The Member of the Wedding

by Carson McCullers

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In the summer of her twelfth year, Frankie Addams feels isolated and disconnected. She is a lanky girl with a crew haircut and skinned elbows. Some of the older girls she has played with the year before have a neighborhood club, and there are parties with boys on Saturday nights, but Frankie is not a participant. That summer, she gets herself into so much trouble that at last she just stays home with John Henry West, her little cousin, and Berenice Sadie Brown, the Addams’s cook. Through long, hot afternoons, they sit in the dingy, sad Addams kitchen and play cards or talk until their words sound strange, with little meaning.

Berenice Sadie Brown is short and black and the only mother Frankie has ever known, her own mother having died when she was born. The cook has been married four times, and during one of her marriages, she lost an eye while fighting with a worthless husband. Now she owns a blue glass eye that always interests John Henry West. He is six years old and wears gold-rimmed glasses. Sometimes Frankie grows tired of him and sends him home. Sometimes she begs him to stay all night. Everything seems so mixed up that she seldom knows what she wants.

Then, on the last Friday in August, something happens that makes life wonderful once more. Frankie’s brother, Jarvis, a soldier home from Alaska, has come to dinner with Janice Evans, a girl who lives at Winter Hill. They are to be married there on Sunday, and Frankie and her father are going to the wedding. After dinner, Janice and Jarvis return to Winter Hill. Mr. Addams goes downtown to his jewelry store. Later, while she sits playing cards with Berenice and John Henry, Frankie thinks of her brother and his bride. Winter Hill becomes all mixed up in her mind with snow and icy glaciers in Alaska.

Jarvis and Janice bring Frankie a doll, but she has no time for dolls anymore. John Henry could have it. She wishes her hair were not so short; she looks like one of the freaks from the Chattahoochee Exposition. Suddenly angry, she chases John Henry home. When Berenice teases her, saying that Frankie is jealous of the wedding, Frankie declares that she is going to Winter Hill and never coming back. For a minute, she wants to throw a kitchen knife at the black cook. Instead, she hurls it at the stairway door. Berenice goes out with Honey Camden Brown, her foster brother, and T. T. Williams, her beau. Honey is not quite right in the head, and Berenice is always trying to keep him out of trouble. T. T. owns a black restaurant. Frankie does not realize that the cook’s pity for the unhappy, motherless girl keeps her from marrying T. T.

Left alone, Frankie wanders around the block to the house where John Henry lives with Aunt Pet and Uncle Eustace. Somewhere close by, a horn begins to play a blues tune. Frankie feels so sad and lonely that she wants to do something she has never done before. She thinks again of Jarvis and Janice. She is going to be a member of the wedding; after the ceremony, the three of them will go away together. She is not plain Frankie Addams any longer. She will call herself F. Jasmine Addams, and she will never feel lonely or afraid again.

The next morning, with Mr. Addams’s grunted permission, Frankie goes downtown to buy a new dress and shoes. On the way, she finds herself telling everyone she meets about the...

(This entire section contains 1213 words.)

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wedding. That is how she happens to go into the Blue Moon, a cheap café where she knows children are not allowed. F. Jasmine Addams, however, is no longer a child, and so she goes in to tell the Portuguese proprietor about the wedding. The only other person in the café is a red-headed soldier from a nearby U.S. Army post. Frankie scarcely notices him at the time, but she remembers him later when she sees him on the street. By that time, he is drunk and trying to buy an organ-grinder’s monkey. The soldier buys Frankie a beer and asks her to meet him that night at the Blue Moon.

When Frankie finally arrives home, she learns that Berenice and John Henry are also to attend the wedding. An aged kinsman of the Wests has died, and Aunt Pet and Uncle Eustace are going to the funeral at Opelika. Berenice, dismayed when she sees the orange silk evening dress, the silver hair ribbon, and the silver slippers Frankie bought to wear at the wedding, tries, without much success, to alter the dress for the gawky young girl. Afterward, they begin to talk about the dead people they had known. Berenice tells about Ludie Freeman, the first husband she truly loved. The story of Ludie and the three other husbands make them all feel lonesome and sad. Berenice holds the two children on her knees as she tries to explain to them the simple wisdom life had taught her. They begin to sing spirituals in the half-dark of the dingy kitchen.

Frankie does meet the soldier that night. First, she goes with John Henry to Big Mama’s house and has her palm read. Afterward, she tells John Henry to go home; she does not want him to know she is meeting someone at the Blue Moon. The soldier buys two drinks, but Frankie is afraid to taste hers. He asks her to go up to his room. Frightened when he tries to pull her down beside him on the bed, she picks up a glass pitcher and hits him over the head. Then she climbs down the fire escape and runs home. She is glad to get into bed with no one but John Henry by her side.

The wedding day turns into a nightmare for Frankie. Everything is lovely until the time comes for the bride and groom to leave. When they carry their bags to the car, she runs to get her own suitcase. Then they tell her, as kindly as possible, that they are going away alone. She grasps the steering wheel and weeps until someone drags her away. Riding home on the bus, she cries all the way. Berenice promises her a bridge party with grown-up refreshments as soon as school opens, but Frankie knows that she will never be happy again. That night, she tries to run away. Not knowing where else to go, she goes to the Blue Moon. A police officer finds her there and sends for her father.

By November, however, Frankie has almost forgotten the wedding. Other things have happened. John Henry died of meningitis. Honey Camden Brown, drug-crazed, had tried to hold up a drugstore and is now in jail. Mary Littlejohn became her best, real friend. She and her father were leaving the old house and going to live with Aunt Pet and Uncle Eustace in a new suburb. Berenice, waiting to see the last of the furniture taken away, is sad, for she knows that Frankie will depend on her no longer. Frankie—she wants to be called Frances—is now thirteen years old.