Even if it rains, at least you don't have to spring for mani-pedis for 14 bridesmaids.

By Valerie Fraser Luesse
woman thinking
Even if it rains, at least you don't have to spring for mani-pedis for 14 bridesmaids.
| Credit: Lambert/Getty

Mama is a championship family reunion planner and wedding planner, but which does she prefer? That's easy. She'll take a family get-together over a nuptial extravaganza any summer day.

During the course of marrying off her three girls, Mama has rented everything from white tents to botanical gardens and spent a Vanderbilt trust fund on flowers and food. She has dealt with bossy in-laws that didn't know who they were dealing with, preachers who thought they were running the show (bless their hearts), and poor Daddy seeing dollar signs every time the guest list expanded.

"The guest list is actually the beauty of a family reunion," Mama says. "For every new addition to the family, you've got precious old ones going on to their Great Reward, so it all balances out."

In many ways, Mama says, reunions and weddings are very similar. "You've got to figure out how many people to invite (I stop at third cousins for both), where to have it, what's on the menu, and so forth. But the big difference is this: For a family reunion, I am in charge, and everybody knows it. For a wedding, I have to run the thing while making the bride, groom, and in-laws believe they've had a say. That takes skill. And it's exhausting."

Planning a family reunion, Mama says, revolves around Memaw and Great-Aunt Bessie's favorite covered dish recipes: "Everybody loves them, so why go crazy and cater in sushi to please those Millennial whippersnappers who think they know something just because they've been to New York? No. If Memaw's potato-and-onion casserole and Great-Aunt B's blackberry cobbler were good enough for our forbears, they're good enough for this younger generation. And I'd better not smell any alcohol on their breath! A reunion is a sweet tea and lemonade affair."

Family reunion food, Mama believes, is all about comfort and memory: fried chicken, baked ham, broccoli casserole, baked beans, coleslaw, potato salad, casserole dishes, homemade ice cream, fresh watermelon . . . Mama gets all misty just thinking about it.

"It's not that I don't enjoy the pretty food you get to serve at a wedding reception," she says. "I love an 8-tiered cake and a seated dinner for 400 as much as anybody. But there's just something about breaking out the family covered dish recipes, scrubbing down the picnic tables at the old home place, and bringing the family together in the summertime. We appreciate each other so much more when we have to fight a few mosquitos over dessert. And every time I serve Great-Aunt B's cobbler, I can just hear her teaching me how to make the crust just so. That was one bossy old lady. Good thing I'm not like that."

WATCH: Things That Only Happen At A Southern Wedding

If the groom insists on Moon Pies for his reception table and the wedding party is almost as big as the congregation, you've just landed at a Southern wedding.