weddings”

January 1st, 2021

Hikers 1

(published in The Daily Memphian)

(photo: Kathryn and Frank Conaway, Arizona 1934)

At the end of a brutal year and the beginning of a new one, I find myself thinking about things that have outlasted 2020, in fact, things that have outlasted a whole lot of challenges, a whole lot of years.

As I do each year around now, I’d like to wish my girls Happy Anniversary and each of you a Happy New Year.

When I was little, I was pretty sure you went to cool weddings by horseback.

After all, Roy and Dale were married, and they sang “Happy Trails To Us” from the back of a horse every week. Mom and Dad were married, and they spent the first year of their marriage in Arizona riding horses and doing cool-sounding things like punching cattle, shooting rattlesnakes and smoking Old Golds.

And there was that trail right down the middle of the East Parkway median that connected two of the coolest places in my world – the Mid-South Fairgrounds and Overton Park – that Mom told me was called a bridle path.

I’d been to weddings, but they were dress-up Sunday School type things. I was pretty sure that sometime soon Dad would put on that great big, sweat-stained hat I saw up on the shelf of their closet, and Mom would pull on those tooled cowboy boots with the white star on the front I saw down on the floor, and we’d all mount up and ride the bridle path to somebody’s cool wedding.

Two weeks ago tomorrow, Nora and I celebrated our 50 anniversary. As you read this, our daughter and son-in-law are celebrating their 9th.

On the way to their wedding, to be held way up a mountain above Gatlinburg, all the horses under our hood were barely moving in an 18-mile parking lot called Sevierville and Pigeon Forge. Ahead, we could see the faux bow of the Titanic plowing through a fake sea imperiled by a phony iceberg. Across, a fiberglass Kong scaled a scale Empire State Building high above stages where Hatfields and McCoys kill each other all over again every night and all kinds of folks pick and grin.

And all along the crawl, there are lots and lots of places to get pancakes and to get married. In front of one was a bright neon sign that read, “Horseback Rides with Weddings.”

I knew it all along.

The next day – in front of just a few of us, their dog, and Pastor Buddy – backed by a gas log fireplace, a flat screen above the mantel and a bad bear tapestry on the wall – Hallie and Kyle took their vows. I saw in their faces what I saw in our son’s and daughter-in-law’s at Grace-St. Luke’s in 2009 and what people must have seen in ours at Second Presbyterian all those decades ago. I saw that all they could see at that moment was each other, and the view was fine.

What makes weddings cool has nothing to with stained glass windows or mountaintops, with hundreds of people in church or a few in a cabin, with sterling silver or plastic kitsch.

It has to do with two people agreeing to share the trail, with all its ups and downs, and to get wherever they’re going together. And when you can see that they just might make it.

That’s the long view. Look for it, and if you find it, don’t lose sight of it.

I’m a Memphian, and it’s been one helluva ride.

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