THE YEAR OF THE WEDDING – The followup where “We’re Not Sixteen Anymore” leaves off.
When a man you technically hardly know asks you to marry him after only three dates, it’s probably not the wisest decision to whisper, “Yes” to him. But that’s exactly what I did in August of 2013 after my kids had put me on Match.com in June of that year.
My first date with Dave was pleasant. My second date was nice until he kissed me, and I started crying. My third date was the beginning of a whole new life for me.
I can’t explain what happened, but suddenly, I realized I didn’t want to date around anymore – I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this man. I loved him. And he confessed he’d fallen in love with me the very first time he saw my profile picture because of “that smile!” So, there I was, sixty-one years old and in love.
I had always assumed that as one ages, something called maturity evolves and that older people – let’s say, sixty-one or more years old – take emotions and feelings in stride. Emotional reactions ideally should be rendered in a stable, calm, adult manner with insight, forethought, and intelligence. That assumption was in error: I was as goofy as a sixteen-year-old. We held hands in public. We kissed in public. We’d bump into each and giggle in public. We did it for all the world to see. At the time, we were both so thrilled to have found love a second time that we didn’t notice how infatuated we were.
Now after being married long enough that we feel we’ve been together forever, we think back to those early throes of love and lust with embarrassment and disbelief. We need an excuse as to how we acted:
Is the word “lovesick” coined because it is really an illness?
Were we subjected to some sort of cosmic gamma ray of love from the cyberspace dating site?
Is Cupid for real?
In the throes of new love, common-sense disappeared. We were faintly aware of that, but jeepers! It was us and we were exempt from old clichés. We wanted to shout out to the whole world about our love. We settled on breaking the news suddenly to our adult children. After all, they’re the ones who put us on cyber dating. They’d be thrilled.
My girls were horrified.
“WHAT???” “Do you even know him?” “Getting married? Why can’t you live with him first?” “Wait. You didn’t even want to DO this online dating at first, remember?” “What will your last name be?” (And the kicker) “Where you will be buried?”
I was flabbergasted. “This site advertises its marriage rate. YOU guys put me on it. What did you think was supposed to happen?”
Their answer: “You were supposed to find someone you could call to empty mouse traps for you if you needed it!”
Well, suffice it to say I learned that maybe all the world does NOT love a lover, but after they met Dave in person, they both agreed he was a wonderful man, became very fond of him, and were thrilled and very happy for me.
So, then it was Dave’s turn. After my experience, I counseled Dave that maybe we’d better take our time breaking it to his children. He whole-heartedly agreed. Besides, we had something else on our minds: he’d discovered he had prostate cancer and was scheduled for surgery. I was scared and nervous that I was going to lose my new love, but something inside me told me everything would be all right. Which, I’m glad to say, is exactly how it turned out. It also turned out that when someone is coming out of anesthesia, they sometimes forget things. Or sometimes remember other things, at a most inopportune time.
Dave’s surgery went well. His two sons, daughter and one of his daughters-in-law and I were taken to his room to wait for him to be wheeled up from the recovery room. He was a little nauseous when he arrived, but he reached for my hand and I stood next to his bed. Suddenly, he opened his eyes and announced he had something to tell the kids.
They looked at him expectantly. I stared at him. What on earth could he be announcing? That the doctor had told him he was dying? My stomach was churning. He looked at me, then the kids, and blurted out, “Becky and I are going to be married!”
Four jaws dropped open – make that five – because I was shocked that he had told them when just the day before he’d agreed to wait until we’d been together a little longer to break the news. Like I said, anesthesia makes you forget some things!
Impulsively, I joked, “We HAVE to!” And smiled. I’ll never forget how wide his sons’ eyes got in the instant before I hurriedly added, “Just kidding!”
His daughter, who’d been the one to put him on online dating, darted over to her dad and kissed him. She had tears in her eyes, and for an instant I felt horrible. We’d made one of the kids cry! Turned out, they were tears of happiness, and immediately she put me at ease by hugging me, too. The boys managed to pull themselves together and they and Dave’s daughter-in-law all came over to hug me and congratulate their father. They’d lost their mother thirteen years ago, so I wasn’t sure how they’d all take it, but I soon realized I was going to be welcomed. Dave recovered rapidly from his surgery, and life looked wonderful.
Isn’t it funny how Mother Nature makes you forget the “bad” things in life? I’m referring, of course, to two things a mother goes through that can be stressful, scary and expensive: pregnancy and wedding planning. I guess it’s because the joy that follows each event is priceless, so the mind forgets the “bad.” Obviously, I’d forgotten what it was like to plan my daughters’ weddings.
Dave’s and my first weddings were in the early 1970s. There were rarely any parties following the usual afternoon ceremonies, just church basement receptions with the standard wedding cake, nuts, mints, punch and coffee. The twenty-first century gave us many more options: we could have almost any and everything we wanted.
The first thing we did was make up a list of over 400 people between us that we wanted to invite. Easy! Anyone who was related, a friend, worked with us, or had somehow helped each of us get through our grief was written down. Next item was to pick a wedding date and a location. I knew I wanted to get married before my two girls moved away – one was moving to her husband’s homeland of Denmark in about a year, and the other lived in California, married to a Marine, but was back in Iowa awaiting the birth of her second child while he was deployed. This was going to be awesome to have both my girls near so we could go dress shopping, plan the wedding, and get what had become our upside-down world following my late husband’s death right-side up again.
We knew we needed some place close by hotels for out of town guests. Knowing we’d have company from all over the United States, we also wanted them to be close to entertainment. The perfect answer: The racetrack/casino/hotel, right next to an amusement park in Dave’s town and close to two interstates and an international airport.
We selected the longest day of the year, June 21, to get married. It was also Dave’s birthday, so there would be double the celebration. We then met with the event coordinator to see if the date would be open. Two out of the three ballrooms were available, so we booked them. A dividing wall would be removed, and we’d have a nice large room that could seat up to 450 guests with room for two bars and a dance floor. Awesome! We’d have our 400 guests and still have room to spare.
The great thing about booking the casino was that we wouldn’t have to pay rent for the ballrooms if we spent x-amount of dollars on food and beverages. Excitement flooded our senses. Reality withered it away when we discussed plated meals for that large number of guests. I usually grocery shop with coupons. There were no coupons for this. And we still had to figure in the costs of liquor, a DJ, flowers, dresses, invitations, photographer – the list was growing.
“Well, what would it cost for 350 guests?” I asked. The answer made Dave’s eyes water a bit. I found out later that they tend to do that when he stares too long.
“What is it for 300?” I glanced at Dave and his mouth was starting to go slack.
“250?” I asked hopefully. I looked at my fiancé and realized I was getting the gift of seeing how he would look at age 90 – positively petrified.
The coordinator, a wonderful young woman named Kristen, after glancing nervously at Dave several times, finally suggested that we have food stations, instead. They were less expensive, we could have a larger variety of food, and we could have plenty of hors d’oeuvres. She also suggested we have a time limit on the open bar, and then go to the cash bar. Money-saver! We
started the question-and-figuring part of the meeting all over again. This time, though, we could afford 350 guests.
“And not all will be able to come, you know,” Kristen reminded us. We signed the contract, Dave wrote a check for the deposit, and we left. The date and place could be checked off. All we had to do was wait and in nine months our special event would be happening. “Just like having a baby,” I told Dave. “It’ll be here before we know it.” He didn’t look like he wanted a baby at this age.
Another pregnancy, I soon found out, would have been much easier over planning my own wedding…
I thought the hard part was over. But booking the venue and food was easy compared to the rest. Theme? Color(s)? Flowers? Jeepers! I felt I needed to start watching “Say Yes to the Dress,” “Four Weddings,” or any other show remotely about wedding planning.
My daughter asked me what kind of flowers I was thinking about, and I answered “Cheap.” She is an event coordinator, so she mentioned that she’d seen some beautiful color combinations using tissue paper flowers. I wrinkled my nose at that, and told her cheap was probably not the correct word. But she sent me an idea board using summery themed colors of pink, yellow and orange, and I was hooked. I would not have chosen those colors, but the hues together in various shades of vibrant and pastel were pretty. It was so 1960s! I even remembered having a very abstract floral dress when I was sixteen with those same three colors. Shades of summer, shades of our youth – Perfect!
The winter of 2012-13 passed quickly, thanks in part to crafting my wedding flowers. Any thought that tissue paper flowers were gauche and tacky were banished as soon as I found a tutorial from Martha Steward using tissue and crepe paper. It was a good thing. I could have my summer solstice colors in the exact shades of orange, pink and yellow that I wanted, and in mass quantities for mere pennies.
I found instructions for dahlias, roses, carnations, poppies, hydrangeas, daisies, and ranunculus. There were so many pretty ones I couldn’t decide which one to choose. I made them all (mere pennies, right?). Soon I had a room overflowing with flowers. There were large, medium and small ones, ranging from three inches to three feet in width. Leaves were around some, and others were just twisted floral wire. I had five one-foot wide flowers for each table. When I thought I was finished with the table decorations, I saw a picture of giant three-foot flowers that rested on the floor and beautiful poppy flowers that stood upright, anywhere from three to eight feet tall, thanks to chicken wire and concrete in big pots.
I found instructions for boutonnieres, and decided that Dave, my Dad, and any male remotely related to us should have one. One more Google and I had instructions for a corsage for my Mom. The daughters and daughters-in-law would carry one giant rose, I had decided. Then smaller roses would be carried by the four little granddaughters. Done. Done. And done! By May I was sick of the flowers but thrilled that my wedding would be colorful.
Periodically during the winter, we took some time to browse jewelry stores for an engagement ring. In late January, the last store Dave and I visited had a ring with an infinity band. I looked at that and thought about the movie, “Yours, Mine and Ours.” (In the movie, the “ours” is a baby. Ralphie the dog would have to do for our story!) Instantly I wanted to have something symbolic to show the combination of our two families and friends. It wasn’t an engagement ring, but the jeweler held a marquise diamond over the center to show us what it would look like when they custom-made it for me. It was exactly right, so we ordered it. A few weeks later, we were back at the store to pick up the ring.
Three young clerks who had heard about the two old people who had done something they all had – cyber dated – crowded around me as one of them pulled out the black box containing my new ring. “Close your eyes!” she commanded. I felt silly because I had picked out the ring – I knew what it looked like. It wasn’t as though I even needed a ring at this age, but I complied.
Have you noticed that everything special that happens nowadays must be dubbed as “the reveal?” My daughters had a “reveal” of their bridal gowns to their fiancés a few hours before the wedding. Nieces had “reveals” of the gender of their first-born babies. So, I guess why not a reveal of my ring?
One of the ladies turned me around slightly with a warning to not open my eyes yet. I heard a thunk, followed by some heavy breathing. Finally, I got to open my eyes. I was facing the mall and looked straight ahead. I saw nothing but pedestrians streaming by at first. Then I became aware of something by my feet. It was Dave, kneeling on one leg, looking up at me. He was holding the open ring box in his hand.
For just one moment, I was alarmed that he’d been overcome at the thought of another expense. Then I looked at his blue eyes, and they twinkled and were so full of love, that my hand flew up to my heart, and I smiled down at him. “Will you marry me?” he asked. I heard some sighs and “ooohhs” behind me from the young women, and noticed a few mall walkers had paused – maybe out of concern at the sight of an older man who had dropped.
“Of course,” I said. Dave gave a sigh of relief, I gave him a hand to help him up, and then he gave me a kiss. Applause broke out. I’m assuming it was because it was getting close to Valentine’s Day, and not because the audience was relieved this was not a medical emergency. We were both slightly embarrassed, but hey! We’re older and we’re proof that love knows no boundaries. Certainly not age anyway. At least now, I didn’t have to introduce a gray-haired sixty-something as my “boyfriend” anymore – I had an official fiancé. I couldn’t wait to show my ring to our families and to my friends at work.
And by the end of winter, we also booked a disc jockey and hired a photographer friend of my daughter’s. The list was growing smaller!
As if witnessing two sixty-somethings getting married wasn’t enough amusement, our next quest was to figure out how in the world we would entertain our guests. We weren’t just having a wedding – we were having a party! And what’s a party without dancing?
It had been too many years since I’d taken ballroom dance lessons, and Dave never had, so we swallowed our pride and enrolled in lessons. A dear friend, Steph, taught the classes and we learned the fox-trot, waltz, two-step, and – as was the rage for several years – the electric slide. MOST importantly, we learned immediately to take Aleve before dance time to prevent pain in our hips, knees and feet. Another reminder that we weren’t teenagers anymore! By the end of the eight weekly sessions, we weren’t any competition for Dancing with the Stars, but we could dance a pretty good semblance of the waltz. We checked that off and went on to the next item: choose where and by whom we would be married.
It didn’t take long to decide it would be easier for everyone if all 350 guests stayed put after the ceremony, so Prairie Meadows (casino and all) would be our (not-so) spiritual site for the wedding. A close friend of Dave’s who is also a minister agreed to perform our wedding. Rev. Tim met with us at my house to talk. I was set on having Ecclesiastes read at the ceremony. We’d each had our time to weep and to mourn. Now it was time to laugh and to dance! He was in full agreement, and visited with us both, but asked me a lot of questions to get to know me.
What is it about ministers and their ability to get people to open up and confess things they’ve kept to themselves?
During the question and answer time, Tim found out that I am:
- a) cheap (I showed him the two rooms full of tissue flowers);
- b) a worry-wart that some people would object to a marriage at a casino (he reminded me of the Wedding Song lyrics that God is now to be among us at the calling of His name – and that could occur anywhere!);
- c) confused as how to handle the downsizing of our guest list (could we have an A list and a B list, with quick invitations to the B-listers if an A-lister declined the invitation? How Hollywood-horrible was that?);
- d) a whiner about how slow metabolism is in older people who need to lose weight to get into a wedding dress; and finally,
- e) fed-up with how much harder planning my own wedding was than to plan those of my daughters’. I blurted out that with all the work, money and energy we’d already put into this, we would have been a lot smarter to have eloped to Vegas.
Tim’s eyes lit up! “Hey!” he said. “I’ve got an Elvis costume. And I’ve used it to marry people before.”
I laughed at his joke. Dave laughed. Tim just looked at us eagerly. I blinked. He was serious.
“Wait!” I said. “You mean you’d marry us dressed as Elvis? Really?” I looked at Dave apprehensively, and saw his mind was working. He was grinning like a kid on Christmas morning.
“Well, it would be fun, wouldn’t it?” he said.
I looked at Tim, a sandy-haired, young-looking man with glasses. With a little stretch of the imagination, I thought, he could look like actor Seth Green, and maybe even Ryan Gosling. But I would never guess he could look like Elvis Presley.
However…why not? This whole last year had certainly been unorthodox for me, and this would be a memorable experience. I took the ball Tim had thrown at us and ran with it.
“Well, okay! But could you wear it under your robe?” Tim nodded yes, and I began to get excited as my mind raced about having Elvis Presley at my wedding without having to fly to Las Vegas.
“And I’ve got those honkin’ big stand-up flowers you saw that you could maybe hide behind, and when the party starts immediately after you pronounce us man and wife, you could just whip off your robe and start dancing with the crowd as Elvis!” I took a breath.
Tim jumped in with a better idea. “I have a black wig and sunglasses that I might have under my robe, too, and I could put those on.” Dave and I oohed and aahed at that. Tim promised us he’d think about this and would come up with a way to morph into Elvis without the crowd seeing him. We said goodbye to him, high-fived each other, and my whining mood disappeared.
I could hardly wait for the wedding. It was going to be wonderful.
The wedding was definitely our number one priority. Or, wait! Was it? Where were we going to live? We’d each lived in our own house for over twenty years. A lot of memories accumulate during that time, mainly ones of our cherished late spouses and our kids. Each home was completely paid for. We each had wonderful neighbors. There was only one place to pick: an entirely different home. A new beginning – simple! NOT!!! Buy or build? His town or mine?
If I hadn’t admitted it before, I did now: the cyber matching was uncanny! We both agreed on size (smaller), location (my town because he loved it and had lived there once before, too), style (ranch with few steps) and to build. If we were starting anew, then new it would be. Dave was a salesman who had worked for years in home building supplies. He could look at a piece of carpet and tell me if it was cheap or expensive. He knew the pros and cons of granite, quartz or compound countertops. We both liked the same colors of blues, greens, and neutrals. He wanted a three-car garage. I wanted a ten-foot high ceiling in a great room. We both wanted a fireplace. The only problem I had was looking at a builder’s floorplans and trying to imagine the finished product. Dear Dave made that problem go away easily.
“Why don’t we start looking at open houses?” he suggested. “When we see something we both really like, we’ll take pictures and incorporate them into our new home’s plans.”
Wow! What a nice guy I’m getting married to, I thought. So, for a few weekends, our dates were to traipse through open houses. Since we weren’t looking to buy, we weren’t restricted as to where we could look. And thus, we ended up with the perfect home of our dreams. It was not smaller. It wasn’t anywhere near my town. It was a walkout ranch so there’d be stairs. And it was seventeen years old. So much for a list. We loved it immediately and knew it was ours.
Our offer was accepted. That meant retirement from my beloved job, because no way was I going to drive almost an hour to and from work, and we had to put ourselves in high gear and get our homes ready for market. “Ready for market” translates into “Get rid of 20+ years’ of stuff you’ve been saving for the kids.” I ended up having two different garage sales. Dave had one gigantic one, rented a dumpster, hired a painter, and we eventually got both homes sold.
Finally, the big day arrived. June 21, 2013. Weather was gorgeous. I just knew that this wedding was going to be the most perfect wedding ever! After all, having planned and lived through my daughters’ weddings, I knew what could go wrong and had made sure everything was double- and triple-checked. I didn’t have to worry about the liquor, the food, the cake, the DJ, the photo booth, minister, or the photographer.
Everything was set. What could possibly go wrong? Well, with apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, let me count the ways:
Timing: Timing was shot all to you-know-where. It started out with me being tired. I’m one of those unfortunate people who lays awake all night worried that the alarm won’t go off, and then worries that I’m going to look a mess because of lack of sleep. I think I dozed off and on, but I finally got up, showered and hit the road. I checked into the hotel room suite Dave and I had gotten free since we booked so many rooms. It was lovely, but I was only there long enough to drop my suitcase, dress, and makeup kit on the bed.
I met Dave and his son Joel to help unload all the flowers I’d made. They were loaded in a truck borrowed from a friend’s husband. My Florida cousins Kris and Karen had arrived the day before and since they were staying at the hotel attached to the event center, they had promised to help me set up the flowers. I calculated it would probably not take more than hour, two at the absolute maximum to unload and set up. Wrong!
No Directions: We couldn’t find the right loading dock to empty the truck. That took about twenty minutes. We spent another fifteen minutes hunting all over to get a dolly or two to haul the boxes and bags of flowers. Who knew tissue paper could weigh so much?? We ended up hauling almost everything by ourselves, back and forth to the truck and the ballroom. That took about twenty more minutes. Almost an hour was gone.
Stress: I took a breath and recited my mantra for calming my blood pressure: Tranquility. It would be fine – all I had to do was throw the flowers on each table, set up the big standing flowers in a sort of forest on the ballroom floor where we’d exchange our vows, and toss the giant floor flowers strategically around the entrances. The tables were alternately dressed in white or black linens. My wedding colors of yellow, pink and orange were going to look fantastic on them. Another half hour and I should be done. Wrong again.
Tissue Paper: One thing I’d neglected to factor in was that tissue paper wrinkles. The flowers had been smushed together in bags and boxes, so instead of the gorgeous, natural-looking flora, there were piles of what looked like remnants from a hot weather Christmas package opening. I almost cried. Dave and his son looked puzzled. To them, it all looked just fine. I started to growl that I hadn’t spent the entire winter carefully crafting these things to just throw what looked like colorful trash onto tables – but I didn’t. Tranquility. Fortunately, my two cousins showed up, and we started smoothing and fluffing my wilted flowers. After an hour and a half, I was satisfied everything looked in order, and my cousins and the reception staff seemed duly impressed with how things looked.
Checking: Another hour was spent checking out where the food stations, the two bars, and the photo booth would go. I remembered a guest book I’d stuffed in my suitcase and raced upstairs to our room to get it and bring it down. Last stop was to see the “bawl-room” that was going to be set up for the little kids to go after the wedding. I had brought sleeping bags and toys for the kids, rented a video player with movies, and ordered pizza and milk to be delivered to the room later. Baby-sitters were hired from the day-care center my girls used, and they would show up about a half hour before the wedding began at 6:30 p.m.
False Lull: Then it was lunch time. Perfect. The preparations were just about done, so we took Dave’s college-aged daughter and two friends she’d invited out to lunch. We took our time and relaxed. I was annoyed at myself for having been so uptight earlier. This was my wedding day – my very last time ever that I would get married, and I was going to enjoy it. I think we ended up in the casino just to kill some time.
T Minus 1 Hour: Suddenly, it was four o’clock. Pictures were set to begin at 5:00. PANIC TIME!! I needed to shower, shampoo, do my makeup and get dressed. For my WEDDING!! The leisurely day I had thought I would have had turned into a frantic race against the clock. I was part-way through blow-drying my hair when a knock on the door came. Thinking it was one of the kids, I screamed over the noise of the dryer, “Come in!” It was a guest. Several guests, as a matter of fact. They were just wanting to wish me good luck and to give me hugs and kisses.
I could never be an actress. I realized they had shown up out of love and friendship, and I’m proud to say I did manage to smile and hug them back. But I know my voice was trembly when I asked them what time it was, and I couldn’t hide the shocked look on my face when they told me it was 4:40.
“Oh, my gawd,” I gasped. “I’m so sorry, but I don’t have my makeup on, my hair isn’t done, and I know it’s going to take at least 15 minutes to get into the super-strength body-shaper I bought last week.”
Being the wonderful friends they were, they asked me if they could help. I wanted to shout, Yes, leave me alone! Thank heaven I bit my tongue and just thanked them, but no thanks! One finally got the hint and told the others they really should run. She wanted to check out the casino before the wedding started.
Oh, no! The thought hit me: what if everyone we’d invited wanted to check out the casino, got lucky, had fun, and didn’t show up for our event? But then, it wouldn’t matter if I was late, or even what I looked like. I took a deep breath and smiled.
“Great idea! Just remember the wedding’s at 6:30. I’ll see you then,” I gushed as I opened my door to let them out. Dave was standing right there, about to open the door so he could come talk to me. Instead he stood in the doorway and talked to my friends. I caught his eye, and he immediately sensed I needed some privacy. It could have been because my eyes were bulging, the veins in my forehead were protruding and I had a nasty sneer on my face. I had rushed back to the bathroom to finish drying my hair. It wasn’t laying right.
Dave ushered the ladies out, closed the door, and came up behind me to kiss my neck. I wanted to hit him with my brush, but I refrained.
“I’ve had the best afternoon,” he said smiling, “and…” he gulped as he saw my face. “Uh, anyway, what can I do to help now?”
“Stand guard at the door. Outside the door. Don’t let anyone in.”
“Sure thing!” (Oh, he’s such a sweetie!) He started back to the door. “Oh, hon?”
“Yes. Dear?” I said through clenched teeth as I tried to stop my shaking hand from drawing my eyeliner all over my eyelid.
“Better hurry. It’s almost time for pictures.”
I was panting, my face was flushed, but somehow, I made it down to the lobby with five minutes to spare, thinking I’d be the last. I wasn’t. The photographer was a pro who wasn’t upset in the least. I willed myself to soak up some of her poise. She sent someone to find and gather the stragglers and announced that she’d take pictures of my mom and dad and me, me with my little ringbearer Tristan, and some candid shots of the relatives who had congregated in the adjoining bar. I hoped they hadn’t been there all afternoon. As other family members filed in, she’d take photos of them.
“Don’t worry,” she assured me. “We’ve got plenty of time before the wedding.”
Before the wedding. Wait! Something else was supposed to happen before the wedding.
“Oh, no!” I cried. “We don’t! Tell me I told you we have the rehearsal at 6:00 in the ballroom!” I was trying to remember mentally checking off the fact that I’d told everyone who needed to be told about the dress rehearsal. I didn’t remember telling the photographer. That was because I hadn’t.
“Well, if we don’t get all the photos done that we were going to do ahead of time, we’ll just do them after the wedding,” she said calmly.
I looked at her with a loving smile. Sure! That made sense. Everything was going to work out all right, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it?? I had no choice. As my Dad always said, “In a hundred years, no one’ll know the difference.” Problem was, a hundred years was a long way off from NOW.
We were still late to the rehearsal because I had to have a group photo of me, Dave and our combined families. It absolutely had to be taken before the wedding because of the babies and their nap times. By the time we got the little ones rounded up and cajoled them into sitting still for a few seconds, I certainly could have used a nap. Finally, we all headed to the wedding site to meet Pastor Tim for rehearsal.
My plans had been for the practice to be from 6-6:15. We’d have all the doors closed until we were through, then Dave and I would stand at the main entrance and welcome each of our 350 guests. I was never good at math. In retrospect, there would have been no way to have that many people come through in 15 minutes, even if it was an emergency, let alone that many that we would have been giving welcoming hugs and kisses to. But that didn’t matter, because by the time we allowed for a few diaper changes, wet washcloths applied to the tearfully-streaked face of the 18-month-old who wouldn’t put her shoes on, and finding the flowers for the kids to carry, the place was beginning to fill up. Most notably there early were relatives notorious for always being late. There they sat at a table I was going to have reserved for the kids, drinks in hand that they’d probably gotten from the casino, and laughing and having a great time already. This was not how I’d pictured everything.
“What do we do now?” I asked the minister in a panic.
Everyone else in the world was nonplussed about the situation except me. And thank heaven for that! Tim calmly gathered everyone around, had Dave walk in first, our kids next, and told them where to stand. One of the babysitters helped corral the flower girls and the ring bearer, and they looked adorable walking two by two. The ring bearer raced to his mom. Then it was my turn.
Sandwiched in between my parents, we walked together. Tim had us all gather close together while he briefly told us he’d direct us when to respond, when he’d read the Scripture, and when the kids could sit down while we said our vows. As we started to hurry back to the hallway away from the incoming guests, he grabbed Dave and me and said, “Oh, and my act will be eleven minutes long,” turned and left the room.
Dave and I both nodded, also turned, and then it hit me. “Did he say ‘act?’” I asked Dave.
He looked puzzled, too. “I think that’s what he said. Maybe he means at the end when he is Elvis.”
I didn’t have any more time to think about it because I wanted to make sure my makeup looked okay, see what the kids were doing, and make sure everyone was in their places. It was closer to 6:45 by the time the service started, but that had given me time to calm down (again) and reflect on how incredibly lucky I was to have so many family and friends gathered together. In a few short months, both of my girls and their families would be gone: Brooke and Mikkel would be moving to Denmark to live; Alyssa’s husband Frank would be safely back from Afghanistan, I prayed, and he would move Lyss, Tristan and the new baby back to Camp Pendleton. Both Dave’s and my in-laws from our first marriages were in the audience, happy for us to have found each other. All but one member of my first wedding party were in attendance, and I wondered if my Harold and Dave’s Paula were watching over us.
I was so fortunate to have found love again, and to such a wonderful man, but the circumstances that allowed Dave and me to be together suddenly hit me and I started to tear up. Who knows what life will bring us and what paths Dave and I will be on, I wondered. Forty years ago, my Dad had walked me down the church aisle. Forty years ago, I had no idea I’d be mother to two wonderful young women, and “MoMo” to the most precious grandchildren ever born. Forty years ago, I didn’t know what death could do to the heart and soul, didn’t understand that youth gradually turned into old age, and had never even thought about the normal worries and problems that run everyday living, along, of course, with all the blessings and happiness, too.
To still have both of my parents be with me this time was indescribable. My mother had on a long dress compared to my short dress (so that I could dance more easily) and she looked beautiful. I was thrilled to see her corsage I made adorning her wrist. Dad was having a great time. He’d been having some memory issues recently, but he was in prime form tonight, laughing and telling jokes. They both had told me they loved me, and that they loved Dave, and I knew they meant it. I wiped my eyes and smiled. Everything was alright.
For another minute, that is. The music for the entrance began and the guests quieted down. The minister walked to the dance floor and turned around to face us. Suddenly, Weezie, the 18-month old, started crying. She hadn’t had a nap and was overwhelmed by all the strangers, so one of the babysitters picked her up. She quieted down, but then refused to walk with her big sister and Dave’s two little granddaughters. I have a picture the photographer snapped of her finally walking down the aisle bare-footed, her eyes swollen from crying, holding hands with the babysitter. The babysitter, a darling young woman with an outgoing personality and a love for all the children in her care, happened to be clothed in gothic black, covered in tattoos, with her straight black hair streaked with electric blue. She just wasn’t dressed in what I’d imagined members of my wedding party would be. But what the heck!
Finally, my parents escorted me to my new husband. I looked at Dave beaming at me. And I looked at all the smiling faces around. But rats! I needed a tissue and I’d forgotten to grab some. I had tears streaming down my face. If my luck was running the way it had all day, my makeup would be turning my tears black. I tried wiping my eyes inconspicuously, which was rather hard to do since I was surrounded on three sides by family and friends. But stealing a look at my fingers, I didn’t see any black on them, so I hoped I wasn’t standing before God and guests with mascara streaks.
Dave and I took turns during the quick service to address our guests. We told how lucky we were, thanked everyone for being with us through the saddest times in our lives, and welcomed them for joining us that evening for the happiest time so far! Pastor Tim then read Ecclesiastes, started talking about life, love, and…suddenly mentioned a special guest that he’d brought with him that night. He turned, strode out toward an exit near one end of the ballroom, and left Dave and me standing at the “altar.” People started chuckling, whispering, then conversing in normal tones. I looked at Dave, he shrugged, and we found two chairs and sat down.
After a few minutes, the DJ put on some music, but it wasn’t anything I’d picked out. It sounded like “2001, a Space Odyssey.” It was. The lights dimmed momentarily, and then brightened as a black-haired figure in a white and spangled suit made his entry into the ballroom. The crowd roared! It was Elvis Presley. Fat Elvis – complete with his muttonchops, blue cape, big belt, and sunglasses. He whipped around and played up the crowd. “Thank ye. Thank ye verru much,” he drawled. He told jokes; he called my college-aged nephew, who was young enough to have no idea who this guy was, to come on “stage” and join him; and finally, maybe eleven minutes later, Elvis asked Dave and me to stand up.
To this day, I’m not sure if I can say I was legally married, but I have promised to take Dave as my “Hunka, hunka, burnin’ love!” We were pronounced man and wife to the cheers and clapping of our family and friends, the kids did their part and got a whole bunch of people to stand up and start dancing and the celebrating began in earnest.
Unbeknownst to Dave, I had cooked up a little surprise for him. Months earlier, I’d secretly met with our DJ at a restaurant and told him our wedding day was also Dave’s birthday – his 65th, in fact. Because so many of his family and friends would be on hand, it was a no-brainer to throw in a birthday party. His favorite cake was from Cheesecake Factory – the site of our first date. I’d picked up the triple chocolate fudge cake the day before. I almost needed a crane to lift it – it was so heavy – but I got it delivered to the casino event center and they’d promised to have it ready for me at whatever time I wanted.
Along with the quasi-Las Vegas theme our crazy wedding had become, I’d decided to have a stripper appear. Yes, a stripper. How matrimonial would that be? The DJ was delighted, excited and worked up an introductory script. First, he wanted to know her name.
“Terri Blehold,” I said solemnly.
“How do you spell the last name?” he asked, as he scribbled notes.
“B-L-E-H-O-L-D,” I answered
“Bleh? Hold?” he asked.
“Nooo. The ‘h’ is silent,” I grinned. “Say the first and last name together fast.”
He dutifully complied. “Terri. Blehold. Terri. Blehold. TerriBlehold. Terribly Old!” He shouted out the name as if he were playing Bingo. “Oh, my gawd. That’s so awesome. Where’d you get her?”
I stared at him, shrugged my shoulders and threw my arms apart with the palms of my hand open. “In the flesh!”
He did a double-take, then grinned at me. “You gotta tell me more about this,” he said.
I laid out what I had planned, and as I did, he took more notes. “The main thing is that I need you to play Herb Alpert’s version of Love Potion Number Nine.” He nodded. “And if it looks like the crowd and Dave want more, could you play Brick House by The Commodores?”
We then went over the rest of the music I wanted played at the wedding and reception, he promised to keep in touch now and then to see if anything was changed, and we parted. For weeks, I practiced my “strip” routine. Ms. Terribly Old would pop through some paper covering one side of a big box, right after the “BUM-bum-bum, BUM-bum-bum, BUM-bum-bum, BUM-bum-bum, BUM!” of the intro to Love Potion #9. Then I would walk around to the beat of the music, shimmying, shaking my top half, and thrusting my hips to each side. A big bottle of Aleve was packed in with the costume. More than once, I regretted what I was about to do, and just prayed Dave would get a chuckle out of it.
Nine o’clock, the time set for the strip tease, came soon. With all the mingling, dancing, talking and laughing at the reception, no one noticed as I slipped out to the kitchen, grabbed a sack containing my old lady mask and wig and my costume and hurried to a private room. Before I’d even finished dressing, I was getting hot, thanks to the layers of clothes I was putting on.
First, I hung a pair of panty hose with grapefruit in each foot around my neck. Next came a leopard print jumbo-sized top. I pulled on a pair of knee-high black hose with lots of runs in them, and then put on an elastic pair of dark brown stretchy wide-legged Capris that came below my knees. I finished by pulling up the grapefruit panty hose to chest-height, then fastened a stretchy wide belt below them to keep my fruity “bosoms” looking temporarily perky. Finally, I stuffed a size 44DDDDDD (I think) into the top of the leopard blouse. Then it was time for the last layer. A great big black sweater that buttoned up the front and a floor-length elastic waist flowing black skirt that I sometimes used for my Halloween witch’s costume completed my outfit. I pulled on the rubber mask, grateful that I could breathe through the little slits in the mouth and nose, wrapped a feather boa around my neck, and took off to rendezvous with two of my nephews I’d asked earlier to help me.
When they spotted me, they burst out laughing (I’ve never asked them if it was from embarrassment that they were related to me, or that they truly thought I looked funny…) One nephew went to the DJ to tell him we were about ready, then the boys carefully lifted the box down over me, and we waited by an open side door behind some curtains where the boys could hear the introduction.
The DJ turned off the music, which naturally got everyone’s attention. He called Dave to come up, announced it was his birthday and that we had a surprise for him. He asked my daughter and her husband to cover Dave’s eyes. That was one thing I’d forgotten: a bandana or something so Dave couldn’t see. But my son-in-law, not knowing what was going on, gladly took off his tie and together they blindfolded Dave. He was seated on a folding chair on the dance floor. When he was ready, the DJ made his announcement:
“Ladies and gentlemen. Tonight, we have a dancer from the island of Kamonawannalayya, (Boy, he really had prepared his speech – and he must have watched “Grumpy Old Men!”). Barely live, from Lost Vegas, please give a great Iowa welcome to stripper, Ms. Terri Blehold!” The crowd erupted in applause and then laughter as my two nephews attempted to steer me to the dance floor. All I could see as I was hunched over in the box were my feet and the floor. They stopped finally, and I guess took off. I took a deep breath and waited to hear the slow drum beat of my first song.
Wait! Something was wrong. The music that started playing was NOT Herb Alpert’s slow, sexy, beat-heavy wordless-song that I’d practiced. Instead, this was Love Potion #9 on acid! It was some modern-day pop group’s frenzied-paced, youth-oriented version. I was already a stanza behind when I burst into view and desperately attempted a frantic catch-up. I didn’t even see Dave until I whirled around doing something that looked like Granny Clampett’s hillbilly kick-steps. He was sitting there with the blindfold STILL ON!
Oh, no. This whole thing was a disaster. My mask had shifted enough that I was breathing the carbon dioxide that was heaving out of my lungs. Moisture was condensing inside, steaming my makeup off. But I realized the crowd was roaring with laughter. That was good, I thought. I made my spastic way to Dave and took off the necktie blindfold. He’d been sitting there grinning, but as soon as he got a look at my mask, he grabbed the tie and put it back on. The audience went crazy and the laughter was so loud I couldn’t hear my music!
I whipped it off him and threw it towards the nearest table. The boa, black skirt and sweater followed. I faked unfastening a bra, reached in the front and pulled out the udder-sized brassiere. I twirled it and threw it on Dave. He waved it like the starter of a NASCAR race. I unhooked the belt, threw it, and as the grapefruit tumbled down to my waist below the leopard blouse, I shimmied and shook those giant boobs as hard as I could.
Our guests, all family and friends, were cheering, clapping, and roaring with laughter. Evidently, they were loud enough that Dave and I were unknowingly paid the highest compliment – we got wedding crashers from the reception in Ballroom A who must have been too curious about what was going on to keep away.
Finally, the music ended, and I was ready to collapse. I couldn’t wait to get to my bottle of Aleve. I curtsied awkwardly and turned to dash off stage. But the DJ, unable to see the exhaustion on my face under my mask and obviously swayed by the crowd’s reaction, started the Brick House song. Well, if I was going to die, at least I could tell St. Peter I left ‘em laughing. Somehow, I made it through my routine. I exited to a standing ovation, but if there would be a curtain call, it would have to be over my dead body.
I hid in my secret dressing room and managed to get undressed and re-dressed in record time. I ran to the restrooms, fluffed my now-plastered down hair, splashed my face with water, and made it back to the ballroom. People were back at the food and liquor stations, laughing and talking, and only my sisters corralled me to ask if I had been the stripper. When I finally met up with my new husband, he wanted to know who the “guy” was I’d gotten to do the act. I punched Dave in the shoulder. He’d had no idea it was me. On second thought, I guess I should have hugged him!
One of the perks of having lots of friends the same age or older than we are was that they all had the same bedtimes. And it was way past that! Everyone had danced, laughed, talked, ate and drank until after 11. The younger guests headed to the casino to try their luck. Dave and I had one last dance together. My beautiful and talented cousin Kris sang “May I Have This Dance?” and we remembered enough of our waltz lessons to look like we knew what we were doing. It was close to midnight when we started clearing off the tables of the flowers. I had received many compliments during the evening about them, and I had been so proud. Now all I wanted to do was to just tell the staff to throw them all away, but I couldn’t. I’d promised a friend who was getting married in a few months she could have them, so I carefully put them away.
It was a wonderful, joyous and memorable time. My parents had danced, my grandkids had fun mingling with adults (even while I paid the babysitters for hours of childless time), and I got to see friends and relatives I hadn’t seen for years. The only thing I would have changed would have been to have some friends or family help coordinate the hosting so that I didn’t forget anything. Case in point: I’d spent hours making favors for my guests to take home and they sat in the baskets where I’d placed them when I’d arrived in the morning – on the floor next to the guest book sign-in where no one noticed. The Mayor of Adel, my friend Jim Peters, is the proud owner of enough match boxes to last him two or three lifetimes. I’d covered the matchboxes in paper the orange, yellow and pink colors of the wedding. Each one was imprinted with our names and the date on one side, and the phrase, “We met on Match.com” on the other! I am expecting an anniversary card every year from Jim.
At last, Dave and I hobbled up to our honeymoon suite. It turned out to be yet another reminder of not being young anymore. Know what we did on our wedding night? We took turns rubbing each other’s feet. Then I put in earplugs in, he put on his C-pap mask, and we both fell instantly asleep. Guess we have to admit our honeymoon night was Zzzz-rated, not X! Naturally, we woke up at our normal early time and hurriedly packed up so we could say our goodbyes to those friends and relatives who had spent the night in the hotel. First, though, we had to check out.
The young clerk smiled and asked if everything had been okay. We told them it was wonderful and to please thank everyone at the event center because we had gotten married in Ballrooms B&C last night. We were surprised to find out they had already heard about our wedding and reception, especially with Elvis and Terri Blehold. Obviously, the wait staff and bartenders had found this old couples’ nuptials to not be a run-of-the-mill old folks’ get-together. And then my new husband proceeded to add to the story. As he paid the bill, Dave lowered his voice a little bit to the checkout young lady, and grinning, said,
“I’m sure sorry. Did you get any complaints about the noise in Room 221 last night? We tried to keep the moaning down.”
“Dave!” I shrieked, and looked at the people around behind us. “He’s totally kidding.” They smirked.
The clerk tried hard not to grin. “No, sir.”
Dave continued, “Well, there was a lot of ‘Oooh, baby! That’s the spot! Keep it coming!’”
“David Andersen!” I scolded, mortified.
The clerk was joined by the other clerks, eyebrows upraised in a “do tell” fashion. Dave quickly followed up with this explanation: “We were rubbing each other’s feet!” Dave’s blue eyes were twinkling as all the clerks and other customers chortled. I realized that if I didn’t get a break from all the teasing, giggling, laughing and smiling we’d done this past weekend, I was going to have laugh lines two inches deep. But then, that’s why I married this guy – he makes me laugh! We got in some more hugs and kisses from departing guests, then we left for home. Our home.
So that’s the story of how we ended our brief dating era, made it through an engagement period and started married life together. Having lost beloved spouses, we both know how suddenly and drastically life can change. We know only too well that death is an inevitable part of life. We’ve also learned that new life, found in so many different forms, can emerge, blossom and become a new path on which to journey.
We never forget how lucky we are to have been given the gift of “new” life, even at this age. We’re definitely not sixteen anymore, but it amazes us how young an “old” person can feel.
Laughter is important to us both. Loving each other unconditionally is even more so: we found each other when we were past our prime, so to speak, so if we’re both overweight, have grey hair, wrinkles, and plenty of aches and pains, that doesn’t matter.
The beautiful words of poet Robert Browning, “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be…” don’t quite fit our situation. Rather, “Hey! We’re oldies, maybe we’re still goodies, and these golden years are full of rust, but I wouldn’t want to spend them with anyone else but you, Darling!” In spite of having cultivated our own singular habits – some good, some bad, and some annoying to the other – we have so much fun together, and the world seems a lot brighter than it did before we met.
Our grandchildren are just that – OUR grandchildren. We now have nine little grands between us and we love these children dearly. We try to spoil them, enjoy them immensely, and make sure they each hear from us about their very special grandparent in heaven.
I hope someday to be able to pass on to them the lessons Dave and I have learned: Love is never ending, constantly growing, and that there is most definitely life – and love – after death.
Oh! And since this is a true-life fairy-tale, let me add the best part: That people can, and do, live
HAPPILY EVER AFTER!
(We just celebrated our fourth anniversary, and I posted this picture with the words from the song “Don’t Know Much” written by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil and Tom Snow, and sung in duet by Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville)