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Big Jeff

2 June 2017
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As the owner of Cedar Grove Tchoupitoulas Plantation, I am honored each week to work with incredible families. Some of our families breeze in like the wind and leave as quickly as they came. However, most of our families take root in the historic walls and grounds of CGT. The memory of their laughter, happy tears, and joy stay with us forever. I have many interesting stories about brides and grooms from my 30 years in the New Orleans Wedding Industry. The first is not about a bride or groom. It is about honoring a man who learned to walk for his daughter. This wedding story is about a brave man named Jeff.

Throughout my wedding career, I have always worked late on Tuesdays. On this particular Tuesday in January 2011, I had an appointment with a bride named Jessica. She was so excited to be marrying the love of her life, Kenny. She and her mother, Annette, were delightful. They noticed all the details of the building but also sensed the peaceful flow that radiates throughout the home. They decided to book a wedding date with CGT Plantation for the following March.

The next time that I saw this mom and daughter was when the plantation hosted a portrait painting party around September. When we took a break, my sister, a Nursing Director of ICU recognized them. When they realized who she was, they started reminiscing about Jeff’s stay in the hospital. My sister, Lynn, had seen the pain and agony that this gentle giant went through. It seems that all of the nurses and doctors were surprised and thrilled that he recovered from his near fatal infections. Lynn and Annette spoke about his long stay in the hospital, and the glorious day that he was finally able to go home. With a new steel backbone, he would spend months learning to stand and walk again. It was his goal to walk Jessica down the aisle.

I finally had the pleasure of meeting Jeff in February 2012. It was one month before the wedding. Jeff had a walker but he was joyful anyway. He assured me that he would not be using the walker for the wedding. His determination was astounding. I remember how he looked at Jessica that night. He was so proud of the woman that she had become. Annette, understandably, looked a little tired from caring full time for Jeff, however, her sweetness and positive attitude shined through like a star.

The week of the wedding was a hustle and bustle for the family. When Jessica came to bring in her supplies on the Thursday before the wedding, she looked stressed. It dawned on me that she too had spent the last few years helping with the care of her father. I wanted her to know that I would take care of her on her special day. As our conversation continued, she spoke the words that were really on her mind. “My dad is not feeling well,” she said. For most people, this would be a reference to perhaps a cold or even flu. But, I knew that was not what she meant. Something was wrong, and now I took on the worry as well. I know that many prayers were said for him that night. We all prayed that he would be well enough to do the one thing that he worked on for over a year: Walk!

The next night he drove up with Annette like a champion. He struggled to walk as he leaned on his walker. Jeff took pictures with Jessica and the family and smiled throughout the process. He greeted old friends and family and looked like he was in the best of health.

We had about a half-hour before the wedding was to begin. As I crossed the ballroom, I noticed Jeff sitting to the side. Something is wrong, I thought. But, of course, he courageously smiled and told me that he was fine. When it was time for the wedding to begin, it was hard for me to keep from tearing up from the thought of this great walk that was about to occur. I waited with Jessica and Annette inside while Jeff was helped down the three steps into the chapel. He waited patiently to see his beautiful daughter appear at the back door. The music began and Jessica rounded the corner with her mother and began down the steps.

He put his walker to the side and proudly took a cane and held it tightly. It took a moment. Then Jessica whispered, “Let’s go, Dad.” The first step felt as if it was in slow motion. The music played and the guests as well as our staff held their breath. Jeff took his first step and then the second. He continued down the aisle slowly and courageously. Smiles, tears and joyous laughter radiated throughout the chapel!

To know Jeff was to realize that he was not a man thinking, “Look at me. I can walk!” Rather, he was like any father proudly showing off his daughter on her very special day. This day was for her. He never wavered in his devotion to walk as a gift to Jessica.

Jeff spent the rest of the evening greeting guests at his table. He was seated most of the time but seemed to have a wonderful time. We had prepared special food for him; however, he was not feeling up to eating. When the evening finally ended, we hugged and welcomed our newest CGT Plantation family members. Before Kenny and Jessica left the plantation home, Jessica hugged me and told me that she never thought that she could have a wedding like this. It was her dream come true to have it at CGT. It was wonderful to hear. We hugged one last time, and she was on her way. Jeff and Annette were the last to leave. They were thrilled that everything went so well. As I waved goodbye, I wondered what the next chapter would bring for this fantastic family.

About a month or two later, Jessica stopped by on a Tuesday evening so that we could catch up. What she told me still gives me goose bumps. Apparently, on the night of the wedding, Jeff’s screws in his metal backbone had loosened. Therefore, when he walked it moved. The pain that this man must have endured that March evening must have been unbearable. It is almost impossible that he was able to walk at all. However, miraculously, he walked Jessica down the aisle with just a cane. Jeff was a man who inspired hundreds if not thousands of people on that night. Many people who were not even in attendance at the wedding have heard the story of Jeff’s walk down the aisle.

Unfortunately, Jeff continued to have infections and complications after the wedding. He suffered endlessly and was in and out of the hospital for the next year. In the fall of 2013, Jessica announced the joyous news of her pregnancy with her first child. He was so happy and looked forward to holding his new grandchild the next summer. However, it was not to be.

He remained a fighter to the very end of his life. He sadly died in December 2013. His family and friends gathered to tell him goodbye. From what I heard, the line to see Annette and the family was all the way down the street. The funeral was delayed by two hours. I wonder if he realized how many lives that he touched. Could he have possibly had any idea of how much he was loved?
As life continued in 2014, Jessica and Kenny were blessed with a beautiful baby girl. She was born in May. Jessica gets little signs from her father that he is watching over her from heaven but still misses him so much.

I did not know this family before January 2011. However, they will always be a part of the Cedar Grove Tchoupitoulas Plantation family and in my heart.

My life changed on that wedding day. Up until then, I had questioned the time, money, and tears that I had put into this business. What’s my mission? How do I make a difference? But when I saw Jeff walk with that cane, I whispered to myself, “Families like this are why I bought this special place.”

If these 225-year-old walls could talk, one story they would tell would be about Jessica’s dad, Jeff.
As the owner of Cedar Grove Tchoupitoulas Plantation, I am honored each week to work with incredible families. It would be impossible to name all the families that have made a special impact on our family and business. Some of our families breeze in like the wind and leave as quickly as they came. However, most of our families take root in the historic walls and grounds of CGT. The memory of their laughter, happy tears, and joy stay with us forever.