Last night was the rehearsal for Clay’s wedding. I have never particularly enjoyed big social events but Cosby, the father of the groom, is Sherod’s oldest, dearest friend and I get to watch my husband be himself with these folks in ways that just delight me. I first met Cosby in the summer of 1988.
On our way down to Selma, right after we got married, we stopped at a big university hospital in Birmingham. Harriet, Cosby’s wife, had been diagnosed with liver cancer and was there getting some experimental chemo. We walked in the hospital room where Cosby was lying on the bed, holding his wife and talking quietly with her. She was obviously so sick. There were layers of awkwardness. The Carmichaels had been good friends with Sherod and his first wife, Harriet was so sick. Very active, devout members of the Church of Christ with it’s biblical literalism and strict piety, Harriet and Cosby were daunting to me. I felt so out of place. And they could not have been more gracious.
We made small talk for a few minutes and then Harriet asked Cosby about the presents. First, he handed me a wedding present and asked me to open it so I did. It was a handsome knife block that still sits by my stove in the kitchen of our house. Then, with a somewhat sly grin, he handed Sherod an equally nicely wrapped present. Sherod didn’t want to accept it. In fact, it was the first time ever I saw Sherod blush. It started on his neck and climbed its way up his face till he was beet red. Still, Cosby, and Harriet, with her soft and weak voice, insisted he open the present. He finally did. And when I saw what it was, I wanted to die. Gotta call it for what it was: the biggest, most obscene and awful looking dildo imaginable. I was so embarrassed I wanted to climb into my chair.
Turns out this was a storied gift. One year, Cosby’s family invited his close friends to join them at the Tally-Ho restaurant for Cosby’s birthday. His mama, aunt, children and cousins, everyone was going to be there. The Tally-Ho was (and still is) the only nice restaurant in town and this was also a special occasion. So of course, the buddies with nicknames like Bubba, Skeeter and Greasy, decided to make it even more special. One of them found this nasty piece of plastic and they decided to wrap it up nice, deliver it to the restaurant earlier in the day, and have the maitre d’ give it to Cosby during the dinner. This collection of bubbas thought an anonymous gift would be just the thing to make it a real classy occasion.
During the day of the party, one by one, each of his buddies realized they weren’t going to be able to make it to Cosby’s birthday dinner. All their reasons were legitimate—and then there was the moment of panic when they realized the gift was already at the Tally Ho along with instructions for delivering it right after the cake, that the serious and devout Mama G and Big Martha (matriarchs of the family), and little children, would all watch Cosby open this gift and none of his friends would be there to ensure this didn’t become a friendship-ending offense. Those boys had to scramble to rectify the situation and if I remember correctly, they delivered it while they had their regular breakfast at their favorite truck stop before going out duck hunting sometime after that. Cosby saved his gift because what goes around, comes around.
So there we sat, in this hospital room in Birmingham, Sherod, Cosby and Harriet laughing their heads off, I learning something more about my brand new husband, both delighted and horrified, with this enormous thing sitting there on the bed like another honored guest.
When we got back home, Sherod hid his gift in the farthest corner of the closet he could possibly find. Soon after, we had the Senior Warden and his wife to dinner and Sherod made a point of showing Walter where it was and instructed him that if we were killed in an auto accident, Walter was to come in and dispose of that box immediately. Still a new priest as well as a new husband, Sherod couldn’t make himself get rid of it but was scared to death of what others would think if they found it. Just that makes me laugh all over again.
By Christmas of that year, Harriet had died and Cosby was the heart-broken daddy of three lovely little boys, Ken, Pierson and Clay. Right after the holidays, the four of them came and spent time with us in Huntsville and I got to find out some more about just what a wonderful friendship existed between these two guys. And about 18 months later, Cosby married Marsha, as a good a person as I know, devoted to Cosby, those boys and the Alabama Crimson Tide. (Last night as people came in to the rehearsal party, they all greeted Marsha by saying, “Roooollll Tide” and she answered in kind).
A couple of months after Cosby and Marsha got married, another Selma friend hosted a group of us at their lake home for a weekend of merriment and celebration in honor of the newlyweds. And don’t you know that the awful ‘toy’ got all wrapped up, and brought out to be presented with much fanfare when we were all gathered toasting the new couple. Cosby blushed as much as Sherod had.
Today, my spouseman is officiating at the wedding of a little boy I met 24 years ago, who was five and lost and heart broken without his mama and who’s grown up to become another pretty cool bubba, just like his daddy and his Uncle Sherod. I wonder when that gift will show back up because I know it’s around somewhere…