In roughly two hours, Amy and Joe will be married at The Driskill Hotel. Built in 1886, it is arguably the most famous haunted building in Texas. A little paranormal phenomenon won’t stop these two lovebirds from tying the knot. They’re made for each other.
Spouser, daughter Mindy and I have traveled nearly 300 miles for the occasion, and we’re dead tired and moody.
“Is it difficult to walk to the Driskill from here?” Spouser asks the porter, handing him a tip rolled up like a joint.
“Not hard at all,” the man replies, pointing. “Just a couple blocks, and it’s on your right.”
Checked in, Mindy takes the first turn in the shower. Spouser’s next; Newsweek tucked under his arm, we know he’ll be occupied for a while.
“You’re not putting those things back on, are you?” Mindy asks.
“Without them, my eyelids are bald,” I say, trying to reattach the black caterpillar strands. The watery glue stings like alcohol, and after repeated attempts, the lashes finally adhere but are crooked and crusty.
“It’s time to go,” Spouser announces, looping his tie and creating a triangle knot.
One look in the mirror, and it’s clear I’m in trouble. “Let me fix it,” Mindy says, searching through a sack of supplies. She’s as good as a professional at repairing makeup blunders, but she’s not a magician. When Mindy’s finishes, I recognize the face in the mirror to be that of Tammy Faye Bakker.
“Suffering succotash! What happened to you?” Spouser exclaims, turning the corner.
“They’re coming off!” I declare, scrubbing my face with a washcloth. “It’ll be dark anyway.”
Amy and Joe’s wedding is a formal event, and everyone will be dressed to the teeth. Mindy and I are both wearing long dresses and high heels, and we stumble along the uneven walkways. It’s a Saturday night, just before sunset. I take pictures as we walk along 6th Street, the heart of Austin’s live entertainment scene. It feels like stepping back in time, as many historical houses and buildings dating from the late 1800s line the streets.
I focus my camera on The Driskill and am about to snap a shot, when suddenly I smell something strange, like rum or vodka. A voice from behind me says, “Got a dollar?” I turn, and there’s a man dressed in tattered clothes with his hand outstretched.
“I’ve got no money on me,” I say, somewhat shaken. Looking around, Spouser and Mindy have marched ahead, crossed the street and made their way into Driskill’s lobby. I proceed with haste, lifting my skirt slightly to move faster. The beggar follows until Spouser stops him at the door.
“We don’t have any money with us,” he says. The man turns away, and I get my first glimpse of The Driskill Hotel’s interior. It reminds me of the first time I tasted Godiva chocolate. Deliciously dark opulent woodwork and polished antiques contrast with the bright stained-glass dome skylight. We walk across inlaid marble floors to get a look at the life-sized original oil paintings.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Mindy whispers as if in the Sistine Chapel. The room where Amy and Joe will be married is glowing with white candles; the ceiling is adorned with painted frescoes. We find our way to a few empty chairs in the back and sit.
“Remember them?” Spouser speaks softly. “Look how their kids have grown. I wouldn’t have recognized them.”
Our college friends have gathered. Some have traveled across the country; some even around the world. “Here’s a tissue for you, and one for you.” I jab a Kleenex into Mindy’s and then Spouser’s hand, while swabbing my wet eyes with another.
The small orchestra begins to play, and the wedding party enters — groom’s party first. The maid of honor and bridesmaid follow.
Suddenly, the music changes and the crowd stands. Amy enters, holding the arm of her father. I remember Amy as the little girl running up and down the stairs of her home, playing with Mindy.
I stand between Mindy and Spouser and hold their hands as we watch a new generation take a step forward. Joe reads his personally-written vows first, and we weep quietly as the sincerity pours through his voice. Amy stands trembling with emotion and can scarcely read the vows she, too, has written. She manages, with Joe’s tender support and urging.
The assembly stands and erupts in shouts of joy as the couple — now married — makes their way down the rose petal-strewn aisle.
While others mingle, I walk around the hotel, taking pictures of dark corners, hoping to capture the apparition of Colonel Driskill himself.
“Is that guy in the painting looking at me?” I ask Mindy. “His eyes follow me even when I walk to the other side of the room.”
“That’s because his eyes are painted to look at you,” Mindy replies, somewhat irritated. By now her feet are hurting, and she’s ready to go.
“We’re staying until it’s over,” I say. Spouser and I head for the dance floor. Suddenly it seems as if the floor has fallen out from under me. In a way it has. The heel of my shoe has broken off and is flip-flopping like a scuba fin. I stumble across the floor like a drunk.
Midnight just around the corner, I stand lopsided on a broken shoe and stare down the same darkened grand staircase where the daughter of a senator fell to her death in 1887. Her ghost is said to remain near the staircase where she waits for awkward patrons.
“That would be you!” Mindy says. “They’re calling from the back for you to move on. You’re holding up the line.”
Maybe The Driskill Hotel didn’t want to add a gawky ghost like me, or maybe it just wasn’t my time. In any case, Amy and Joe make their way to the horse-drawn carriage and disappear down a busy Austin Street to begin their lives together.
Meanwhile, Spouser, Mindy and I catch a ride back to the Hilton with friends. In our laps, we hold goody bags filled with chocolate Hershey’s kisses. In our hearts the memory of a night filled with love, mystery and friends reunited.