When I was little I remember being taken by my great-aunt Taddy to a church at the corner of our street to watch a wedding party assemble. Maybe she knew the family, maybe not. But we did it more than once, and if a church was within walking distance of our house, we went. We would watch the folks gather, admire the flurry of the pink and blue-clad bridesmaids, and then the arrival of the bride. The church was surrounded by a green lawn and in the summertime there would be strawberry socials on tables set under the tall trees. We stood nearby with other onlookers until they all went into the church, then would go off and do our errands at the grocery and butcher shop. On our return, the wedding would be over and everyone spilling out of the door and we watched it all in reverse. It was the same with another great-aunt, in another part of town; she was a fire station enthusiast, and on our walks liked to go into the two fire stations in the neighborhood and be given a tour; ostensibly for her little niece. It was all neighborhood doings, whether fire trucks or weddings or a moving van in front of a house on our street. Folks liked to know what was going on.
Just like now. The other morning walking up from town, I stopped and watched the gathering of guests and bridesmaids in front of the church around the corner from where I live. They were waiting for the bride to arrive and now as then, all was expectancy and high spirits. Hats and gold sandals, long dresses — sunburned shoulders and décolleté the norm — and flowers everywhere. Part theatre, part tradition, a gathering of clans, a celebration — and the neighborhood likes to look in.
The inventiveness, not to say looniness, of couples who wish to make their own marriage memorable range from delightful to the inexplicable. Ted and I start recalling magazine accounts and TV news bits: “What about this one,” he says. “Remember the sky-dive one? Married in the sky!” Like a beautiful flower, the bride and groom, several attendants and a celebrant all holding hands, floating (seemingly) down at an increasing velocity of 32 feet per second. We held our breath till they pulled the parachute cord, and everyone flew apart. From the televised ceremonies of the royals and near-royals to the pair who were married in a shark tank with a minister and two attendants. Just the other day a couple (so the news ran), stood at the altar exchanging their vows: “Do you take this woman for your wife...?” The groom took a coin from his pocket, gave it a toss — heads or tails — and then turned to the minister with a nod of agreement. The bride’s expression read “I knew you’d do something.”
I’ve been to, and a part of, wonderful weddings here on the Vineyard. On the beach, in a meadow, by a windmill — watching John Alley in his official top hat and tails on a breakwater in Menemsha. Once we stood on a dock and watched while two friends were married on their sailboat, and then waved goodbye and tossed flowers in the water as they sailed away over the Sound — beginning a voyage around the world we imagined. (I think they were going to Hyannis for the night . . . then around the world). We also waved goodbye to our friends Cathy and Bob from atop the steps of the Campidoglio in Rome. They had just been married by the mayor of Rome, in a building like a town hall, though surrounded by courtyards containing two thousand year old fragments of statuary. (One of my friends remembers a finger, man high, pointing skyward.) We had all become friends during a year spent as scholarship recipients (and the spouses of same), and this wedding was an event we dressed up for, all of us young women having adopted the Italian style for the occasion: a nipped in waist (I ruined my best suit cutting it up a l’Italiana) with a tight skirt and three inch heels. The Italian girls knew what they were doing and had the short hourglass figures to carry it off, high heels on cobblestones included. I was a five-foot nine-inch American girl and never looked like anything else. The bride was beautiful (also with a nipped in waist), and looked great; brides always do. I still remember her and the wonderful scene: the bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius on his horse, the tawny stones and statuary and the light of Rome.
Flowers are important. Our daughter was married in June and everything in our garden was blooming; we filled pots and vases and a huge brass cauldron with weigela, wild roses and honeysuckle for the church, and the little vases on the tables at the reception held a bit of anything that even looked like a flower — probably some dandelions and bean blossoms among the daisies. And Joan Merry did the rest. It was beautiful. But April 1 was our son’s wedding day, and unless you’ve got it on your mind, you may not have noticed that there are no outdoor flowers in March. Snowdrops maybe, and the crocuses. And the promise of forsythia. And that’s what we had. Forsythia gathered from every friend on the Island. Forsythia in its still-sleeping state that is. Bare sticks. For the whole month of March we were obsessed with watching it slowly slowly fill out and begin to turn a pale yellow; pails and buckets were in every window and doorway of our house, and finally—bloom it did, and just in time. The church was lovely with great banks of forsythia against the white walls and pews.
There have been other weddings: my friends’, my own, my friends’ grandchildren. They all had in common a gathering of family and friends; a party, sometimes joyous relief — “We did it...! Everybody got here, it didn’t rain, my hair looked okay, the food was great and so was the music, my sister’s baby didn’t cry . . .” However it turns out, it’s your wedding, the people you love are there and you are happy. You don’t even notice that it is raining and the guests are piled into the tent and all the lovely flowerbeds and lawn-chairs are floating away. You did it.
Jeanne Hewett is a freelance writer and fabric artist who lives in Vineyard Haven.