Wicked Hurricane Katrina decimated cities and destroyed lives, but it didn’t keep Heather Good’s fairy tale wedding from becoming a Cinderella story
|Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor|
Sept. 11, 2005 -- “Something Old” was going to be her grandmother’s antique lace garter. “Something New” was her beautifully embroidered white strapless wedding gown with cathedral train and chapel-length veil, and “Something Borrowed” was yet to be determined for the Friday, Sept. 9, traditional wedding to be held at the Presidential Palace in the Crescent City.
But in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, all hopes and dreams for that fairy tale union ended for one New Orleans bride-to-be turned evacuee. And all that remained was a double portion of “Something Blue.”
That is, however, until 21-year-old Heather Good found herself a refugee among the people of Sulphur Springs -- who, of course, took care of everything.
�This community has created a Cinderella wedding for my daughter,� said an emotional Gary Good, Heather�s father, who flew in from Iraq to give his only daughter�s hand in marriage.
A former Marine working in the war-torn country, he said his job involves being around “bad stuff” all the time, and what the community of Sulphur Springs has done for his daughter is a nice reminder that there are really good people in the world.
�All I could do was hear about what was going on through phone calls or read about it in an e-mail,� he explained. �I couldn�t be here for her, and that�s what makes what you guys have done for her so special. Ya�ll stepped in and filled a need. We will be forever grateful.�
�My Dad never cries,� Heather said. �I think I�ve seen him cry one time in my entire life, and he is so moved by what this community is doing for us. Now that my family is here and they are experiencing some of what I have been through for the past week, I can just see the impact on their faces. They just can�t quit crying.�
Heather, following in her father’s footsteps, is a Marine stationed at Algiers Navy Base in New Orleans, and has been planning her dream wedding since her fiancé, Daniel Weiss, also a Marine, proposed to her on Valentine’s Day, just before he embarked for active duty in Iwakuni, Japan.
�� After months of planning, reserving the ideal location, finding that perfect dress, designing a cake, creating flower arrangements and even hand-making wedding favors for her guests, all Heather had to do was get through the final two weeks anticipating the arrival of her fiance from Japan, her father from Iraq, and family members and friends all flying in from across the country.
�� Instead, Hurricane Katrina arrived with 145 mile per hour winds and water that engulfed entire cities and communities and thousands of lives along the Gulf Coast.�
When Heather and fellow Marines were ordered to evacuate the base, they had no idea of the magnitude of the storm.
�When we were sent word to leave the barracks, I was thinking it would be maybe for a couple of days,� she recalled. �I grabbed a few things and threw them in bare necessities.�
A student as well as a Marine, Heather said she actually looked forward to a little down time and visualized taking a few days to just relax and not think about anything, then return to New Orleans in time to greet family members as they began to arrive for the gala event.
But as the group of seven convoyed in two cars toward Baton Rouge, La., they began to realize there was more to the storm than they thought. What normally was a one-hour trip turned into an exhausting, seven-hour journey.
�The traffic was horrendous, we were exhausted and news reports on the radio were saying all these horrible things that were happening, and that New Orleans was destroyed,� recalled Heather, who said at that point they all started feeling desperate when they couldn�t find a place to stay. �Every place we went to was either priced outrageous or booked.�
She said they finally found a place for the night, but news reports the next morning indicated things were only going to get worse. Therefore, the group continued on with a recommendation to head towards Sulphur Springs for affordable lodging. After checking in at the Best Western Trail Dust Inn on Aug. 28, Heather said, it took her a couple of days to finally come to the realization that there was not going to be a wedding, or at least the fairy tale version she had always imagined.
�My heart was broken,� she said. �I cried for two days.�
�Then she set to the task of making phone calls to tell everyone flights had to be canceled and the wedding postponed.
�At first it didn�t matter to me if we had a big wedding,� said Weiss, Heather�s future husband.�
He explained that when they first started planning the ceremony, he left most of the arrangements up to Heather, but with each overseas phone call he could tell how happy and excited she was with making all the big plans.
�So it became important to me, too,� he said. �Then when this storm happened, it hit me just as hard. All the planning ... I felt what she must have been feeling.�
Daniel’s mother, Teresa Sawyer, said her heart went out to her son.
�We all heard the disappointment and hurt in her voice,� Sawyer explained. �He told me, �I need to be there to hold her and tell her everything is going to be OK.� But he was half a world away. It was so difficult for all of us.�
With plans already in motion for family members flying in from near and far, they decided to try to have everyone rerouted to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport for a courtroom ceremony with a justice of the peace.
�We had worked so very hard at getting everybody into one place, so we were just going to do it without all the fancy fairy tale stuff,� said Heather.
Heather began inquiring about the names of local judges, and in doing so tearfully revealed her plight to Dana Cleaver, an employee of Best Western Trail Dust Inn.
�This was just one of those things where you wanted to help,� said Cleaver, who began making phone calls trying to figure out how to obtain a marriage license and line up a justice of the peace for a ceremony. �My heart just went out to her. I didn�t really know where to start, so I just began making phone calls.�
After contacting Justice of the Peace Yvonne King, they were assured that it would be possible to get the necessary paperwork done here in Hopkins County and King gladly agreed to perform the ceremony.
With just a few more phone calls by Cleaver, word quickly spread about the displaced bride whose wedding plans had been ruined by the catastrophic event still wreaking havoc in the lives of so many.
�Everyone just wanted to help,� said Polly Swatsell, who along with Sandra Glenn volunteered to help locate a special place for the ceremony and organize the reception with the help of Best Western employees, who offered Heritage Hall for the occasion. �It�s been so emotional. For me, I just wanted to be able to help bring a little joy into such a tragic situation. We wanted to make sure these kids got a wedding to remember, and that they know Sulphur Springs cares.�
Many others in the community evidently felt the same way.
When problems arose in getting the groom re-routed from Chicago, Ill., to Dallas instead of New Orleans, a large fee was applied by the airline for the changes. Deborah Wright with Century 21 First Group stepped in to help with the charges. And in a week’s time, Charles Moore had provided his recently purchased Ashcroft plantation home on College Street as the beautiful setting for the wedding, with greenery enhancements of various plants and blooms scattered around the flower beds supplied by Reece Booher, owner of Summer House Lawn & Garden, as well as enormous ferns given by the Sulphur Springs FFA Chapter.
Renee and Steve Armstrong supplied and decorated the wooden archway and rod iron planters that adorned the porch where the couple would exchange their vows as guests stood about the manicured lawn or sat at white linen-covered tables donated by Chad Young, proprietor of The Lodge, with chairs furnished by Vera Harrington.
�It was just unbelievable,� said Heather, who admitted every time she talked to her mother in Tucson, Ariz., they would just cry.�
�She said, �Mom, you never told me we had family in Texas,�� laughed Diane Good. �She said, �You just won�t believe what these people, total strangers, are doing for me.��
David’s Bridal in Mesquite was contacted and replaced Heather’s exact dress that had been destroyed in their New Orleans store. Yvonne King treated Heather to both a manicure and relaxing pedicure the day before her wedding, and makeup on the big day was done by Penny Stieber, a Best Western employee and Mary Kay consultant. The bride’s hair, as well as the tresses of all the female family members, was styled free of charge by employees of Country Village Salon.
The bride and her father arrived at the ceremony in a horse-drawn, fairy tale-style carriage donated by Lotsa Spots Carriage Company in Cumby.
�When I heard about this event my heart just went out to this young couple,� said Jodi Fry, the carriage company owner. �I can�t think of a better way to spend my time.�
Heather carried flowers of red and white in a blooming bouquet donated by Flowerland Florist, who also donated boutonnieres and other flowers for the occasion. Music was organized by Gary Spraggins who offered his services and sound equipment. Bobby McDonald, who helped organize the event, took photographs.
The couple exchanged vows amidst strangers they quickly called friends. Representatives of local churches, businesses and organizations were on hand to offer their support and share in the wonder of the day.
�What a great way to represent Christian love,� said Sawyer. �This community has just opened their arms up and showed all of us their love.�
Guests and family were treated to a reception held at Best Western’s Heritage Hall where they enjoyed finger sandwiches on sparkling platters given by Plain & Fancy Sandwich Shoppe. Sandra Glenn and Polly Swatsell also took care of much of the reception food and decorations. The bride’s three-tiered cake was created by local resident Maxie Thompson, and the John Deere groom’s cake was provided by Brookshire’s bakery. And Lee’s Hallmark supplied personalized monogrammed napkins for the special occasion
Best Western also provided the newlyweds with the honeymoon suite for the night, of course.
�She�s just become part of our family,� said Katie Swann, Best Western employee and punch server. �She�s promised to come back and visit with us soon.�
�We�ve all just been amazed by everyone pitching in like they have,� said Weiss, who is originally from Hartford, N.C., but has to return to Japan all too soon. �It�s a great feeling to know there are such good people still out there. I know about Southern hospitality where folks actually help out rather than just offer condolences and go on about their life. People here genuinely wanted to help.�
Heather admitted to having a mix of emotions at the thought of putting her wedding in the hands of total strangers, but said it has turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences of her life.
�I came to the conclusion that I was not going to worry about anything at all,� she said. �I have the people who are most important in my life here with me, and that�s all that really matters. We will forever be grateful for what this community has done for us. It�s not the wedding that I had planned, but in a way it is so much better than I could have ever imagined. I believe all things happen for a reason, and to have seen all these people, total strangers, come together to make this happen for me, someone they don�t even know, is just amazing.
�I won�t ever be the same, and I won�t ever be able to put into words what this has meant to me.�