A formal wedding is always a huge emotional and orchestrated production with surprises.
|This was supposed to be the happiest day of their lives. My cousin, Annette, was marrying her fiancee, Jason, in an elaborate wedding ceremony in Michigan. I really didn’t know my cousin very well. I imagine her parents encouraged her to invite me to be one of her bridesmaids because I was family.
I was originally born in Michigan but had moved to Atlanta, Georgia when I was five years old in 1959. It had been a whole different world to move here but now, eleven years later, it was home. I had only seen my cousin a few times when we had traveled back to Michigan for family occasions. She was almost ten years older than me so we didn’t have a lot in common. My Aunt had called Mom and issued the invitation. It was a chance to fly alone, act like an adult and be in what promised to be a very lovely wedding. I accepted with excitement.
The plane trip was a delight and I felt very grown up. I was met at the airport by my grandparents whom I would stay with. I adored my step-grandmother who was so much fun. We spent the evening talking about the boy I was seriously dating. She always treated me like an adult, unlike my Mom, who thought I always chose the wrong guy and needed to plan my future.
I already knew this trip was supposed to be a positive influence on me. Most of the girls I knew in high school married the guy they had dated in school, had a church wedding, reception held in the church hall with sparkling punch without alcohol. Most of them are still married. College for women was unusual in those days in the Deep South unless you had money. We were middle class people.
The next day, Annette picked me up for lunch and to get my dress and shoes. She was beautiful with her long dark hair and gorgeous brown eyes with long lashes. She had an olive complexion that was flawless. We talked about falling in love and the wedding plans. She had gone to the University of Michigan and was teaching at a high school close by. She and Jason were already sharing an apartment. They had met in college and he was busy managing two Pizza Huts. They were paying for their own wedding and a honeymoon to Maui.
“Are you nervous?” I couldn’t imagine 250 people watching me. I was sure I would trip and make a fool of myself.
“Not at all, it will just be the two of us saying our vows to each other. I can shut the rest of the world out.”
As I tried on my dress, she put hers on. I thought she was the most beautiful bride I had ever seen. They appeared to be a stunning couple together from the photos she showed me.
Everything seemed like a fairy tale. I always thought my Aunt, originally from Austria, was very cultured, smart and beautiful. She was known for her weekly parties for their friends. When we visited, dinner was always special with the best Waterford glassware, Lenox china and Austrian crystal with fresh flowers. Each person had a small gift and there were cards to tell us where to sit. My Aunt really loved to entertain and they had a fantastic bar, dance floor and jukebox in their basement. I have black and white photos of their parties where the guys, including my stuffy Dad, have women's underwear on over their clothes. That is not the Dad that I knew growing up. So, my experienced Aunt was orchestrating most of the ceremony details because “she has more time than I do,” Annette told me.
The rehearsal at the church went off without a glitch. Then we had dinner at a German restaurant where everyone danced the polka and drank. It was so much fun and I met an older guy, Jason's best man. He made sure I knew he was a lawyer. I felt like a child compared to their friends. I watched what I drank, not used to much more than wine at home or at parties.
My parents had come in for the wedding. Between visiting family and friends, getting my hair done, I really didn’t have time to get nervous.
The big day came. It was a formal black tie evening wedding. There was a sit down dinner with all the trimmings, a five tier cake, a champagne fountain and bottle at each table, an open bar and a live band. This took place in a beautiful new hotel/convention center. Annette gave each of her bridesmaids a 14k slim gold bracelet with their initials, I still wear mine.
I remember being in the room where the bridal attendants were dressing. There was a separate suite for the bride. All of a sudden we heard screaming through the wall.
“I really don’t give a fu*k what you think, Mom! I have let you run this circus from the start cause I know what a bitch you can be!” I heard a door slam. Looking out, I saw my Aunt crying in the hall. The Matron of Honor went to check on the bride. My Uncle tried to comfort his wife, clumsily.
I didn’t find out until later that the whole fight was about the wrong font on monogrammed place cards at the tables.
Such a small thing set off a palatable icy feeling between the bride and her Mom for the whole rest of the evening. Jason didn’t look like an ecstatic bridegroom either.
Large elaborate weddings are stressful, most of them I have been to or in have had some fireworks. Annette and Jason’s marriage was happy as far as I knew and lasted for ten years producing two children. Tragically, Jason was killed in a head on crash when he crossed into the opposite lane at two in the morning.
Both of my marriages were at a courthouses in a judge’s chambers. Simplicity filled with love and meaning. Sometimes I wish I had done the whole "fairytale wedding" but that money is often spent wisely in other ways.
Life is full of big and small mistakes offset by fleeting moments of pure joy. How we react to them can make such a difference in our own and others' lives.
By Kathie Stehr
December 5, 2020
Winner of Writer's Cramp
This story is based on a true experience but the names have been changed.