Sunday, July 27, 2008

On the Wedding Season

“Going to the chapel and we’re gonna’ get married…” The Dixie Cups

“Long-distance chats with Jeanine about the gowns had begun just after she and Rick made the formal announcement of their engagement. Recently they’d mounted into a daily blitz. Should she choose the purple, which she called “aubergine,” (appropriate for a fall wedding and guaranteed to burnish the bridesmaids’ complexions to glowing) or the forest green (best suited as a background for the golf theme tableware and centerpieces)? The aubergine, Jeanine informed me, would open the door to the lily family. The green, on the other hand, might call for white or yellow roses. And the roses would lend themselves to an elegant but more formal arrangement. She had been frozen. She obviously preferred the purple, but was unable to surrender the golf-theme tie-in. My best friend, Laura, hypothesized that brides frequently focused on this sort of detail in order to avoid confronting the enormity of the leap they were about to make.” Cassie Burdette in FAIRWAY TO HEAVEN.

ROBERTA: Ah the wedding season—how many are you invited to this summer? We’re up to four, including a destination event in Homer, Alaska. Things are a little different from the old days—it seems to be de rigueur to have a wedding website, chronicling every personal detail from “the proposal” to bios of the bridesmaids. And never mind the one night out on the town for the “boys”—the bride has a bachelorette party, too, which can involve a separate destination weekend. One of my nephews attended a bachelor party that called for a week of surfing in Fiji. (OK, that’s tough duty for a surfer!) And did you see the Style section of the NYT last Thursday about brides who're insisting on botox or boob enhancement for the bridesmaids?

Not that I didn’t have obsessions too: after all, I’d been through a divorce and was marrying a man with two young children who were none too happy about the addition of a wicked stepmother. But they were low-budget obsessions. I sewed the flower girl’s dress myself, along with a matching ring-bearer’s pillow. And we decided to throw the reception in our backyard and do most of the cooking. When I ran out of all those projects, I spent hours hemming 150 cloth napkins in various blue and pink flowered cotton fabrics. Honestly John began to think he was marrying a fruitcake.

Now it’s your turn, JRW, how did you manage your wedding jitters?

HALLIE: I don't remember why, but I do remember walking down the aisle in tears. My wedding was at my parents Manhattan apartment. Simple, low key--I sent the invites, my mother did the flowers, and people who came still remember the food which came from the Rainbow Grill (they were a client of my then brother-in-law). My dress was white crocheted cotton lace from Fred Leighton’s in Greenwich Village. I was so oblivious that I didn’t even have a slip to put under it or anything to wear on my head.

My father got a record of the bridal march from the library and played it on the phonograph, and I marched from the bedroom into the living room.

The rabbi from Columbia University officiated, and he’d just been fired for advocating for rioting students (it was ’69). He wore purple robes and cowboy boots, and went on and on and on while we waited to break the glass and be declared man and wife. He was probably more than a little drunk. In the middle of his speech or sermon or whatever the heck he was going on about, my father, not so sotto voce, asks, “Is he trying to marry them or talk them out of it?”

RO: That's a great line...but why am I surprised..?
I remember wanting to BE married, but not so much GET married. Early in the process someone asked me if I wanted little sprigs of rosemary stuck in the napkins. I thought she was insane (although now it seems like a nice touch..) After that, my husband's assistant - now a vice-president at Random House - planned most (all) of my wedding. I've often thought of it as a trial run for her own wedding ten years later.

We got married at the Central Park boathouse and gondoliers ferried guests around all evening. I pretty much just bought the dress, chose the flowers and showed up. I asked my bridesmaids to wear any long, dark blue dresses they liked. (I still have one asparagus fern and lots of baskets from that night.)

Showing up was a little harder since my husband and I went to a Knicks playoff game that afternoon - this was back in the day when they still had a good team. The Cleveland Cavaliers were in town and had lost badly in the first game of the series so they had something to prove. We were worried the game would go into overtime..and so was my (gorgeous) maid of honor and bridesmaid who were nervously waiting for me at the Plaza hotel. I finally got there, but hadn't had time to get hair done so my MOH rubbed a little Kiehl's Silk groom in my hair, gave me some bubbly and fluffed up my big white dress. It was like that scene in Miss Congeniality where Sandra Bullock looks frumpy at the beauty pageant and all of the other contestants help her look good.

In the lobby we bumped into the Cavs who were also staying at the hotel. BTW, they beat the Knicks 90-84.

HANK: I was 46. Jonathan 56. So I decided to go for it with the dress. My mother said, "You can't wear that! It's a Barbie dress!" But I loved it and still do.

My wedding jitters? Turned out to be lovely. We got married at the Four Seasons, just family, then had a big big big party at a wonderful restaurant called Salamander. The rabbi was half an hour late--he got caught in the traffic of a road race--so we had the champagne first. And talked and hung out and played Grieg's Wedding Day at Trollhagen, which still makes me happy when I hear it.

But the hour or so before the wedding, I was almost all dressed, and suddenly, I began to panic. Not about marrying my wonderful Jonathan, but about the production. What if--the food was bad? What if--the band was terrible? What if--the relatives didn't like each other? What if--no one had fun?

And then I thought--hey, every bride feels like this. Every bride in the history of the planet has had a moment when they have the jitters over something or other--the cake, the food, her dress, the flowers, the weird relatives, dancing the first dance, runny mascara. (Having no slip, or being late, or wanting to hem all the cloth napkins). And I was just filled with joy--to be so cosmically connected to all those other almost-brides--that I almost burst into tears.

And then I was fine.

JAN: I was the youngest and only girl. Plus, I put off my original engagement to my husband and made my parents wait an additional four years before I got married. They wanted to throw this party in the worst way. Although, I didn't know I was doing it at the time, I made a very strategic decision: I agreed to get married on my parents anniversary and wear my mother's wedding gown. My mother then took over the planning -- which was great because I was busy working at a paper in Worcester and the wedding was in Jersey. She picked a great location, a very classy country club with excellent food, hand wrote all the invitations and over-rode my instincts of frugality. The only thing I did was pick the band - which was Dixieland Jazz.

Probably the best part was at the ceremony when the priest made us take a moment and remember my brother who had passed away. My brother had set me up with my husband, who had been his college roommate. This moment made me feel like my brother was there with us, the missing best man. So, just like Hank and Hallie, I had tears running down my face. Really good tears.

ROBERTA: oh my gosh, every one of you is gorgeous, adorable, stunning...hope all the couples getting married this season will have the same kind of lovely memories ...


  1. Such beautiful brides! And the grooms are not bad, either. Let me see, for my wedding, I was all set to borrow my cousin's very fancy satin, lace, pearl-embroidered gown, but I inadvertently lost a lot of weight (I moved into the YWCA right after we became engaged, to save money, and it was a pit.) and wound up borrowing the cotton brocade gown my sister had had made for her wedding. We did everything as cheaply as possible. I made the bridesmaids' dresses and my own headgear. The groom and his men wore their uniforms. We used the base chapel and the sweet chaplain. The organist from my mother's church provided the music, which I chose from the hymnal (church organist, remember?) based on the lyrics. "It matters not what be thy lot, so Love doth guide." "Speak softly, it is better far to rule by Love than fear." And the finale, "Father, we Thy loving children lift our hearts in joy today, knowing well that Thou wouldst lead us ever in Thy perfect way." (Okay, that last one was set to the Ode to Joy and I used it as the Getaway song.) That was 1973. Our life is still very good, which is funny, because as I walked down the aisle, I was mentally betting this marriage would last maybe six months. So, I've decided to give up on that career I had planned as a bookie. Excellent post, evocative as always. And good luck to all the new brides and grooms this year.

  2. The wedding sounds lovely! But you must tell us why you were only betting on six months...

    And I forgot to add one thing: If you're looking for a funny shower present for a bride, my favorite thing is on of Deborah Donnelly's wedding planner mysteries. She's a beautiful writer and the wedding stuff is hysterical!


  3. You guys were all so cute..except of course, Hank who was totally glam. What a picture!! Where was that taken? And do you still have that fabulous dress??

  4. Oh, these stories--and the picture support--are great! Wow. Wow. Wow.

    My wedding was 28 years ago, a huge winter affair--six attendants, a fifteen foot train on the satin dress, red roses and doves--80s excess writ as wedding. My husband was a church youth director, so the ceremony was just inherently going to be large.

    Though we are divorced now, my ex-husband and I have some memories we still laugh over: some enterprising soul flung birdseed at us just as we got in the car, and it lodged in the join of dashboard/windshield and roasted there across the next ten years while we had it. When that horrid '77 Dodge Aspen gave up the ghost in 1990, you could still see scorched birdseed through the glass as they towed it away.

    Our honeymoon was in San Antonio, and on the first night a Great Horned Owl landed on the balcony outside our 27th-floor room. Hooting and staring in at us with that spooky rotating head and penetrating expression. We're both animal lovers, so we didn't want to go to the glass and shoo him away, but it was a bit like having a critical parent overseeing our wedding night.

  5. Rosemary--YEs, I still have the dress. And I still love it. It still fits, and I just wore it (with those miles of accordion-pleated tulle) to a photo shoot.

    The wedding photos were taken in Boston's Public Garden. We were posing like mad.
    In many of them, you can see random people and ducks in the background. Which is my favorite.

    As for you--you look so gorgeous and you both look so happy! ANd your hair is totally out of Breck girl ad. (But why is no one in the seats?)

    Roberta--what a genius idea for a blog. Looking at you all as brides brings tears to my eyes every time.

    Xcribbler--I agree about wanting to know about the 6 months. Were you just--so young?

    And Susannah--DOVES? HOw did you even do tht?

  6. Just checking to make sure I can leave a comment! Look forward to seeing my Q&A here on the 30th.


    Dennis Palumbo

  7. I really wanted the ceremony to be just for my immediate family, so people came after. If I could have gotten away with a civil ceremony and a party I would have - but I'm Italian. The big white dress is in the genes.

  8. And I love the horned owl Susannah--that must have felt like a wonderful omen...

  9. Love the photos and the stories! Roberta, I hardly recognized you, but John looks exactly the same!

    My husband and I were married 13 years ago at a friend's house on the Connecticut River in Chester, with her magnificent flower gardens everywhere, and a close friend officiated. It was a garden party, small number of guests, exactly what we wanted. It was also the last time we saw the sun for three days...we got rained out in Block Island, but being newlyweds it wasn't that bad!

  10. The doves were in white cages that hung from a white wrought-iron pavilion in the middle of our church's reception hall.

    There were also cages of doves on either side of the double doors leading into the church itself. The sound and the look was lovely, but I wouldn't have wanted to be the one cleaning up all those cages when the ceremony was done.

    Altogether, when you take into account the doves, the burnt birdseed, and the supervisory owl, it was rather a birdy wedding all 'round.

  11. You are all just gorgeous! And I love how each wedding was different--each special in its own way. People fret so about their weddings--and the botox and boob job thing makes me super-glad that my bridesmaid days are far, far behind me!

    My saddest wedding was my first. I was eighteen and my dress was on sale at JCPenney's for $75. The church was nearly empty and my best friend refused to stand up with me and bawled loudly in the back pew.

    #2 was the biggest. Ralph Lauren Dress and black velvet bridesmaid dresses with jewel-tone flowers. Very eighties. The groom was prettier than I was.

    #3 was the sweetest. Laura Ashley dress off the rack, twenty people, lunch afterward at my in-laws' house. I learned that fondant icing makes for a stunning cake, but tastes like cardboard. We made up for it with a buttercream sheet cake for our whole church on our 15th anniversary. The third, as they say, is a charm!

  12. Laura: as always, you and I have to compare notes. Seriously. We may have the same lives.

    Karen! So great to see you. I agree--John hasn't changed a bit. Neither has my husband. Why is that?

    As for you Dennis--we're looking forward to it, too. But--hey Mr. Smart Guy--how do you like the wedding photos? Which one makes the best mystery?

  13. What was with the eighties anyway? John thanks you for your kind comments Hank and Karen! Laura your cake story reminds me of my first wedding--homemade cake with Crisco icing. (Remember that--Crisco beaten with powdered sugar.) We froze the top layer for our one-year anniversary--turned into absolutely inedible mush when thawed.

  14. Crisco icing? That sounds brutal. I went through a fondant stage a few years back. I'd gone to a party where sheet cake had been cut into squares and covered with fondant to look like little Christmas presents. I spent hours trying to replicate those little suckers for a holiday party and do you know what people raved about - the chocolate cake that was a doctored cake mix recipe. Philistines!

  15. Roberta,
    You actually made Crisco icing?? I've been avoiding bakery cakes for years because someone told me they make all their icing with Crisco -- as if butter were any less gross if you really think about it. But weddings are such indicators of their times, which I think is one of the points you are making.
    You look adorable. And of course Hank does look glam, Rosemary, beautiful and full of fun. But I confess, I am drawn to Hallie's picture. She seems to capture the hopefulness of a reallly young bride. BTW guys, I didn't realize the groom was allowed in the picture, or I would have included my handsome husband as you all did!

  16. I love all the different stories, all the different styles of getting married. The other day I came out of the Apple store and saw an adorable couple in their mid-thirties posing outside the courthouse, obviously having their wedding photo made. It was so sweet--I felt rather like a distant relative, a guest at their nuptials, as I piled into my car and headed home. And those of you who have had more than one wedding--well, you are a brave, optimistic bunch! As for the six months, I just didn't think I was the marrying kind--and I'm not, really. But my husband is always doing something or other to make me want to stick around. He's not even aware of it.

  17. I woke up on my wedding day to the sound of pouring rain. My father was calculating how many people we could fit in each room of the house, since we’d planned a back yard (“garden”) reception. And my mother kept reminding me, “Think about the marriage, not the wedding.” Well, the skies cleared in plenty of time for the reception. I got a little mud on the hem of my gown, but everything was perfect otherwise. It has been 27 years now, and I still remember my wedding day as one of the happiest of my life. And that’s the last time Kevin wore anything even vaguely frilly.

    I woke up on my wedding day to the sound of pouring rain. My father was calculating how many people we could fit in each room of the house, since we’d planned a back yard (“garden”) reception. And my mother kept reminding me, “Think about the marriage, not the wedding.” Well, the skies cleared in plenty of time for the reception. I got a little mud on the hem of my gown, but everything was perfect otherwise. It has been 27 years now, and I still remember my wedding day as one of the happiest of my life. And that’s the last time Kevin wore anything even vaguely frilly.

    I woke up on my wedding day to the sound of pouring rain. My father was calculating how many people we could fit in each room of the house, since we’d planned a back yard (“garden”) reception. And my mother kept reminding me, “Think about the marriage, not the wedding.” Well, the skies cleared in plenty of time for the reception. I got a little mud on the hem of my gown, but everything was perfect otherwise. It has been 27 years now, and I still remember my wedding day as one of the happiest of my life. And that’s the last time Kevin wore anything even vaguely frilly.

  18. Sorry, kept trying to post my wedding photo and ended up with text in triplicate. Is there a trick I don't know?