Saron and Neal’s Rustic Cattle Farm Wedding
It wasn’t an everyday occurrence for Saron Mitchell to encounter a handsome stranger in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. But it happened when she spotted Neal Henderson, a fellow local she hadn’t met before, at a bar one Tuesday night in 2012. Seizing the moment, she said hello. “To save myself embarrassment in case he was on a date, though, I introduced myself to everyone there,” she recalls.
Neal was thoroughly amused. “I thought she was doing a psychology experiment,” he says. “But I knew immediately she was something special.” That night, he drove her home, casually mentioned he didn’t believe in marriage—“I wouldn’t marry you anyway,” Saron quipped—then asked her out for oysters. Eight months later, they were engaged. “What can I say?” asks Neal. “After meeting Saron, I changed my tune.”
As a sometime event designer, Saron was well suited to the task of throwing a wedding. And though, to quote Neal, she nearly drove him crazy, he was a huge asset, too. He works for his family’s wooden-beam business, and built the ceremony benches and reception tables with his father. As a team, the couple also crafted hundreds of ceramic Mississippi-shaped ornaments to give away as favors.
On April 26, 2014, Saron and Neal welcomed 300 loved ones to her parents’ working cattle farm in nearby Picayune. Guests followed the cows’ well-worn path to the ceremony site and, once everyone was seated, Saron’s childhood girlfriend sang Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” as a tribute to the bride’s late father. Then Saron made her entrance on her stepdad’s arm. “Beauty just seemed to radiate from her,” recalls Neal. Other friends read scripture and poetry before the pair said “I do” in front of a Methodist minister.
Afterward, celebrants enjoyed a family-made feast. At the alfresco cocktail hour, they sipped honeysuckle vodka with blackberries and mint, and noshed on pickled okra, pepper jelly, and pimiento cheese prepared by Saron’s brother, a professional chef. His dinner menu included local favorites like braised pork belly, grillades, grits, and mustard greens grown just a few feet away. Then came a dessert bar of pound cakes, pies, fruit, and pecan-praline syrup, all contributed by Saron’s female relatives and best friends’ grandmothers, followed by dancing inside a barn to a live band.
There was just one detail Saron and Neal overlooked: where, in a house full of visitors, to spend their first night as newlyweds. Earlier that day, a quote by novelist Louis de Bernières was read at the ceremony: “Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away.” As they snuggled on the only empty bed available—a twin mattress on the front porch—what was left over felt pretty darn special.
The bride’s parents’ 150-acre cattle farm made for the ideal big-day setting.
Stationer Katie Hyatt, of Signora e Mare, drew sprigs of greenery on invitations and kraft favor bags. To add a springtime touch to the reception area, lavender sachets were scattered about.
The Finishing Touch
Saron’s business partner, bridesmaid—and impromptu stylist—Alee Franklin Willis redesigned the bridal gown with yards of silk chiffon in shades of gray. “My mom did all of the sewing and also worked layers of tulle from her wedding veil into the gown, too,” says the bride.
Flowers and Ferns
The bride carried a free-form spray of white flowers (clematis, sweet peas, ranunculus, and lilacs) accented with ferns and greenery foraged from her parents’ farm.
With These Rings
To commemorate her late father, Saron had his gold wedding band cut into two slimmer ones. “During our ceremony, Neal gave them to me to wear as my own wedding band—or bands, since there are two,” she says. The diamond rings are family heirlooms from Neal’s grandmother and Saron’s grandmother, which she wears as an engagement ring.
A Sign of the Times
Saron painted a sign to mark the start of the path that led guests to the vows.
A Wedding Walk
“Since it’s a pasture used to raise cattle, there are paths beaten into the ground from the cows,” says Saron. “Guests followed one to the ceremony site.”
An old logging tool that had belonged to Saron’s grandfather was decorated with grapevines, peonies, garden roses, and veronica, and served as the arbor under which the pair wed.
The Little Ones
The ring bearer and flower girl, Saron’s cousin and niece, picked clover before their walk down the aisle.
Husband and Wife
The couple shared their first kiss as Mr. and Mrs.
In Good Company
Family and friends made up the 14-person wedding party. Bridesmaids wore soft-colored gowns by Joanna August, and groomsmen accented charcoal suits with silvery ties.
All Signed In
Attendees signed a framed Quaker wedding certificate in lieu of a guest book as a promise to support the marriage.
Guests included Saron’s business partner (and bridesmaid), right, who designed and helped plan the wedding.
A Big Barn Wreath
Grapevines from the property were woven into a circular wreath, pinned with white flowers, and hung above the barn door where the reception was held.
A White Wedding
White garden roses, lilacs, and clematis were arranged with greenery foraged from the farm. Twine-wrapped flatware and tiny tree-stump place-card holders set a rustic dinner tableau.
A help-yourself bar of fresh baked bread with homemade compound butters and flavored oils was offered during dinner.
Mother and Son
Neal, shown with his mother, hadn’t planned on wearing a boutonniere—until a blossom fell from Saron’s bouquet and he attached it to his lapel.
All Mapped Out
A map of Mississippi that Neal had given Saron for Christmas hung at the back of the reception barn.
Quite the Spread
The bride’s relatives and friends teamed up to bake a spread of pies and pound cakes. “It felt so Southern to have the ladies who played an important role in my life contribute in such a special way,” says Saron.
An Edible Monogram
A peach pie was marked with the newlyweds’ shared initial.
A Furry Friend
Saron’s parents’ dog, Zeus, frolicked with the flower girl. “He even stuck around for dancing in the barn!” says Saron.
Get Into the Groove
Saron got down on the dance floor with her mom after changing into a 1970s knit dress—the very one her mother had worn after her own nuptials.
The couple made Mississippi-shaped clay ornaments at a local pottery studio for guests as takeaway tokens.
Event Design and Flowers: Alee Franklin Willis of Mitchell Willis Events
Photography: Lauren Kinsey Photography
Videography: Nathan Willis Wedding Films
Officiant: Reverend Brad Corban
Stationery and Calligraphy: Signora e Mare
Bride’s Gown: Marisa
Hair and Makeup: Allie Lee Bridal MUAH
Groom’s Suit and Menswear: Jos. A. Bank
Bridesmaids’ Dresses: Joanna August
Flower Girl’s Dress: Ilovegorgeous
Ring Bearer’s Attire: Sir John by Rosalina
Ribbon: Silk & Willow