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IN AUGUST, my husband
Looking back, our wedding in 1973 was--as one of our neighbors wrote in a thank-you note to my mother afterward--a "sweet" one. We had opted to be married in the Presbyterian church
Because I was finishing up my fourth year as a student at the University of Virginia, planning for the reception consisted of my joining my father--not my mother, who was at her office that day--during spring break, and meeting with an events planner at Fort Myer. She helped me to select the room, finger foods, cake, and whether to have an open bar.
My father arranged for a photographer, and later--to my great surprise--told me he had hired a small combo to play music for our guests. My mother assisted with the details of talking with the minister. The wedding dress itself was such an afterthought that I ended up purchasing one that was
One of my best friends did my hair. The bridesmaids' dresses were sewed by the attendants themselves, and my husband and his groomsmen wore dark suits instead of tuxedos.
With surprisingly little effort, this was a nice wedding! Our friends and family were with us, and the day went smoothly, with little anxiety and no hurt feelings.
Years later, I found myself working on a freelance basis for the special-sections editor at the Richmond newspaper. Twice a year, we worked on weddings sections, and as I edited copy about potential locations for receptions, options in wedding invitations, lavish catering and decorating possibilities, rehearsal dinners, and honeymoon destinations, I often found myself in paroxysms of laughter. It was all reminiscent of Fredericksburg's supremely witty writer Florence King and her terrific book "Southern Ladies and Gentlemen." (If you haven't read it, try to do so; you won't be sorry.)
Like the "society" reporters in Ms. King's book, I was sharing office space with the sports department, which only added to my hilarity. My male companions would laugh themselves when they noticed my struggle to keep a straight face as I read these unintentionally hilarious stories.
Today, of course, we have "destination weddings," wherein the bride and groom ask that members of the wedding and their guests join them as they celebrate their vows in Jamaica or Hawaii, at the top of a ski lift or on the deck of a cruise liner. We have "bridezillas" who remind us that this is "my big day." We have beleaguered fathers who fork over the cash for fireworks displays at the end of the reception, horse-drawn carriages decked out in the couple's favorite colors, matchbooks adorned by the happy couple's photo, and wedding gowns that feature plenty of decolletage. Engagement parties; "theme" bridal showers; gift registries for not just china, crystal, or silver, but everything but the kitchen sink (don't deviate from the list of must-haves). We even have not-so-subtle demands for cold, hard cash.
Americans are so over the top, spending a fortune for just this one "special" day-- a day so special that by the end of it, family members may not be speaking to one another because an uncle had too much to drink at the bar, the bride was upstaged in some fashion by her sister-in-law, a groomsman made an inappropriate toast, or a young guest passed out in the front yard of the rental hall.
I've heard a bride-to-be say, "If I could have but one wish, it's that my fingernails will all be the same length on my wedding day." I've seen rehearsal dinners commandeered by family factions who demand control of the seating chart. I've heard the brides themselves, and their mothers, admit that the choice of groom isn't entirely what they'd hoped for, but, hey, the wedding is at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
In other words, I've seen and experienced just about everything but what the meaning of the day should be. A day when a couple--man and woman, man and man, or woman and woman--stand before family, friends, and God and vow to love and honor, to forsake all others, to stand by the other in sickness and in health, no matter their economic situation, as they begin new lives together as one. It's a celebration; but it's also a solemn occasion. It means something, or it should.
Recently, I finished reading a most amusing graphic novel ("Getting Married, and Other Mistakes," by Barbara Slate) that follows the vicissitudes of a young woman as she marries, finds herself disappointed by her mate's infidelity, and seeks a new life. But first, she has to find herself. Life leading up to her failed marriage had been inspired by a Barbie-doll-bride lamp on her childhood bedside table.
I won't tell you how it ends, but its conclusion reinforces my long-held belief that what some women want is not a marriage, but a wedding. I'm not at all sure what men want, especially these days, but they probably (mostly) would be happy to forgo an elaborate wedding.
Thirty-nine years together? How about 39 days?
But wasn't it a great party? Didn't I look pretty? Wasn't it special?
Karen Owen is Viewpoints editor