Twenty-five years ago I was sitting in my future in-laws' house, fielding a call from my fiancé's colleagues. They were trying to get me to reconsider my decision by pointing out what an inadequate spouse he would make and by suggesting that he might not go through with it anyway, considering the dinner plate-sized sweat stains he was no doubt sporting under his arms.
Twenty-five years ago my nerdy fiancé and his old college roommates were occupying themselves outside of the church by rigging up flood lamps on boards outside the stained glass windows so that the windows would be properly illuminated inside during the evening ceremony. No one had ever thought of doing so before.
Twenty-five years ago I was being told by family members whom I barely knew that I looked like Princess Diana. I still don't see it.
|Reddish hair + big nose = "Princess Di"|
Twenty-five years ago my veil was nearly set on fire by a candle during the ceremony. Given that I have always been a closet arsonist, there's an irony there I find nearly irresistible.
Twenty-five years ago my parents couldn't really afford to give me a big wedding, which was fine by me. I've never been a big frou-frou, over-the-top sort of person anyway, at least not with anything other than my personality, so I was perfectly happy to have a relatively small ceremony instead.
Twenty-five years ago I was busily trying to coordinate a wedding with mothers in two different states and making bridesmaids dresses while trying to finish up my last semester of college.
Twenty-five years. A quarter of a century. More than half my life. It just doesn't seem possible.
My actual wedding day twenty-five years ago was somewhat atypical. Because my parents didn't have a lot of money, my fiancé and I paid for most of the wedding ourselves. I think all my parents paid for was their own wedding attire, my bouquet (which my mother insisted on getting made) and travel from Indiana to eastern Tennessee. I made all of the bridesmaids dresses, charging each girl only for the cost of the materials since most were poor college students like myself. My future mother-in-law was supposed to make her own daughter's dress, but with all the excitement and other preparations she never quite got around to finishing it; I ended up completing most of it two days before the wedding. I also made all the boutonnieres and corsages, some of which, in retrospect, were truly hideous or at least ridiculously big. I'd only been to a couple of weddings in my life, and both were when I was a child. Also, I just wasn't the sort of person to spend hours devouring bridal catalogs. I learned a few things while working in a bridal shop as a seamstress and figured that was more than enough.
I was wrong.
I quickly discovered that a Northern girl's wedding sensibilities were just not gonna fly in a small Southern town. To her credit, my mother-in-law (an unfailingly kind, Pollyanna-sort of woman) was more accommodating than some of the extended family members and locals were, perhaps because she was afraid of scaring me away from marrying her very introverted and complicated oldest son. In any case, my wayward and "wild" wedding ideas (or lack thereof) were carefully redirected into things considered more "appropriate" or traditional for weddings in the area. Before the wedding day, I was forever getting calls from my mother-in-law about little organizational details, such as "can So-and-so be one of the servers/ushers/whatevers?" For the most part I didn't give a rat's patootie about all these details, because I considered them largely irrelevant--I foolishly thought that a wedding involved some fancy clothes, a few flowers, a little cake and some vows in front of a minister. At least those were the only parts important to me. I was quickly disavowed of my misguided ways. I can remember spending a lot of time on the phone with my future mother-in-law nodding and blindly saying "Sure" to one random detail after another. In fairness, much of this was necessary because I got married in her hometown; still, so much of it just seemed excessive to me. As I said, I'm not generally one for a big fuss over things, so my determination to keep things simple made more than a few people twitch. I found out years later that there had been a significant quantity of "blessing my heart" over the whole thing, since the Yankee girl clearly hadn't been raised properly enough to know how things are supposed to be done. And for those of you who don't know? "Bless her heart"? Really not a compliment.
The downside to having my mother-in-law doing so much of the planning long-distance was that my own mother became sulky and petulant because she felt left out. I decided long ago that weddings are not really for the couple getting married, but for the families of the couple who are busily trying to fix all the things they didn't get to do because their own families were busy dictating how their weddings should go. As a result, there often end up being all sorts of ridiculous politics and placating involved in navigating the treacherous wedding waters. In the end, I was able to placate my mother by asking her to address all the invitations, because her handwriting was so much better than mine. Recipe for a wedding: take a gallon of drama, stir in some damaged egos, add a pinch of kissing up and a dash of deference. Bake in a hot oven and hope no one slams the oven door hard enough to make the vows collapse.
The day of the rehearsal dinner, I was given a new sweater and black wool pencil skirt, presumably because my in-laws didn't entirely trust me to wear something appropriate to the dinner instead of my jeans and sneakers. While insulting, it probably wasn't far wrong given that I rapidly changed into my jeans for the rehearsal once the dinner was finished. At the rehearsal everyone insisted it was bad luck for me to walk down the aisle so my mother stood in for me, which was just weird. Watching my mother---who looked more than a little like Mrs. Claus--standing next to my intended and saying wedding vows was a more than a little disturbing. Meanwhile, the best man was running around in a t-shirt emblazoned with "The bride never marries the best man," which no doubt would have been much funnier had I not just discovered that he'd had a crush on me for the last 2 years. As if that weren't complication enough, my intended also invited one of his other old roommates and my ex-boyfriend. Now I like to think I'm a fairly liberated sort of person, but at age 21 I just wasn't Noel Coward enough to cope with having an ex in the wedding party. I refused to allow it on the grounds that it was tasteless (See? I do have some sense of decorum...), so the ex was relegated to videotaping the ceremony which both gave him something to do and kept him out of my way. As Jan Brady would say, "drama, drama, DRAMA!" Weddings are little more than marital minefields. Admit it...you know it's true.
|"Hahaha--you're so funny! Except not."|
To make matters more interesting, we didn't get married on a Saturday like normal people. Because I had graduated early, it was a little more challenging to find a day not too close either to Christmas or New Year's but still before most of the attendants had to return back to school/college. So we picked the 30th--a Tuesday (though secretly I wanted to get married on New Year's Eve at approximately 11:58 pm). This wouldn't have been so bad except that the University of Tennessee was unexpectedly playing in the Liberty Bowl that year, which was local and to which my father-in-law and several others had tickets that they grudgingly had to relinquish. While they were fairly good-natured about it aside from the odd chaffing, it still didn't stop them from bringing a pocket television to the rehearsal so they could follow the game between instructions.
|"UT scores!! Wait, what? Of course I'm paying attention!"|
The day of the wedding, after the aforementioned phone call from his work colleagues, my intended and his nerdmates spent most of the afternoon rigging up lights outside of the church to shine through the stained glass windows because they decided that darkened church windows were silly. At least it kept them out of trouble for the day. After a light dinner, all the ladies headed up to the church to begin the protracted primping. I refused to allow my own mother in the bride's room, horrible person that I am, because I knew she'd spend the entire time making passive-aggressive comments while critiquing me and picking imaginary lint off of my every available surface. My mother-in-law graciously avoided the bride's room most of the time too so as not to make my mom feel any more left out. She was all about the treating people equally, was my mother-in-law.
|Excessively white girl, evening wedding--thank goodness there are no sparkles|
involved or everyone would have thought I was a vampire.
|Receiving the Order of the Garter.|
Geez, I miss those legs!
After the primptasm, we all walked around to the front of the church. Even in the South, it can get a bit chilly in the evenings in late December. And by "chilly" I mean "not 60 degrees." Fueled by adrenaline and my Yankee insulation I was actually pretty comfortable though my face remained flushed for much of the day, causing my makeup to lean a little towards the prostitutional palette.
|Mugging for the photographer, because I am shy and retiring, as always.|
Because my in-laws' church did not have a center aisle, I had to walk down one side aisle with my father and up the other with my new husband. This sounds like it should have been an easy enough thing, except that my father, who liked to pretend to be all gruff and macho and crap, was dissolving into emotional puddles faster than Jello in the sun. The poor man, who was overcome with emotion and flustered by the militant bossiness of the "wedding coordinator" (and I use that term loosely because she was really just somebody's brother's cousin's wife or something), completely and utterly forgot how to do the wedding walk he'd practiced the night before. So there I was, veiled and generally laughing my ass off at him while muttering under my breath "Right...together...left...together..." as we processed down the aisle. I'm pretty sure I was holding him up far more than the other way around--no mean feat considering the man was 6'3" and well over 200 lbs. I was told later, much to my sardonic amusement, that my new husband thought I was crying all the way down the aisle, overcome with emotion as I must have been. Sorry, dude--wrong LaRue. If my shoulders were shaking, it was only from the strain of suppressing my laughter at my father (bless my heart).
After successfully navigating the aisle with a slightly swaying father, I arrived at the front rail next to my groom. The minister then proceeded to natter on for some time, making my supremely nervous and wholly unstable father stand while he did so until he finally got to the part about "Who gives this woman" some 10-15 minutes later. My father all but shoved my hand in the groom's direction, before escaping with all haste and colossal relief to his seat beside my mother.
The ceremony continued on about like one would expect, at least until it came time for us to kneel. When we did so, my veil wafted disconcertingly close to the unity candle, staying within spark's reach of the flame. For the wedding video, my ex positioned himself in the choir loft so he could see our faces during the ceremony. As we were kneeling, you can clearly see my mother's face, eyes agape, slowly lean into frame around the side of my head so she could monitor the progress of my veil, just in case she needed to leap up and batter flames from my head (which knowing her, she probably would have enjoyed). In fact, the danger was so obvious to most of the viewers that I'm pretty sure she wasn't the only one paying more attention to the potential disaster than to the prayer being said. To this day I couldn't tell you what the minister prayed, focused as I was on peering out the corner of my eye at the edge of my veil and that candle. I did manage to remain inflammable, though my veil did wave across the tip of the candle as I stood. Everyone breathed a heavy sigh of relief, as did I. That wasn't really the kind of "hot" honeymoon I had in mind.
The rest of the ceremony went smoothly enough, and we were pronounced "man and wife." Afterwards, we did pictures, during which the atmosphere loosened up considerably; if memory serves, we may have even done the wave at one point.
|I must have said something particularly obnoxious...the boy|
doesn't smile that naturally in pictures very often.
|Seriously-how adorable is this child??|
Following the formal photos, we went downstairs for the obligatory cake cutting and drink toasting pictures, after which we settled down to the serious business of eating everything from cake to the ubiquitously Southern cheese straws. I am still of the opinion that the assorted photographers had a pact to wait till my mouth was full before snapping pictures of me; nearly every shot of me at the rehearsal dinner and reception are right after I'd taken a bite. Eventually it came time to shoot the garter and throw the bouquet; the single women were pretty ruthlessly enthusiastic about diving for that bouquet, most notably my sister-in-law and my maid of honor; in the end, my husband's sister and brother ended up winning the free-for-all.
|See what I mean about the smile?|
|Never come between a gaggle of girls and an illogical marital omen.|
|The victors, pleased with their plunder.|
After the indoor festivities, we headed out to do the requisite "going away" shots. When we got outside, however, we discovered that the car had not been painted up as per usual (someone's paint job had been recently damaged that way) but was instead filled to the brim with balloons. The moment we opened the doors of the car, they all started flying from the back seat to the front seat, making it nearly impossible to get in the car. This becomes important later.
|Sitting on balloons all over car = Extreme Bubble Wrap Popping.|
(And notice the balloon escaping...)
Eventually we were able to get around the balloons for the photo op, after which we went back inside to change into more comfortable clothes for the hour or so drive from the church to Memphis, where we were staying for our honeymoon. Before we could leave, however, we had to do a second run-thru so that the participants could assault us with handfuls of birdseed, lobbed enthusiastically from close-range with all the force of a trebuchet. The reason for this was that someone had recently read you weren't supposed to use rice anymore because then the pigeons and birds would eat it, drink water, swell up and explode. Lovely. Nothing like driving off to one's honeymoon with thoughts of birds spontaneously combusting all around one. Projectile bird guts--quite the mood setter.
|Attempting to dig out wads of birdseed.|
After surviving the birdseed blitz, we once again got into the car and headed for Memphis for real. Once there I went into the hotel bathroom to change into something less comfortable; while disrobing I discovered that I had yet more bits of birdseed stuck to my skin, giving me the inspiration for a short story I still have yet to write. "Birdseed in My Bra" sounds like an excellent title, don't you think?? We stayed the night at the famous Peabody Hotel in Memphis, where we had the "Legendary Honeymoon" package, which basically meant we had a tiny suite, swish bathrobes (which we did not steal because my stupid new husband had scruples), and a bottle of Peabody Champagne and a small fruit basket. The next morning we were treated to a champagne brunch in the room with more of the Peabody champagne (complete with the Peabody ducks on the label)--which tasted approximately like battery acid, in my humble opinion. We kept the other unopened bottle under our sink for over 10 years at which point I finally threw it out, figuring that industrial solvent probably didn't improve with age. We only stayed one night at the hotel; since the next night was New Year's Eve, all the room prices instantly doubled to take maximum advantage of drunken revelers, making the cost a little too steep for us. It's pretty bad when you spend four of your first five days of married life with one set of parents or the other. That's almost as romantic as flaming pigeon guts.
After we checked out, we went to the curb to wait for the valet to bring our car around. The driver was a small Hispanic man who spoke almost no English. By the time the guy got back with the car he was completely flummoxed by all the balloons and stood around half gaping, half agitated. The head valet yelled at him, snapping him back to attention. He opened the trunk of the car to put in our luggage, only to discover yet more balloons inside. He started speaking rapidly as he loaded up the baggage, no doubt cursing vigorously. When the suitcase hit the bottom of the trunk it created an updraft which caused one of the balloons to fly out. The valet completely freaked out. I don't know what on earth he thought was going on with those balloons, but he was absolutely horrified at the thought of losing one; he probably thought they held state secrets or something. After standing stunned for a second, he started gesticulating wildly and hysterically, pointing towards the balloon which was now bounding across the parking lot. We tried to assure him that it was okay, that we didn't need it, but before we could stop him he took off across the parking lot after the errant balloon. We just wanted to leave but we could hardly go away with the poor guy all wound up like that, so we waited. For over 10 minutes. When the guy came back, he was more deflated than any of the balloons we'd popped the night before. His abject horror at having lost one of our possessions had him nearly in tears. We again tried to calm him down and convince him that it was not a problem for us when he suddenly stopped freaking out. You could almost see the light bulb go off over his head. Before we knew it, he was screaming in heavily accented English "You no go--you wait here! I be right back!!" and he was gone again. We looked at each other and the head valet with bewilderment. A couple of minutes later the valet came back, proudly brandishing a giant burgundy balloon imprinted with "The Peabody -- 1987" in white letters. He'd climbed up to the first floor loft over the lobby and somehow reached into the large net beside the rail where hundreds of balloons were suspended in anticipation of a midnight release for New Year's. The valet presented this replacement to us with no small flourish, quite pleased with himself for having successfully remedied his accidental loss and making us again whole and accurately ballooned. The hubs tipped the guy generously for his efforts; his short little head bobbed up and down in our rear view mirror as he waved goodbye enthusiastically, justice served.
When we returned to my in-laws' house to collect all the wedding gifts for the drive home, we discovered that the hub's cousin had short-sheeted our bed and strewn a layer of rice between each sheet and blanket and in the pillowcases. In the hub's rented tux shoes was another half pound or so of rice. When I opened up my suitcase to pack, I discovered two balloons tied to the strings of my sweatpants and yet more rice, most of which was concentrated in the same corner as my stack of neatly folded underwear and which was helpfully layered between each pair. I was still finding kernels of rice years later. Turns out the cousin's own in-laws had a huge thing about the tradition of rice and she wasn't about to let us off the hook with mere birdseed. Turns out we got off easy; it seems her own father had soldered a cowbell to the bed springs of her bed before she got home from her honeymoon.
Later that afternoon we were expected at the house of my husband's grandparents for dinner. Did I mention that every newlywed couple should get to spend four of their first five days together with their parents? Because hanging out with relatives is the first and foremost thing on every newlywed's mind, right? Never mind that awkward moment when you first return from your honeymoon, however long or short, and have to stand around being peered at by any number of knowing faces clearly reeking of the smug thought "I know what you just did." My new grandfather was the best about it, though. During the ceremony the day before my husband's grandmother had fallen victim to a nasty coughing fit. Knowing that we were videotaping the ceremony, she became agitated over it and decided to leave, so as not to "mess up the movie," dragging her husband along in her wake. She was most distraught over having missed the whole thing, but Grandaddy was much more sanguine about it. After being subjected to my father-in-law's smirk when we came in, Granddaddy pulled me aside and informed me in all (seeming) seriousness that we "weren't really married" because he had not seen it happen. I looked at him thoughtfully for a minute, then burst out "Too late!" He just laughed. I loved that man. He was quiet, but had a wonderful, sly humor that I adored.
We stayed a couple of nights in Tennessee to visit and then loaded up the car and headed back to South Bend, IN, stopping a couple more nights at my parents' house in the Honeymoon Suite there (aka two sleeping bags zipped together on the living room floor). Attempting to have sex in a parental home and in a public common area? Score! (Or not, as the case may be...) I suppose I should have taken this significant lack of alone time for our honeymoon as an omen, because let's face it--shacking up in a hotel room for just one night, however nice the hotel, is ultimately not that different off from taking a hooker to a seedy motel with an hourly rate. Still, at 21 I was hardly worldly enough to know the difference. Anyway, after the excessive parental bonding time, we finally made it home and began our married life together.
Twenty-five years later we are still together, though I sometimes wonder how. Like most couples, we have had our share of ups and downs through the years. We have shared many happy times, many not-so-happy times, a couple of great times--such as the birth of our daughter--and have been through a couple of epically horrible times. We have survived cancer, surgeries, job changes, job losses, financial difficulties and financial boons, undiagnosed Asperger's, multiple moves, 3 dogs, depression, travel, broken limbs, family deaths, car wrecks, child-rearing, and much, much more. While the years have not always been kind to us, while our life together has taken turns and falls I never could have anticipated, and while so very many things have not gone as I might have either hoped or expected, I am still proud of the fact that we didn't give up (even though I personally considered it on more than a few occasions) and that we stuck it out. In fact, at dinner tonight I gave my husband a gift. He opened the box, pulled out a very large roll of duct tape, and sat there with a distinct "WTF??" face, trying to figure out what I was up to this time. Then he saw a folded-up piece of paper in the bottom of the box and pulled it out. It read:
1) It’s silver. (Duh.)
2) You stuck around when you’d often rather have gone.
3) To assist you with continuing to attempt to mend what needs mending."
He scanned the simple words, then bent over the box and the remains of his cheesecake and started shaking. With laughter. A few minutes later, when he had once again composed himself, he admitted it was very clever and more than a little apropos. He even said it was as good or better than the Valentine's Day (1-2 weeks after he'd had just had surgery for testicular cancer) when I'd given him a card on which I'd penned "Roses are red, violets are blue. I'll love you forever, with one ball or two." He may get flabbergasted by my weirdness, but clearly he secretly he likes it. At least I'm still surprising him, twenty-five years later. Can anyone really ask for more than that?