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There's always another 'last Delta wedding'

Charlotte Hays has never married and she's not an accomplished cook, but she's writing about weddings and recipes in "Somebody Is Going to Die If Lilly Beth Doesn't Catch That Bouquet: The Official Southern Ladies' Guide to Hosting the Perfect Wedding" (Hyperion Books, $19.95).

Because she had never married, Hays was hesitant about co-writing this book until her co-author's son reminded her that she had contributed to "Being Dead Is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies' Guide for Hosting the Perfect Funeral" without having ever been dead.

In "Being Dead," Hays and Gayden Metcalfe share the secrets to throwing a proper funeral. In their latest book, the Mississippi Delta natives share stories of how weddings, which are supposed to be happy occasions, bring out the worst in us.

With a funeral, you have only a few days to get ready. Delta weddings are so lavish that the mother of the bride starts planning the wedding the day her baby girl is born. "The pressure is intense," Hays said.

"We have a special name for a Delta wedding that is an unusually elaborate, or famous, or perhaps notorious. We always call it `the last Delta wedding,'" Hays said. "There have been hundreds upon hundreds of last Delta weddings. As long as there is a Delta, there will be one more last Delta wedding."

Hays, a Mississippi Delta native who now lives in Washington, D.C., is a former gossip-column contributor at the Washington Times, the New York Observer and the New York Daily News. Metcalfe is the founder of the Greenville Arts Council and has been the vice president of the Delta Council and publisher of Delta Wildlife magazine.

Hays and Metcalfe tell stories of Delta weddings that will bring tears to your eyes - from laughter. There's the relatively new feature at the Delta wedding, the unity candle, which one prominent Baptist wedding guru describes as "nothing but trouble." All too many Delta brides would prefer living in sin to getting married without one, the authors write.

The unity candle is supposed to symbolize the joining of the two families. As symbolism, however, the unity candle needs some rethinking. Every now and then it just flops over, or fails to light. Once, when a mother faced a particularly challenging wick, the Baptist preacher made the mistake of gallantly lighting the candle himself - with his cigarette lighter. His appalled flock realized for the first time that their spiritual leader "was a nicotine-addled devotee of the satanic weed."

Liquor is an important topic when planning a wedding. When people in the Delta receive an invitation to a Baptist wedding, their first question is: Will they serve liquor? Episcopalians in particular are convinced that the main reason Baptists don't drink is to annoy Episcopalians.

The authors couldn't write about Delta weddings without including food. The celebration begins with the rehearsal dinner, a morning coffee party for the bride, the wedding-day brunch, the reception, and the morning-after breakfast.

A Delta wedding reception has a wedding cake, punch, champagne, an open bar, cheese straws, mints, salted nuts, finger sandwiches (at least one with chicken salad), tartlets with assorted fillings, and an arrangement of white grapes, strawberries, and cheese on a silver tray. The top 10 foods not to serve at your wedding reception include cold duck "champagne," drummettes, hot wings, chips and dips, cocktail wienies, cold cuts and processed cheese cubes with toothpicks.

Hays and Metcalfe said they cannot discuss rehearsal dinners in the Delta without mentioning the late Linda Haik. "A typical Linda cocktail party might have a ham at one end and a turkey at the other, with a hot seafood dip in a chafing dish and Linda's famous marinated tomatoes and avocados somewhere in between."

"When Linda Haik served marinated tomatoes and avocados, everyone wished for a spoon (a big one). Linda had hundreds of gallon glass jars that she would always use to marinate this. She would travel to the party with these jars filled and then drain and serve. There was never any left. Linda always served this in a wide, shallow glass bowl. She left behind no recipe, but her imitators do it this way:

"Peel and slice six tomatoes, then quarter each slice. To peel a tomato, dip it quickly in boiling water; that will make it easy to slip the knife right under the skin. Peel and thickly slice the avocados. Cut into chunks. Peel and thinly slice two yellow onions. In a glass jar, layer the above ingredients, starting with the onions. Cover with your favorite vinaigrette. Chill. Drain well before serving. Depending on your vinaigrette, you could use a dash of salt and a generous grind of fresh black pepper. Linda's vinaigrette might be lost to posterity, but this one goes well with her legendary tomatoes and avocados."

VINAIGRETTE

½ cup olive oil

½ cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup vinegar, or a bit more to taste

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon whole-grain Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper

Pinch of sugar, optional

Place all ingredients in a jar and shake until blended. Chill.

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