The American Greeting Corporation estimates 10% of all engagements happen on February 14. So for those planning their own big day, I offer my own wedding as a cautionary tale.
When my fiancé and I envisioned our wedding, we sketched out a casual backyard party. The band would be here, the barbeque pit there. How, you ask, did our families react? Well, two years later I arrived at a church with three attendants, a handful of girlfriends, and a huge ivory dress with linebacker shoulder pads. (It was 1993. My attendants had huge bows on their backsides.)
Up in the Bride’s Parlor, my maid of honor, Kelli, seemed distracted. She nodded at another girl, who ducked out the door.
“Um, what’s going on?” I asked.
Kelli wouldn’t look at me. “I’m sure your mother will be fine.”
Ah, my mother. An educated and otherwise level-headed woman, Mom had reached Freak Out mode weeks ago. Now she threw open the door with the force of a hurricane. “The photographer is here!” she said, as if he had just narrowly fought his way through enemy lines.
My girlfriend, Daisy, who has a dancer’s poise in even the worst of circumstances, smiled reassuringly. “You can tell him we’re almost ready.”
“Yes! I will!” And she was gone.
“Do not let your mom know about the earrings,” Daisy said. (I had accidentally grabbed one each of two different sets.) She jangled my keys. “I’ll be back in a flash.”
I pulled on my dyed-to-match instruments of torture, coyly designed to resemble shoes, and exited the room. Mom came swooping up the hall. “He’s ready to start taking pictures!”
I whipped my head to the right. “Sounds good,” I said to a nearby portrait of the Apostle Paul.
Pictures from that morning could be captioned “Distracted bride smiles while mother grimaces through the pain.” Eventually Mom was escorted into an adjacent room where she could be heard hyperventilating into a brown paper bag. (If we’d been able to combine her wind power with a turbine made of gargantuan butt-bows, we could have generated enough electricity to light the fellowship hall.)
Daisy returned before the ceremony and thrust my missing earring into my hand. My aunt was blown along in her wake and whispered in passing, “I just gave your mother a little something else to calm her down.”
Mom now stood with her eyes closed, gripping the registry table so firmly I wondered if she planned to take it down the aisle. “Mom?”
“I’m fine,” she said, opening her eyes. Her expression would make Kansans grab their pets and barricade themselves in the root cellar. “The cake isn’t here yet.”
My uncle, dashing in his charcoal tux, was beside her in a flash. “Let’s get you to your seat.”
“THE CAKE ISN’T—“
“And here we go,” my uncle sing-songed, dragging her away.
After the ceremony and a few more pictures, I entered the reception to see a multitude of relieved faces and my mom looking somewhat stoned. “The cake’s here,” she slurred, smiling.
I glanced at the center table. Running wild with my idea of “assorted cut flowers,” the caterer had piped on
the most violently colorful mélange of flora imaginable. Meanwhile, various well-wishers who heard I didn’t have a cake-topper brought their own, just in case I changed my mind. The caterer, arriving while everyone was in the ceremony, saw the collection of bells, doves, hearts, and bride/groom sets and voila!—the world’s first lawn ornament store cake! (Kelli summed it up best: “Wow. That’s really . . . wow.”)
The Spanish guitarist we had hired to play classical music strolled by wearing a white shirt opened to his naval. Oh my gosh. Was that oil glistening on his chest?
“No one has paid me yet,” the church wedding director announced to the room at large.
An hour later, I went into a gas station bathroom dressed as a bride and emerged as me—jeans, sandals, a Greenpeace t-shirt. Back in the car my husband patted my hand. “It was a nice wedding,” he said.
“I love you,” I sighed, “but next time we’re eloping.”
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Angela Dove is an award-winning columnist (NC Press Association) and author of the true crime book No Room for Doubt: A True Story of the Reverberations of Murder (Penguin 2009). She welcomes feedback and your wedding horror stories.