Mary Alice Monroe--Lowcountry Wedding Excerpt & Giveaway

MAM-lowcountry

 

One commenter will win a copy of A Lowcountry Wedding! (US only)

EXCERPT

 

Prologue

Be kind, my darling girl. And be happy!

Spring was in the air—ripe, verdant, full of promise. And

with the spring came the rush and clamor of weddings.

Marietta Muir stood on the porch of her cottage in her

nightgown and robe. Across the gravel drive was the main

house—her Sea Breeze. The old white wooden house with its

black shutters and gabled windows was dark and quiet in these

early hours. It was a handsome house, she thought, taking in the

gracious staircase that curved out like a smile of welcome. To

the left was the unsightly, leaning wood garage. In the center

of the courtyard an immense, ancient live oak tree spread low

drooping boughs that to her appeared as a great hand protecting

them all from harm. The tree and the house had survived

generations of Muir ancestors and countless storms and hurricanes.

 

That it could weather them all, scarred and bent perhaps,

yet endure, was testament to the strength of the family.

Marietta lived in the small white cottage that had once

been the home of her longtime maid and companion, Lucille.

To her mind, it would always be “Lucille’s cottage.” Marietta

had moved to the cottage when her granddaughter Harper had

purchased the house from her, thus keeping Sea Breeze in the

family. It was a good decision. Living in the quaint guest cottage,

Marietta was free of the hassles and distractions of caring

for that big house and all those possessions. She’d spent a lifetime

tending the house, closing shutters for rooms filled with

antiques, cooking meals, presiding over parties or going to parties,

decorating for holidays, and celebrating the milestones of

her family’s lives. She no longer had the energy, or in truth the

desire, to do all that. Running a household and raising children

were tasks for the young!

 

She held a cup of coffee in her hands and sipped slowly,

enjoying the warmth. Now she could enjoy the peace of a

lowcountry morning such as this when the air was heady with

scents. She lowered her cup from her nose and breathed deep.

 

Coffee still lingered in the air, but there was the pervasive scent

of pluff mud this morning and the cloying sweetness of jasmine

and other spring flowers that tickled her nose. Salt tinged

the moist breezes from the ocean. Smacking her lips, she could

almost taste it. And, too, there was that delightful freshness of

mist and dewy grass that lingered like spirits at dawn.

 

Marietta awoke with the sun most mornings now. Nights

were restless and she was eager to rise from her bed and greet

the new day. At eighty-one years of age, each day granted was a

blessing. And today was especially exciting. Carson was arriving

home. Harper and Dora were positively spinning with anticipation.

Now they could begin the wedding festivities in earnest,

for in only two months’ time, both Carson and Harper would

be celebrating their weddings.

 

Just the thought gave Marietta palpitations. So much had

to be done. So much she wanted to say to the girls before they

took this important step in their lives.

 

But what? What wise words could she share with them that

would inspire? What words could she say that they could pull

from their memories when times were tough and they needed

reassurance and guidance to persevere?

 

When Marietta was soon to be married, her mother, Barbara,

had taken her to tea for a private mother-daughter têteà-

tête. Marietta’s wedding day was only a week away, and a

flurry of parties were being given by friends and family. Barbara

had set aside this time alone with her daughter, to share with

her the advice that only a mother could. That afternoon over

Darjeeling tea, her mother had presented Marietta with a book

of etiquette by Emily Post. Now that Marietta was setting up a

home of her own, her mother said, she wanted her to have guidance

at her fingertips for any question she might have regarding

the correct deportment of a lady with a well-appointed house.

Marietta had already been thoroughly instructed on the rules

of conduct, the customs, and the expectations of Charleston

society. “Yet,” her mother had told her, “refinement and charm

are more elusive.”

 

She had placed the book in Marietta’s hands and said, “My

dear girl, remember that this book only outlines for you the

thousands of detailed instructions and protocol of polite society.

But at the root of all etiquette and manners is kindness.

 

These rules were not contrived to make one feel important or

better than another. As Emily Post said, rules can be learned by

__anyone. Every human being—unless dwelling alone in a cave—

is a member of society of one sort or another.

 

“Rather, think of etiquette as a philosophy of living and

enjoying life with grace, compassion, and respect for others. If,

say, someone at your dinner table uses your bread plate, do you

make a fuss? Of course not. You must be gracious and make no

mention of it. Why? Because you would not want to embarrass

the other guest. To do otherwise is the gravest breach of etiquette.

You see, while etiquette provides the rules for socially

accepted behavior, good manners are how we apply those rules.

Being a gentleman or a lady is a code of behavior that draws on

decency, integrity, and loyalty—not only to friends and family

but to principles. So be kind, my darling girl. And be happy!”

Marietta had held her mother’s words close to her heart

throughout her long marriage. Emily Post’s Etiquette had guided

her through thank-you notes, birth announcements, the introductions

of dignitaries, baptisms, weddings, and funerals. But

her mother’s words were the spirit behind them.

 

Mamaw smiled and snapped to action. With two weddings

approaching, she knew exactly what she had to do.

She closed her robe tight and hurried back into the cottage.

Inside, the walls and sparse furniture were all white. Splashes of

color brightened the room in the lowcountry art and the blue

linen drapes at the windows. She went directly to the one wall

lined with bookshelves. This was the only change she’d made

to the cottage after her granddaughters had redecorated it following

Lucille’s death. Marietta loved her books and had had

a difficult time choosing which to keep from her vast library.

The furniture she had no difficulty parting with. But the books

were like old friends.

 

Marietta knew the book was here somewhere. She’d never

throw it out. Her fingertips slid over the spines of dozens of

books packed side by side on a shelf. At last she found it. Emily

Post’s Etiquette. She pulled it out and caressed the well-worn

blue binding with satisfaction. Opening it, she found the folded

book cover and the inscription on the opening page, With best

wishes! Emily Post.

 

She went to the sofa, flicked on the lamp, crossed her

legs, and, after slipping on her reading glasses, began to read,

going through the chapters: “Introductions,” “The Art of Conversation,”

“Entertaining at a Restaurant,” “Balls and Dances,”

“Preparations for a Wedding,” “Table Manners,” “Protocol in

Washington,” and so on. The tone was encouraging and concise,

the instructions thorough and direct. She felt again the same

awe and wonder—and trepidation—at reading the countless

rules for specific situations that she had experienced as that

young bride sixtysome years earlier. Marietta had to admit

she’d forgotten some—such as calling cards—but for the most

part, the rules of etiquette were as ingrained in her as her DNA.

She read until the sun brightened the sky, her coffee cup was

empty, and her eyes grew weary. She paused, slipped off her

glasses, and let her hand rest on the book.

 

Were these rules relevant to a young bride today? she wondered.

Would Harper and Carson find them daunting? Would

Dora have utilized these in her marriage to Cal?

 

They were not her daughters, but her granddaughters. They

affectionately called her Mamaw and their bond was strong,

indeed. She had done her best to instruct the girls in proper

manners when they’d spent summers with her at Sea Breeze,

but she didn’t oversee their upbringing or guide them day to

day. She had no worries that Harper knew her etiquette. In

England, her family was in Debrett’s. Dora’s mother, Winifred,

bless her heart, did her best. Even if Winnie knew the letter of

the law and not the spirit. Carson, however, was a wild card.

Raised by Marietta’s son, Carson might as well have been raised

by wolves. Looking back, Marietta saw that she’d failed Carson

by not insisting that the young girl live with her in Charleston

rather than with her father in Los Angeles. Yet the girl had a

natural grace and a passion for living that no amount of education

could teach. Carson knew enough manners to get by. Marietta

sighed. How to set a table, at the least. The rest, Marietta

knew, Carson could learn.

 

Mamaw tapped her lips, considering. Certainly for the parties

and the wedding ceremonies, protocol played an important

role. Especially in the church. Goodness, without protocol

they’d all be walking around utterly clueless what to do next.

Protocol was reassuring in such times, and Mamaw was confident

that she could guide the fledglings in the proper procedures

for the ceremonies. With a slight lift of her chin she

thought that sometimes being old had advantages.

 

As for the rest . . . it might be true that some of the rules

of etiquette from the past were outdated. Yet didn’t etiquette,

like language and customs, evolve and adapt to current times?

Treating others with kindness, consideration, and respect was

timeless. All should be aware of how their actions affect others

in their daily lives.

 

Marriage was hard work. As in the vows the young brides

and grooms were going to say, there was indeed sickness and

health, poverty and wealth, till death do us part. Only in the wis-

dom of experience could one hear those words and understand

the depth of their meaning.

 

Marietta had lived a charmed life in many ways. Yet she’d

also endured the sadness of miscarriages and the crushing blow

of the death of her only child. Edward had been her support

during those trials, but when he died, it was her dear friend

Lucille who had seen her through the darkness to the light.

Then Lucille, too, had passed, and Marietta was alone again.

Her granddaughters were a solace, true, but she’d also discovered

a different sort of comfort and companionship in an old

friend, Girard.

 

So, perhaps, marriage wasn’t the only answer for a compatible

relationship? she wondered. Partnership and friendship

were important ingredients. Still, she believed marriage was an

institution set up by society to protect the concept of family.

Marriage offered security and stability in a world quickly losing

values, customs, and traditions. This she wanted for her granddaughters.

 

Yet, in the end, her mother had only wanted Marietta to be

happy. Happy with her husband, happy in her society, happy in

her home. Isn’t that what every mother wished for her daughter?

Shouldn’t she wish only that for her Summer Girls?

 

She sighed and cupped her chin in her palm. So what to

say? Lord, she prayed, help me find the words. Then she smiled

again and the answer came readily. She would tell each young

bride the same words her mother had told her so many years

ago. Simple words that had withstood the test of time.

Be kind, my darling girl. And be happy!

One Response to Mary Alice Monroe–Lowcountry Wedding Excerpt & Giveaway

  1. Colleen C.

    Enjoyed the snippet you shared! Sounds like a book I would enjoy!

Leave a Reply

Back to Top