Sell story as a tribute to a loved one like Kay McDonald whose Nan was her bridesmaid.
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I played with the frills on the hem of my dress as I waited in the wings of my cousins wedding, twirling back and forth. Nan came in fussing with her dress. “Are you ready to be the little flower girl?” she asked me. “Uhuh,” I replied with a precocious seven-year-old’s grin. “Why aren’t you a bridesmaid though?”
She looked around wistfully and sighed, before bending down and whispering in my ear. “Always a bride, never a bridesmaid,” she said with a conspiratorial wink.
I stuck out my bottom lip and crossed my heart with my finger. “When I get married, nan, you can be my bridesmaid,” I promised. She beamed and said; “I may keep you to that, darling.”
Twenty years later and I had moved from London to my new home in Hatfield, Herts with my five kids, Morgan, nine, Harley, seven, Aaron, six, Kai, five, and Lexie, four. I was single and feeling the most independent I had in a long time. But I still needed a little help every now and then – especially when it came to DIY.
One day when I was tinkering with the hinges on the front door, the neighbour’s son, Patrick, wandered past. “Need any help?” he called out from the front gate. He was smartly dressed and very friendly. “I think I’m all right,” I replied. “But thanks!”
A few days later my phone pinged with a notification. It was a friend request from Patrick. I accepted it straight away and after chatting online for a few weeks we went out for a date. We got on really well, and I couldn’t help but fancy him. When he kissed me on the way home, I felt myself falling.
“If you want to do this,” I told him, putting the breaks on. “It can’t be a five minute thing. It’s me and the five kids, or nothing.”
To my surprise and delight Patrick said he was falling for me too, and that he was in it for the long haul. A year later we were happily living together and had just had our first child, Mason, now 10 months old.
On Christmas morning 2014, Patrick, 25, was acting odd as the kids rifled through their presents; the living room floor was littered with wrapping paper.
“What’ve you got up your sleeve?” I asked him with a curious smile. But Patrick was fighting a losing battle to tear the kids away from their new toys.
Every time he managed to pull one away, the one he’d wrestled free seconds before it had rejoined the scrum on the floor. Giving up, he pulled me to one side, and told me he loved me. “You have no idea how much you and the kids mean to me,” he said. “We’re a unit, and I’d do anything for you.”
Suddenly he bent down on one knee and pulled a small velvet box out of the pocket of his dressing gown. My heart leapt in my chest and I held my breath in anticipation. “Marry me, Kay,” he said, opening the box to reveal a stunning square diamond engagement ring.
“Yes, of course yes,” I said, falling to my knees to kiss and hug him… and to get that ring on my finger.
The kids were completely oblivious to what had just happened, but after wiping away my tears of joy, I managed to get their attention to tell them the fantastic news. I showed them the ring and Morgan and Lexi howled with delight. “That’s a great idea,” Harley said.
After the initial excitement of the proposal, my thoughts drifted to Nan, and the promise I’d made her all those years ago. “Oh, she’ll absolutely love to be your bridesmaid,” mum said after we discussed it.
Nan was 77 by then and I didn’t want to assume she’d just do it, though nothing would have made be happier. My mum, Debbie, 54, agreed to keep it a secret until New Year’s Eve when I wanted to tell her. I pulled Nan aside at the party but before I could say anything she gave me a big hug and said congratulations. I hugged her back and asked if she remembered that wedding from years ago.
“You know the one where I was the little flower girl?” I said. “Ooh, how could I forget? You were so pretty,” she said.
“Well do you remember what I said to you if I ever got married? I promised you’d be my bridesmaid.” Nan immediately laughed it off. “But I’m 77 years-old…”
“…Young,” I interrupted.
“Either way, you don’t want an old dear like me as your bridesmaid,” she said. But I insisted. “I made a promise, Nan, and I’m keeping it. I want you by my side on my wedding day.” I could tell she was absolutely over the moon, and I couldn’t wait to tell Patrick the good news.
At our monthly family roast, I asked my sister, Laura Bradley, 33, to be my maid of honour and we started planning the wedding straight away. Patrick’s sister, Sherry, 35, lived in Australia so whatever arrangements we made needed to be carefully planned so she could fly over.
We found a lovely little church for the wedding and decided on the local social club for the reception and booked them straight away.
“Tick,” I said to Patrick as I ran down my ‘to do’ list. “That’s the main thing sorted.” “What’s next?” he asked. “We need to get a bus,” I said.
Nan’s husband, Albert, was a bus driver on the famous Routemaster bus service before he passed away four years ago, and we’d spoken about the best way to honour him. Patrick’s eyebrows shot up. I called a few bus hire companies and found one that had an identical bus to the one grandad used to drive. They even agreed to put his initials on the front of the bus. “Perfect,” I said.
Picking out the bridesmaid dresses wasn’t quite as easy though. I sent a couple of dress ideas to Nan and she said they were a bit too racy for her. One had a bit of plunging neck line and the other was a little too strappy for her.
“I’m 77,” she joked. “At my age, you have to think a little more conservatively about your modesty.” So I sent her another one with a higher neck line, and a matching shawl which she loved.
The next day I went round to see mum and she let slip that Laura had arranged a hen-do. She never was too good at keeping secrets. Laura had arranged for a beach-themed Hawaiian hen-do, complete with a half-naked barman and make-your-own-cocktails. And Nan even got in the spirit of things too, wearing an authentic Hawaiian garland and mixing her own drinks.
On the day of the wedding, I stood in front of the bedroom mirror fussing with my dress. Nan leaned over and kissed my cheek, careful not to ruin my make-up. “You look beautiful, Kay,” she said.
As we opened the front door to make our way to the church, a bright red traditional double-decker Routemaster bus was parked in front of the house, with the words, Wedding Special, and his number six, emblazoned on the front. But the second Nan saw it, she ran back inside, tears welling up in her eyes. “I can’t do it,” she said.
I rushed back in to comfort her, not realising the bus her late husband drove all his life would have such an effect. I was crying too – my make-up going all to hell – but we had a cuddle, took a deep breathe, and strode outside and got on the bus.
We had the service and Nan escorted me into St Etheldredas Church in Hatfield, alongside my sister and two daughters, and our four nieces. Nan came in last as she was the tallest, and she carried a beautiful bouquet of blue flowers with a locket containing a photograph of her own wedding which I got as a present for her.
Patrick and I exchanged vows and said our ‘I dos’ and as we left the church, a spattering of rain fell down. We posed for pictures and ran for the cover of the bus.
At the reception at the social club, Nan caught my attention and gave me a hug. “You were wonderful, darling,” she said. “So were you,” I said, beaming. “Patrick reminds me so much of your Grandad. You’ll last, you two. I’m positive.”
I’ve always that if you make a promise you should keep it, that’s why having my 77-year-old Nan as my bridesmaid was the best decision I’ve ever made.
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