I went to a wedding the other day. It wasn't just any wedding by any stretch of the imagination. Besides being the wedding of my friend, Albert Culbreath, it was a celebration of friends, family and acquaintances. The attire was “farmal” and casual. The groom wore his grandfather's overalls and the beautiful bride wore a linen dress she and the groom's aunt Autice had made. The wedding party, as well as many in the congregation, also wore Liberty overalls for men, casual dress for women. As all things that are good and lasting, the event was a while in coming.
Underneath a virgin pine in a pasture in north Alabama's Tennessee Valley, we gathered to witness the marriage ceremony of Albert Culbreath and Leeann Drabenstott. They first met at a mutual friend's wedding. At that wedding the friends read a Wendell Berry poem.
Music for the occasion: Old timey, sincere and sacred. A trio of fiddles provided a feeling deeper than an organ. Guitar and mandolin added their voices. The singing was heartfelt and seemed to keep the heaven's open and the rain at bay.
Both the groom and bride's fathers stood up to bless the union. While the preacher was talking, a kitten came up and sat on a pillow that was on the ground. The preacher pointed out that it was a perfect symbol for the occasion, how God provides a place of rest for all of us. All of this may seem too idyllic to be true. But you have to know Albert.
Albert is a plant pathologist, fiddler, guitarist, banjo picker, storyteller and a giant of a man both in his professional and personal life. His choice of a bride indicates no less.
I first met Albert at Auburn University. He was pursuing his Master's degree. We met at church and soon struck up a friendship with music and respect as the common chords. We played bluegrass gospel music with others at Village Chapel in Auburn. We even made it to the finals of the university talent contest.
There were other times we picked and sang together at events for the local Cattlemen's Association and at various local eating establishments. I've known Albert both professionally and personally. I remember writing an article based on his thesis when he was studying under Rodrigo Rodriguez-Kabana at Auburn.
A few years after we left Auburn, Albert called me from Tifton, Ga., where he had started to work as a plant pathologist at the University of Georgia's Coastal Plain Experiment Station. Albert is a recognized expert on tomato spotted wilt virus, although he wouldn't let on like that.
At the time, I was working at a newspaper and doing freelance work for an ag magazine. Later, he helped steer my thinking toward what has become my profession and part of my calling.
At a distance of several hundred miles, friendships tend to go in cycles. Several years later, he came to visit me in Macon when he taught a course on the music of “The Andy Griffith Show” at the local community college. I fixed fried chicken that day and later we went to the Rose Hill Cemetery to toss guitar picks on the grave of Duane Allman. I tell my little girl, Sarah, this story, although at the time she was only about three and asleep in the car while Albert and I visited the graveside. I've still got the picture of a wet-headed young ‘un playing guitar with a grinning Albert Culbreath.
Talking with friends of Albert's bride after the ceremony, they said they knew the groom must be someone special when the bride told them she was getting married. I visited with his parents and told them how much I thought of Albert. On both sides of the aisle, there was a feeling of mutual respect and happiness for the couple.
Music has always been a part of Albert's life and the choice of a band for the reception was perfect, “Red Mountain White Trash.” The reference is tongue-in-cheek. In Albert's office is a self-effacing poster, “Just Because I Look Ignorant Don't Mean I Ain't.”
After the wedding ceremony and a meal, the couple opened up the microphone to allow friends and family to share blessings. Linda and I were pleased to offer our blessing to our friends. I read a column I had written to announce our marriage almost four years earlier. I entitled it, “Plowed the Back 40, Got Married.” We also sang a song, “How Long Have I Been Waiting for You?”
As we sang under the tent, I couldn't help but be proud to be associated with salt-of-the-earth Albert Culbreath and to see him sitting there holding the hand of his darling.