‘Take my breath away. . .’

Published 10:28 am Thursday, February 22, 2024

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By Bonnie Bartel Latino


Tommy’s Dad, who was also to be his Best Man that afternoon, stopped by the Chapel at Reese Air Force Base in Texas to tell Daddy and me we had 10 minutes before the wedding began. Daddy glanced at his watch. I knew I didn’t have to worry about being late. He had my back like he had for 20 years. As “Mr. Johnny, my nickname for Tommy’s Dad, turned to leave, he snapped his fingers and faced me again. “Guess who’s here?”

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“Tommy’s old college girlfriend?” I was only half-joking. Mr. Johnny laughed like I was funnier than Johnny Carson. “No, but Mrs. Gundlach’s here!” With that, he left to check in with Tommy. He had called me from the Bachelor Officers’ Quarters to tell me he had completed his flight and hurried back to “the Q” to shower and change out of his flight suit. He had sounded happy, yet harried.

“Who’s this Gundlach gal?” Daddy’s voice revealed his curiosity. I touched his arm beneath his navy suit. “She’s not a gal. She came from Pass Christian, where he grew up. She’s at least 80 now, but she was Tommy’s Scout leader, from Cubs to Eagle.”

“Daddy whistled through his teeth as he did when he was impressed. “I wish I’d known Tommy was an Eagle Scout back when that long-haired, Pecker Wood showed up in Atmore.” Knowing Daddy was trying to put me at ease. I laughed but assured him I hadn’t even known back then.

“You realize that lady’s determination to be here is evidence of Tommy’s character.”

“Do you think I’d bring anyone, who didn’t have exemplary character, home to meet you and Mama? It’s a rhetorical question, Daddy.” Unexpectedly, I remembered something sweet Daddy had done for me when I was a child. “Do you remember Fury?”

“Sure, but you mean Old Nelle. That’s what the farm boys called her. I paid more for the saddle than I did for that nag of yours.” We both burst into genuine laughter. Daddy sighed. His whole body relaxed. Mission accomplished. We were still laughing when Mr. Johnny knocked again. “Step out in three minutes. When you see Tommy and me standing in front of the altar, start walking up the center aisle.” His voice disappeared. Daddy looked at his watch, counting down.

Suddenly we both sensed that our relationship was about to change forever. He was going to hand his “Baby Girl” over to another man. With tears in his eyes, he said “You and Tommy make a good couple. You both share a keen sense of humor. You’ll bring excitement to his life; he’ll bring stability to yours. I know you’ll be a strong military wife, a bit different than most, but strong just the same. I’m also certain he’ll always make you proud.” Again, he looked at his watch. Then he pulled the top layer of my fingertip veil over my face like Mama had practiced with us. “Let’s get this show on the road, Kiddo!” Opening the refrigerator door, he handed me my bouquet of yellow roses and led me into the Chapel.

He patted my right gloved hand before tucking it through his left elbow. “Ready?” I snickered as I clutched his arm tighter. “Ready? I may do cartwheels up this aisle.” Instead, we simply walked. Slowly. Was my fairy tale beginning, or was I about to do a back flip off the high dive?

“Who gives this woman to this man in Holy matrimony?” I heard the Catholic priest ask. I took a deep breath as Daddy stepped forward. “Her mother and I.” He kissed my cheek before placing my hand in Tommy’s, then stepped away. As we stood facing each other and with my hand snug in his, my face lit up like a Fourth of July night sky, a mere reflection of his. My fiancé, 2nd Lieutenant Thomas Latino, USAF, looked resplendent in his formal summer Mess Dress uniform: Black tuxedo pants and cummerbund with a white dress shirt and black bow tie beneath his white waist jacket that shouldered his rank.

My knight and the moment took my breath away.