This is the last story in my series of eight, and it has been the hardest one to write. I was originally going to entitle this post “Wedding Day,” but as my husband so helpfully pointed out, our actual wedding was several months prior to our reception, a civil ceremony at the local County Clerk’s Office. At our wedding reception, all the normal things went wrong: the cake wasn’t what I ordered, the champagne flutes never materialized, and I’m not even going to mention the toilet troubles that day. I did my best to play good hostess and make things seem as smooth as possible. There are so many little stories within that day that it’s extremely difficult to pick the biggest ones to write a SHORT story about, but here goes…

The first thing you need to know about our wedding reception is the setting, i.e., the time and the place. Our reception took place in Fredericksburg, Virginia in October 2002. Just in case your early 21st-Century history is a little rusty, this is exactly the time and place of the D.C. Sniper attacks. I mean, really, we couldn’t have been much closer. One of the victims was shot 8 days before our reception just a little way down the highway in front of a Michaels arts and crafts store, and another victim was shot at a gas station just outside Fredericksburg the DAY before our reception. It was a seriously scary time.

The D.C. sniper was on the news around the clock; people were afraid to go to the store or get gas; the news kept reporting sightings of a white van around the shootings, so everyone was terrified of every white van they spotted.

But I’d been planning the reception for months, and I had this gung-ho attitude of, “I’m not letting the terrorists scare me; that’s what they want!” I didn’t consider canceling for a moment. So I continued all my last minute errands, hoping the sniper wouldn’t be in the parking lot while I ran quickly into stores for odds and ends I needed for the party. I could only hope that guests would still show up.

To my great relief, they did. I mean, there were a good number of last-minute cancellations and more than a few no-shows, but most of the people who RSVPed were there, including someone I didn’t expect to meet in my lifetime.

(Now this is a pretty cool part of the story, so just bear with me while I briefly explain…) My father-in-law had two daughters from a previous marriage. My husband had only met his two half-sisters as an infant, so he had no memory of them. Recently, one of them contacted their father and started to reconcile. To my great surprise and pleasure, she traveled from Florida to come to the reception, bringing her husband and son.

We held our reception at a small Italian restaurant owned by friends of my in-laws. It was a casual event, and I had invited my immediate family, my in-laws, and many friends of my in-laws. In short, I didn’t know about a third of the guests. The reception whizzed by in no time, and the old saying about the bride not getting to eat on her wedding day was pretty much true. I had a couple bites of food between photos and trying to get a few minutes to chat with all the guests. Before I knew it, the restaurant was clearing out, and it was time to go.

My husband and I were among the last to leave. We were heading back to his parents’ house for an after-reception get-together. And wouldn’t you know it, our rental car broke down as soon as we got onto the highway. So picture this: a man in a tux, and a little woman in a big white gown by the side of the highway where a sniper had been shooting people recently. I felt like I couldn’t be a bigger target. This was before all of us had cell phones in our pockets, so I wasn’t sure what we were going to do. Lucky for us, one of my friends left the restaurant a few minutes later than us, spotted us on the side of the road, and gave us a ride to my in-laws’ house. I made a mental note of where we had left the rental car, so I could call the rental company when we got to a phone.

At my in-laws’ house, we had a casual after-reception party with our closest friends. This is when I learned that somehow my family hadn’t been informed of the after-party, and had all gone home. Oops! Despite my family’s absence, my husband and I spent a pleasant evening snacking and chatting with friends we didn’t often get to see. I called the rental car company, and they were sending out a tow truck to pick up the dead car, and to deliver a replacement car.

As the evening wore on, guests starting trickling out, and the tow truck from the rental company arrived. It was after dark, and I saw the flashing yellow lights of the tow truck out in front of the driveway. My father-in-law was already there, talking to the driver as my husband I approached. We confirmed where the rental car had been left by the side of the highway. Just after the truck driver drove away, my father-in-law collapsed THUD! onto the driveway. I ran into the house to tell my mother-in-law what happened and call 911. Lucky for all of us, my newly-found sister-in-law’s husband had been a sheriff’s deputy, so he went straight to work, checking my father-in-law’s vitals and beginning CPR until the paramedics arrived. My father-in-law came to and was taken to the hospital for examination.

My husband, his half-sister, and I stayed up late that night, chatting and getting to know each other, an opportunity we wouldn’t have otherwise have had. We were all worried that night, not knowing what was happening at the hospital, but it felt good to be together. And I’ve always been grateful we had that chance.

I can’t believe this is the last story in the series. I have some more ideas, so I just might have to do this again sometime. Thank you so much to those of you who have been reading along, and thank you for all the kind feedback!