Miss Charlotte was almost as wide as she was tall. I overheard our neighbor Mr. Atwell say Miss Charlotte was built like a brick outhouse, only he used a bad word.
Now I have never seen a brick outhouse in all my days, and I’ll be twelve in a month and three days. They build outhouses out of wood, so when the hole fills up beneath it, several men slide boards under the foundation and move the outhouse to a new clean hole. The leftover dirt from where they dug the new hole, would fill the old and bury the waste.
Miss Charlotte played the organ at the Methodist Church. She was good, but her feet barely reached the pedals, she liked to play barefoot, leaning on the bench. Although her organ playing was beautiful, when Miss Charlotte sang, people got the strangest looks on their faces. Mrs. Hennepin, the choir director, told Miss Charlotte that her voice was so strong she overpowered the rest of the choir, suggesting that offering her beautiful accompaniment on Sundays, was enough. A body should only have one thing on its mind, giving to the Lord. Singing and playing was much too much, leaving little time for Miss Charlotte to worship. Miss Charlotte’s talent was as an organist, there was no sense in her outshining the others. So from then on, Miss Charlotte mouthed the words to the hymns while she played, and everyone seemed satisfied.
In a small bed behind the seat of the organ was her cranky old chihuahua, who growled at everyone if they got too close to his mistress. Sparky didn’t mean anything by it, he growled at everyone, except the organ player’s fiancé, Bill Walters, a big burly man standing well over six feet. When next to Miss Charlotte, who claimed she was four foot three, he made her look like she was a munchkin.
If opposites attract, then Miss Charlotte and Bill Walters were the pair. She was always stressed, wanting things to be just so and everyone said Sparky fed off her energy, while Mr. Walters good-natured, and laughing, was one of the few people who could approach Miss Charlotte and Sparky didn’t growl. It convinced me that Sparky did feed off her emotions because she beamed when Mr. Walters came around. It was no surprise when they announced their engagement.
Mr. Walters was a widower whose wife died of the diabetes in the first few years of their marriage. Miss Charlotte had never been married, so she wanted to go big when it came to having a wedding, and Mr. Walters wanted a small, quiet affair. It was the one thing on which they disagreed.
I was a page-turner for Miss Charlotte, having taken piano lessons with her for the past two years. She told me that I was quite “gifted.” When she asked me to be her page-turner every Sunday, I was honored, even though Sparky growled at me from his little bed. Sometimes I brought a chunk of roast beef or pork chop leftovers from supper the night before and eventually Sparky came around and I was second to Mr. Walters in the line-up of Sparky’s preferred friends.
After church, Mr. Walters came up and invited Miss Charlotte to brunch. Why they call lunch on Sundays a different name is beyond me.
Brunch sounded so grown up to me. The Potluck Pantry had the largest selection of food on a buffet table. Ham, fried chicken, roast beef, noodles, potatoes, five different vegetables, and fourteen desserts that Mr. Atwell said tasted the same: the banana pudding tasted like vanilla, and the pineapple upside down cake tasted like the apple torte.
When Mr. Walters came up and asked Miss Charlotte to “brunch.” I watched her get flustered and turn bright red and realized Miss Charlotte was sweet on Mr. Walters. I felt special getting an up-close and personal view of their budding relationship. I kept it to myself because every time I thought about it, I got a warm tingly feeling all over my body. I knew now what love was.
The whole town found out the two were engaged after word spread of Miss Charlotte getting a modest engagement ring. Most of the city couldn’t believe it had finally happened for her. Miss Charlotte was engaged to Sam Hoppitoss, who had proposed to her before he went off to fight in Normandy and got killed on the beaches. Miss Charlotte was devastated and not interested in any man in her life until recently.
Mr. Walters changed all that. I think because he was the first person to get by Sparky. He might have been feeding Sparky roast beef on the side as I had been.
Maybe it was because Sam’s parents left the area, and Miss Charlotte didn’t have to think she was being unfaithful to her former fiancé. She accepted another proposal, and no one was happier than Bill Walters. He liked to eat, and Miss Charlotte loved to cook, a match made in heaven.
When it came to planning the wedding, the date kept getting postponed. Miss Charlotte finally admitted to me that all of her life she had dreamed of planning a wedding and that she had a wedding dress in mind. It was her grandmother’s. Ever since she found it wrapped in tissue paper in her parents’ attic as a young girl, she wanted to wear it for her wedding.
In 1944, the dress fit her like a glove. She joked that was about all she could get into the dress, her hand. Even though she laughed telling me this story, I could see the sadness in her eyes. She wanted to wear the dress her grandmother wore on her wedding day.
“Miss Charlotte, you could lose the weight and fit into it, I reckon?” my big flappy mouth said as I clapped my hand over it.
It was as if the thought hadn’t occurred to her. She took my words into her heart, and she stopped going to “brunch” with Mr. Walters telling him she was busy or had plans. She always had an excuse. I think that if she got to the Potluck Pantry, those fourteen desserts would call to her.
Mr. Walters did not know why she stopped going out on Sundays with him. They would go to the movie theater. She didn’t share the extra buttered popcorn with him. It took a few months, but I realized Miss Charlotte had lost a good deal of weight. Her dress hung on her when she walked up to play the organ at church. I wondered if anyone else noticed. After the service, she sent Mr. Walters on his way. I asked her if she was getting close to fitting into that dress. She looked surprised.
“You mean you can tell, Daisy?”
“Oh, yes, Miss Charlotte, you are half the woman you used to be.” She smiled broadly.
“Thank you, Daisy, you’ve made my day.”
At our next piano lesson, she pulled out a piece of music that was incredibly hard—Joy Jesu of Man’s Desiring, by Sebastian Bach.
She played this beautiful piece on her piano. I don’t know why but wanted to weep at the beauty of the song and was moved to clap when she finished.
“Miss Charlotte, that piece makes me cry with joy,” surprised, when I felt the tears run down my face. She told me that my finger spread could accommodate the base parts now that I was older. She asked me to start working on it with one hand, and gradually we would incorporate the other. It dawned on me.
“This is for your wedding.” My mouth dropped open. “Miss Charlotte, you are asking me to play for your wedding?” She nodded, beaming at me. I slid across the piano bench and hugged her. “I would be honored to play for your wedding.” As I encircled her shoulders, I noticed she was not so heavy anymore, being normal in stature. Then I asked her, I couldn’t wait any longer. “May I see the dress?”
“Only you know this, Daisy. This is our secret. Follow me.” We walked up the narrow steps to the second floor of her house. She opened the door, and at the foot of the bed sat a cedar chest. Miss Charlotte propped open the trunk and brought out a large, sealed box.
She broke the seal on the box displaying a dress wrapped in blue tissue paper. Layer after layer, she peeled the tissue away until she came to the gown.
White lace over satin. The dress had a form-fitting bodice with a veil attached to a hat. It was old and delicate. She held it up to her. I could picture the woman who wore this dress in the 1900s.
I gasped when I saw it and fully understood why Miss Charlotte was doing what she was doing.
“Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve wanted to wear this dress on my wedding day. When my fiancé was killed in the war, I gave up that dream, and food gave me the will to go on living. When Mr. Walters proposed, I couldn’t get married without wearing this dress. It’s taken me months and months to lose the weight.”
She tried it on. It was a bit snug, but she was nearer to her goal than she realized.
“Miss Charlotte, the dress is beautiful on you. It almost fits you perfectly.” She spun around a few times and then put the white beaded hat with the longest veil I’d ever seen on her head. I held my breath. She had let her hair grow out too and would have it done for her wedding day, just like the picture she showed me of her grandmother that she pulled out of the chest.
“This was my grandmother in this dress many years ago.” Her grandmother did look like Miss Charlotte. I was so honored she’d chosen me to share this with because no one else knew, not even Mr. Walters. She trusted me with this glorious secret.
“Miss Charlotte, you are so beautiful. I promise you I will practice every day until I have this piece memorized for your wedding. Thank you for honoring me with your request.” I hugged her hard.
“Daisy, if I hear that song one more time, I swear I will scream,” my father said.
“Sorry, Dad, it’s for the piano recital. I have to practice,” I watched my Dad sigh.
“Okay, I’ll practice when you’re gone tomorrow.” I spun around and watched him smile at me. He held out his arms and hugged me.
“I am proud of you. You are taking this recital seriously. I believe my money has been well spent. Thanks, Sugar.”
On Sunday morning, Miss Charlotte fainted at the end of the service. One moment she was playing, and the next, she tipped over, and was out cold on the floor. I jumped out of the way allowing an adult to take over. Sparky growled. A woman came through the crowd with a wet cloth placing it on Miss Charlotte’s forehead. When the ambulance arrived, the driver asked,
“Does anyone know why she fainted?” No one said anything. I piped up and told the man that she’d lost a lot of weight lately. I was ashamed I’d let her secret out, but it was for health reasons. Then I heard two ladies whispering.
“Cancer, I bet she’s got cancer,” said one of the ladies.
“Poor woman,” said the other. I wanted to shout at them, but I swore to Miss Charlotte, that I’d tell no one of what she was doing, it was her secret to share not mine, even though I’d blabbed about her weight loss, but the ladies had to be darn near-blind not to see it for themselves.
Mr. Walters held her hand as the gurney rolled out to the ambulance. I knew he’d overheard the two women talking and was quite upset at what they said. When the ambulance left, he was standing there looking lost.
“Mr. Walters, will you take Sparky?”
“I will, Daisy, but I need to go to the hospital first and make sure Charlotte is okay. Will you take him for an hour or two?” I told him I would.
“Sparky, come on, boy.” He growled at me, quivering and afraid without his person. I walked down to the church basement, grabbed a cookie, and ran back up. I untied Sparky’s leash and held the tiniest piece of cookie to him. He didn’t growl at me anymore, now that he was distracted. I got into the back seat of our car, and my parents didn’t say anything. They knew how important Sparky was to Miss Charlotte and how important Miss Charlotte was to me.
“I can’t believe those two talking about cancer in front of Bill like that. You could have knocked him over with a feather. He could have had a heart attack,” my father mumbled to my mother.
“Frank, not in front of Daisy, please.”
“Sorry, kiddo, sometimes people get me upset.”
“Mom and Dad, Miss Charlotte doesn’t have cancer. She has been trying to lose weight to fit into her grandmother’s wedding dress, but you can’t tell anyone.”
“Her grandmother must have married in the nineteen hundreds,” my mother commented.
“She was going to marry Sam Hoppetoss in that dress, but he got killed in the war. She gave up hoping she’d ever wear it until Mr. Walters asked her. She’s been losing weight steadily, and a couple of weeks ago, she could almost fit in it. That’s why I’ve been practicing that song so much, Dad. Miss Charlotte asked me to play for her wedding.” Mother smiled broadly.
“Daisy, that is wonderful. You have been a good friend. Let’s pray for Miss Charlotte that she is back home soon.” Mother said a quick prayer.
“How about some brunch?” Mom offered. I couldn’t believe my ears. Mother was proposing brunch at the Potluck Pantry. You didn’t have to ask Dad twice; he pulled right into the parking lot. I was excited—my first Sunday brunch. Sparky snuggled down in the backseat and went to sleep. I brought him something in a napkin that he liked more than the cookie at church when we came out.
Mom hung up the phone telling me that was Miss Charlotte that called. My piano lesson was at the regular time. She was dehydrated, and they let her go from the hospital after they hydrated her. I was relieved to hear she was doing well.
On the day of my lesson, I knocked on the door. Sparky barked excitedly at me.
“Daisy? Come in.” Miss Charlotte called from inside the house, so I let myself in. Sparky jumped up on me and demanded to be pet, to which I obliged him.
“Please start the piece without me. I’ll be right down.” That was an odd request, but I sat at the piano opening to the first page and started playing Jesu. I didn’t even need the sheet music anymore because I had memorized it.
I heard Miss Charlotte coming down the steps, and I looked up to see she was wearing her grandmother’s dress. It fit her like a glove. She marched up to the piano.
“You look like a princess,” I told her. Miss Charlotte hugged me.
“Thank you, Daisy, and now, I will give Bill a wedding date. He will be so excited. When he came to see me in the hospital, some woman at church said I had cancer, doesn’t that beat all?”
I didn’t tell Miss Charlotte I’d overheard the very same thing nor did I tell her who the women were.
“Bill came to the hospital and told me how much he loved me. If I had cancer or not, he still wanted to get married. I have to admit that I had a little doubt in my mind and used the wedding dress as an excuse, but after he told me he loved me in sickness and health, I knew I was being foolish. I should have married the man in my slip.” We both giggled at that thought.
On June 6, 1954, ten years after she lost her fiancé, Miss Charlotte became the wife of Bill Walters. She walked up the aisle in her grandmother’s antique wedding dress that fit her to a tee. I played Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. The long train trailed behind her as she held a beautifully arranged bouquet.
Mr. Walters was crying. I don’t think Miss Charlotte had ever looked prettier. She beamed. I was glad I had memorized the song, for the tears in my eyes would not have let me find my place in the music. I was proud to be a part of her day.
The Bible says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The new Mrs. Walters was pure in her heart, and God walked Miss Charlotte to her dream. She put her heart, soul, body, and mind into the wedding of her dreams.
The congregation chuckled when Sparky stood at Bill Walters side wearing a special heart pillow on his collar with their wedding rings tied to it.
It was the most beautiful wedding I’d ever seen. Truth be told, it was the only wedding I’d ever seen to that point in my life.
When I think back now, even to this day as a full-grown woman, I don’t recall a wedding that topped Miss Charlotte and Mr. Walters’ wedding.
NOVEMBER 2019 AUTHOR OF THE MONTH at Spillwords.com
Dawn DeBraal lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband Red, two rescue dogs, and a stray cat. She was first published in Dec 2018 in Spillwords. She didn't make the 12 Days of Christmas but has since published over 450 short stories, drabbles, and poems in online ezines and anthologies.