Around here, I'm known as the wedding maven. That's because in the past nine years, I've written something like 115 wedding stories for the "Heart Beat" series that I started for this paper in 2002. In that time, I've interviewed dozens of event planners, scrolled too many wedding websites and clicked through thousands of photographs. My desk phone rings with questions from readers who think I'm the Miss Manners of Tampa. So naturally, my editor asked whether I would be writing about the Wedding of the Year. No, not Will and Kate's recent royal nuptials. My son's.
Of course, I said. Here was a story I could really relate to.
Until I sat down to write. Where were the words to describe how it felt to see my son mature in front of my eyes? To witness his happiness, his confidence, at 24, to take on the responsibilities of a husband?
Ricky met Jessica like thousands of other Gators find love, over a keg of beer. It was August 2006. They didn't speak much, but first impressions lasted.
The next day, both were invited along on a tubing trip down the Ichetucknee River organized by some of his teammates on the University of Florida crew team.
There, swirling downstream, two college kids began a timeless mating ritual. Ricky dived into the chilly water to get her attention. When he surfaced without his sunglasses, Jessica fulfilled the ancient female rite — finding things that men can't.
Ricky's routine soon consisted of class, crew practice and watching television at Jessica's. Whopping cell phone bills were my only hint that there might be a girlfriend. I called Sprint to increase our usage plan.
It took six months, Jessica told me years later, to confirm her standing. Were they just hanging out or were those nightly visits supposed to be dates?
"He needed a push," was the gentle way she framed it.
Since then, they have created a life as a couple — as a family, if you count their dog, Kirby, and cat, Felicity.
Their personalities mesh perfectly; both are reserved, pragmatic, self-reliant.
He's nearly 6 feet 4, and she's about 5 feet 10. I'd say that makes it easier to see eye-to-eye on most things.
It didn't take long for the rest of us to understand why Ricky was so crazy about Jessica. Still, the phone call last fall threw me for a loop.
"Hey, Mom, wanna go ring shopping with me?"
Deep breath, I told myself, actually thrilled to be asked. Ricky studied up on color, clarity and carats. He knew exactly what his gal desired. I could tell the saleslady thought he was quite the catch.
Ring purchased and hidden away, he sought paternal permission. His future father-in-law made it easy for him. He must have been plenty anxious. My husband found Ricky's speech under the seat of his truck last month. Talking points and his pledge to take care of their daughter, all written out. He probably parked at a rest stop to rehearse.
Barely a week later, Ricky drove from Gainesville to Lakeland, where Jessica was teaching seventh-grade history. He stopped to pick up a seafood dinner, flowers, candles and champagne. Then he set the table and hid until school let out.
Jessica said she wasn't sure whether it was his proposal that set her heart pounding or the initial fear of an intruder when she saw a man crouched in her flickering apartment.
With their joyous call came the most ridiculous emotions.
No more giant bags of laundry to wash on his weekend visits. Another woman would now drag him shopping for clothes. Someone besides me would tell him to clean his bathroom.
I should have felt relieved, but my role as "Ricky's mom" would change entirely. My baby boy had grown up, and another woman would rightfully be his first to call from now on.
With many an elbow jab from my husband, I relinquished the reins in the months to come. I tried to follow friends' cautionary mother-of-the-groom advice: Show up, shut up and wear beige.
I did, taking charge only for the rehearsal dinner that my husband and I hosted in Cocoa Beach. Impressively, Ricky and Jessica did the rest. Within the first week, they had set the date, booked a country club ballroom and bought a wedding dress. Invitations, bridal showers and engagement parties followed. Ricky even landed a job as a field engineer for a nuclear power plant in Port St. Lucie.
And then the big day.
They were stunning, calm, regal.
I was a mess, bursting into tears in the elevator when I introduced myself to Jessica's grandfather.
"I'm Ricky's mom,'' I said.
And I always will be.