BENDING OVER THE GRAVE OF HER only child, Baylee, Aren Almon, as she had so often before, laid down a bouquet of flowers. She had visited the plot almost daily since her year-old daughter died in the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, but on this Saturday evening the flowers had a special significance: The tulips were Aren’s bridal bouquet.
At 4 that afternoon, April 5, Almon, 24, had walked down the aisle of the Soldier Creek Baptist Church in Midwest City, Okla., to exchange vows with Stan Kok, 26, an Air Force communications specialist. The ceremony, witnessed by 200 friends and relatives, was a joyous celebration of family. Almon’s three sisters have seven children—ages 10 to 1—and all took part, as candlelighters, ring bearers, flower girls and, in the case of the youngest, Kiyra Baird, honorary bridesmaid.
But it was the unseen presence of Almon’s own child that was felt most deeply throughout the ceremony. “If Baylee were here,” said Rev. Dr. Charles McDade, who had conducted her funeral services in April 1995, “she would join in rejoicing in this beginning of life.” Among the guests was Chris Fields, the firefighter who had helped recover Baylee’s body from the wreckage of the Murrah Federal Building—a moment immortalized in a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph—and who has since become friendly with Almon. “It’s healing for Aren to have Stan in her life,” said Fields before the ceremony. “With time, everything can change.”
For Almon, the healing came slowly. For months after the death of her daughter (whose father and Almon never wed and broke up before the baby was born), she wouldn’t consider dating. “I wanted to get my life together,” she says, “before I brought someone into it.” But when she and Kok were introduced by friends in January 1996, they immediately hit it off. They began seeing each other daily that April, and, says Kok—who was raised in Birmingham, Ala., and is now stationed near Oklahoma City—”I knew real soon I wanted to spend our life together.”
Still, Kok, who proposed last June, was overwhelmed when he first visited Almon’s modest frame house in Midwest City and discovered that Baylee had been the little girl in the photograph. “I knew Aren had lost a child,” he says. “But when I walked into her house, I learned it was that child.” Now, says Almon, “he treats Baylee as his own. He’s just like me. When I go to the seashore, I’ll pick up shells to put on her grave. When he goes on trips, he will bring little things for her.”
While the first week of jury selection in the trial of accused bomber Timothy McVeigh wound to a close in Denver, the emphasis at the wedding was on a new beginning. During the reception at the Desert Oaks Restaurant & Club, Almon, who gamely danced the hokey-pokey, the chicken dance and the Macarena, was all smiles. “I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time,” she said.
The couple mean to share that happiness. “We plan to have children right away,” says Almon. “Three or four,” says Kok. “Two or three,” corrects Almon, laughing. Whatever the number, Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating may have put it best at the wedding. “It’s wonderful,” he said, “to have a happy ending to a very sad story.”
BOB STEWART in Midwest City