After we’d been living together about a year, we progressed to formal engagement in September of 2000. My grandmother informed me, in no uncertain terms, that she hated long engagements. She said, “I’ll die first”. Mind you, we were planning to have the ceremony roughly 13 months later, so I didn’t think it was a particularly long time to wait myself. Especially since we were both in grad school in Lexington, while we wanted to get married in Cincinnati.
By this point, Scott was heavily into his dissertation research and still teaching classes. I was just starting my library science degree, having survived an English MA with only moderate damage to everyone around me. I had a loathsome real world job (it only lasted six months). And Mummum was doggedly determined that a year away was too long.
She was right.
Purely aside from the fact that October 13, 2001 wound up being one month and 2 days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, which she couldn’t have known, Mummum had a massive heart attack in December of 2000, and I’m pretty sure she did have a good idea that was coming. I was at work when Mom called with the news. It was my birthday. Mom and Poppa were with Mummum in the hospital, and the prognosis was very bad. I told Scott, “We have to get married now. She can’t be dead before our wedding.”
When I talked to Mom again that night, things were getting worse. The doctors couldn’t get enough oxygen to Mummum’s heart, and Mom had run into some young idiot resident or intern who didn’t seem to realize my grandfather was also still a licensed physician who maintained hospital privileges at his institution. This particular young buck told Mom and Poppa, as if he was explaining something obvious, “Well, she is
seventy nine years old.”
Mom can sometimes get to the point of a conversation in just a few short words. She told the doctor, and even repeating it to me later, she snarled it, “She’s my mother.” And that is what should have been obvious.
I said, “Tell Mummum she has to wait for us. She has to get better because we’re getting married in her hospital room.”
The next day, Scott and I went and got our license, and we bought some rings at Steinmart. On the phone that night, Mom said, “About the same time we told her you were coming, they got the oxygen flowing. She may pull through.” And I thought It worked. It’s working. Because when I had told Scott “We have to get married right now,” I was really thinking, Maybe we can do magic. Maybe we can save her. But I knew we had to follow through to make sure.
Since she was improving, Mummum had to have some kind of procedure on the following day, a Saturday. So it was Sunday, December 17, before we could finally go get married at the hospital. We stood by my grandmother’s bed and exchanged vows and rings with help from a nice Baptist minister who also signed the certificate that we didn’t file. We knew Scott’s family would feel cheated if we actually got married-married in Kentucky almost a year ahead of our planned wedding in Ohio.
We also didn’t file because Mummum lived. If she had gotten worse or died, we would have gotten that certificate finalized. Because it meant that much to both of us. My grandmother had to be there. But the ceremony was enough. Her health turned around, operating became possible, and she came home a couple of days before Christmas. She soldiered on for five more years after that.
We all resumed our lives and went back to planning for October. In this, my mother-in-law was a godsend. My Mom has never enjoyed ceremonies or formal functions, and she felt elopement would be wisest. So Scott and I needed his Mom’s assistance very badly. We were in a totally different city, and neither one of us had the first clue about weddings.
Betty was the ultimate wedding planner. Even though she was a scientist working five days a week herself, she would go scout out four or five options in any one category, then show them to us when we came up north for a weekend. She worried that she was stepping on my Mom’s toes and wasn’t quite sure that Mom was really as anti-wedding as we insisted. Believe me, my mother will never be an ‘event’ person.
Betty had a knack for figuring out things that would appeal to us, too. She wasn’t just giving us ideas she enjoyed. She drove us to potential reception locales until we chose the perfect spot. She found for us (at our request) the little bakery that had done Scott’s sister Judy’s cake. And that baker agreed to do a stack of books with titles written on the spines in icing. (Romance 101, Encyclopedia M-P, and on the top layer, True Love. For our topper, we supplied a pair of ducks, because those were symbolic to our engagement, when we were surrounded by a whole flock at a lake near our apartment.)
Betty got in touch with our photographer. He had retired since doing Scott’s sister Holly’s wedding pictures, but he came out for us and actually gave us the photographs and negatives as a gift. Betty navigated the church reservation. And she even helped me pick out my dress.
That dress has become something of a running joke in the family. Along with my plans never to get married, I was never going to wear a horrible white gown. I didn’t, and still don’t, much like white clothing. It’s bland, and it exposes everything about your body by being so invisible on its own. But Scott wanted a white wedding, and I didn’t fight it. Everyone tried to tell me “you can pick ivory or cream” and didn’t seem to realize I wasn’t buying the distinction. To me, a white dress was a white dress was a white dress. Eggshell, ivory, cream, they all meant the same thing to me: I was going to have to take an interest in my appearance. If I wanted to look like anything but a fool in a wedding gown, I had to lose at least fifty pounds.
Sixty would have been better, but I was a realist. At two hundred pounds, with a thirteen month lead, fifty pounds was probably all I could get off before I had to actually wear the thing. Anyway, since I was wearing the dress for Scott, I wanted him to like it, and I wanted him to come pick it out. Unfortunately, bridal shops still exist in a Twilight Zone,
where you step through the doors and walk back eighty years. Men just don’t go there. I terrorized a couple of them with my husband-to-be before I just went to David’s Bridal, which was at least a little more modern. They still warned the whole building that there was a man in the dressing room, but they at least let him accompany me. I still don’t see the problem. The women are behind closed doors surrounded by a bevy of employees and flighty friends and relatives. My lone male posed no threat to them whatsoever. My God – he’d have been mobbed before he even got close to seeing a bare leg, let alone someone in panties.
By the time we got to David’s we were running late for premarital counseling with our pastor. So I had time to try on exactly one dress. Everybody but me was planning on multiple shopping trips. We were a little more than a month away from the wedding, and I only had about five more pounds to lose. I was as ready to look decent in white as I ever would be, and I did not intend to dwell on the choice. I checked sizes on the rack and put on the first one that would fit me.
“Do you like it?” I asked Scott. He did.
“Do you like it?” I asked Betty. She did.
I said “Great. It should be perfect in five pounds, here’s a credit card.” And I left my stunned mother-in-law to pay for the purchase.
It was very hard to convince people that I didn’t consider a wedding an excuse to look like a princess. The dress was gorgeous, but then anything would have been. They don’t exactly make wedding dresses to look bad, and I wasn’t going to be entirely comfortable wearing white no matter how nice it looked. I didn’t wear a veil, I picked some high heels out of a catalog, and I paid for my bridesmaids’ gowns, because Good Christ if they were going to be stuffed into random lavender on my account when we were all broke, the least I could do was finance their suffering. (We all had the same abysmal shoes, by the way, which we nicknamed the cardboard high heels. In those I could have done much better.)
And I asked Poppa to walk with me down the aisle, because that was a little less like ‘giving the bride away’, and because seriously, if there was a reason I could jump within a date into knowing that I wanted to have kids with a man, then it was because I had been paying more attention to my grandparents than I realized for my whole life.
Just about the only vendor choices we made entirely on our own were the florist (who I think had done the beautiful bouquets for Scott’s stepbrother’s wedding) , and the DJ. Of those two, the florist was by far the better selection. Swann’s gave us everything we needed and then some, and at reasonable prices. The DJ, not so much.
I didn’t really want a DJ anyway, because I know that the job requires a lot of ego investment. DJs tend to think of themselves as the party masters, who control everything from the room’s tone to its noise level. And I had no use for someone else being in charge of our reception. But everybody acted like you just had to have a DJ, so I hired a guy. Take note world, I’m not just stuck up when it comes to music. I am a downright music snob. I explained this to our DJ and asked him point blank if he had a problem with it. He said he didn’t, and I gave him exact instructions and a two hundred song playlist. We sat down together to go over my list, and I supplied the songs he was lacking, most especially the version of “Rainbow Connection”, as sung by Kermit the Frog, that Scott and I were going to dance to at the reception. (Though “dance” is probably too strong a word for what we planned to do. We intended to engage in some heavy swaying.)
After the ceremony, which was peaceful and perfect, the whole wedding party rode to the reception in the limo. But then one bridesmaid and all three groomsmen needed to return immediately to the church to get their cars. The rest of us waited a little while for them to get back, but we eventually had to start eating without them. It was 2001, and almost none of us owned cell phones. (Dennis probably did, but, as there was nobody he could call, it wasn’t much use.) They were lost, we knew it, and there wasn’t a thing we could do to help out. As I went through our buffet line, I realized that the DJ
was playing some random mood crap that wasn’t on my list. It was lyric-free muzak garbage. Not at all what I was paying the man for. I went over and said, “Um, do you think you could start playing some real music?” He mumbled something and changed discs.
About that time, the rest of the wedding party arrived, and the DJ got a gleam in his eyes. “Oh no you don’t.” I told him.
“What? I’m just getting ready to announce the bride and groom.”
“For heaven’s sake we’ve already been here an hour and a half. Why would we want that?”
“Haven’t you been looking forward to walking into the room and hearing me say “Presenting Mr. And Mrs. Scott Merriman”?
“My first name isn’t Scott, my last name isn’t Merriman, and no.” Yet another person invested in the bloody princess thing.
But I did borrow his mike for the toasts.
Later, while we were eating, I realized he was still playing trash. I went over and said, “I gave you a playlist and loaned you CDs. Why are we still hearing this crap?”
“I’m saving that for the dancing.”
How long did he think we were planning to dance? That was our reception music.
I said “You are envisioning yourself announcing numbers. You are imagining the acceptance of requests. You hear your own voice in your head saying ‘Here’s a little number for all the single ladies’. You’re thinking I have a song in there so I can dance with my Dad, and you can’t wait for the electric slide, which isn’t on my list. I told you what music we would be playing tonight, and I told you every single title I wanted.”
He argued, “You might as well just have a CD player and a stack of discs!”
“That was what I wanted in the first place. I gave you a list. Play it now, or else leave.”
Walking past Scott on my way out back to grab the checkbook, I said, “I just fired the DJ.”
Scott said, “Ohhkay” and let it go. He knew perfectly well that it wasn’t a case of what would now be called Bridezilla. I had pretty much turned all the other professionals loose to do their jobs. I fired the DJ because he lied to me when he told me up front that he would play my list, and I am, as I said, a total music snob.
To his credit, the jerk refused payment. All he took was the hundred dollar deposit I’d given him in the first place. Pretty cheap for wedding music. Pretty expensive for muzak.
Anyway, that was the craziest moment of the whole day. My sister, usually a source for quite a lot of drama, had showed up before the ceremony, stayed put for exactly one photograph, then left before we could actually get married. Dad played a song in the ceremony. We lied and told the pastor it was esoterically religious in nature, and that could have led to upset, but it didn’t. It also wasn’t a problem that Dad opted out on the reception. My Mom and grandparents were still present, along with all of Scott’s family, and somewhere around fifty good friends. It was perfect.
Oh, and my grandparents? The photographer caught them in this moment. It is their last good picture together, and it takes at least 20 years off their faces, especially my grandmother’s. Mummum was always camera shy, so getting her to look comfortable on film, even before glaucoma practically blinded her, was always difficult.
Here, Poppa clearly didn’t tell her a photograph being taken, and I’m honestly not sure he noticed. So she didn’t look up, and he didn’t look over. You can see Poppa in profile, showing Mummum something about the napkins. The top of her head and her good side are visible. Her ruined eye is turned away and down, and they are standing together, holding on to each other, the very image of how I want to look with Scott if we both make it to eighty.