LIVING

How a bride who wanted a simple City Hall wedding ended up with 2 ceremonies and 5 dresses

12/02/2014 09:12 EST | Updated 02/01/2015 05:59 EST
OAKLAND, Calif. - Two dresses — one from Craigslist, several sizes too big, the other a last-minute, $18 antique shop find. Two bouquets — one crafted from a gigantic flower market's offerings, the other from wildflowers gathered from the side of a highway. Two venues — one a waterfront park where the groom spent his last hours of bachelorhood cleaning up goose droppings, the other a ... cemetery.

To think, all I'd wanted was to run down to City Hall.

Fortunately, Timothy is wise. A wedding, he told me, is as much for our families and friends as it is for us.

So that became our theme: "taking it to the family."

Which meant that my simple City Hall idea morphed into two ceremonies, one in California with his large family and one in Pennsylvania with my small family.

We enlisted their help, from the planning to the music to the food.

"Yes it is about the couple, and it's this huge, important step, but you don't live life in a bubble. You're basically blending two families in one moment," says Yolanda Crous, features and travel director for Brides magazine. "This is probably the only time in your life that you're going to be able to get everyone in one room."

While we no doubt were on the extreme end of the family-involvement scale, many couples have a similar philosophy. After all, Crous notes, everyone wants a personal wedding, and what's more personal than your family?

"Giving a family member a role is a very special thing for them," says Jamie Miles, editor at TheKnot.com. At the same time, families should respect boundaries: "Don't be too intrusive, and be respectful of what (the bride and groom) are communicating to you."

Our families gave us plenty of space. Thankfully, they also prodded us to do a bit more planning than we might otherwise have done, with our relaxed approach that bypassed a lot of the traditional formalities. (When I initially slipped Timothy's ring onto his right hand during the ceremony — "I said that you should rehearse this," his uncle/pastor intoned — we just smiled and tried again.)

We wanted room for compromise, rule-bending and flexibility.

Some of the ways we found that — with help from the family:

THE VENUES

CALIFORNIA: Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland, because of its family connection. Timothy's sister Celia (his "best woman") was part of a team that had helped plan and design the park.It's a lovely and historic setting with a view of San Francisco. It's also home to geese, so on the morning of our wedding, my groom helped scoop goose poop.

PENNSYLVANIA: A tranquil spot of deep meaning: my father's burial place. An unusual setting, but we knew we could make it just right at this spot atop a hill, with cornfields and mountains as the backdrop.

THE MUSIC

CALIFORNIA: The Twintet: Timothy's twin brothers, Michael and Patrick, plus Patrick's wife, Vivian, and her twin, Wanda, played jazz. Celia and mother Ruth, accompanied by Celia's husband, sang The Beatles' "I Will."

PENNSYLVANIA: Our friend Ron, singing and on guitar.

THE OFFICIANTS:

CALIFORNIA: Timothy's Uncle Bob, a minister. Nephew Hikaru kept us all in line as master of the ceremony.

PENNSYLVANIA: My brother-in-law, Glen, as master of the ceremony. My mother, Marliene, sister Dana and best friend Sharon each read.

THE FLOWERS

CALIFORNIA: From the San Francisco Flower Market, where Timothy's sister Ann — my matron of honour — and I selected the flowers. Queen Anne's Lace was key, and not just because it looks bridal. Ann and her daughters Megan and Molly crafted the flowers into the corsages and bouquet, and Celia's daughter Eva was "maiden of the Solstice" — the adult version of a flower girl for our June 21 wedding.

PENNSYLVANIA: From the side of a highway near my childhood home, where we plucked Queen Anne's Lace — just as my dad used to do when I was a kid. Again, Ann made the corsages and bouquet.

THE FavourS

Succulents from the flower market, which we replanted into colorful mugs rounded up in a flurry of thrift-store power shopping. These also served as table decorations.

THE TABLEWARE

More thrift-store power shopping. Ann and I selected several boxes' worth of festive plates, bowls and flatware in a rainbow of styles. (Later, the sisters valiantly boxed it all up again and donated it back to the shops.)

THE CAKE

CALIFORNIA: A multi-tier carrot cake by Ann, with help from Celia.

PENNSYLVANIA: A peanut butter-based concoction created by my mother, with ice cream from Penn State's creamery.

THE FOOD

CALIFORNIA: An assortment of relatives manned the grills and others brought potluck for a reception at the park.

PENNSYLVANIA: Takeout from a favourite BBQ joint for a party at my mother's house.

THE ROCKS

ON MY FINGER: My grandmother's diamond rings. Otto, son of Timothy's longtime friend Peter, was ring bearer.

IN EVERYONE'S HANDS: We wanted all the guests to participate in our wedding. And, we like rocks. So we brought a collection that nephew Taro distributed to each guest to hold during the ceremony while thinking good thoughts for our future. Now the rocks are displayed at home in our "wedding rock basket."

AND OH YES, THE (FIVE) DRESSES

CALIFORNIA: The dress saga started on Craigslist, where a blurry picture showed only a beaded bodice. Replying to the ad, I got a man speaking on behalf of his wife because his English was better. He didn't know the dress size, but described his wife's proportions. It didn't sound promising. Still, I liked the blurry picture. So I drove 75 miles to their small apartment. In person, it seemed even less promising.

In their cramped bathroom, with their baby crying and their cat underfoot, I donned the dress. As feared, it was way too big. In the vanity mirror, I could see only the bodice. But somehow, it made me feel bridal. Plus, she needed the $150. So I took it.

Up next: a seamstress who (scarily) took no measurements and promised great results. Five weeks later, I discovered she was right.

In the meantime — just in case — I rounded up two alternatives from a consignment shop. One was never really in the running, but the second, an ivory-and-gold Ann Taylor sheath, seemed just right for the Pennsylvania wedding.

Until the time came two months later, and it had become too small.

PENNSYLVANIA: Clock ticking, I hit the consignment shops again. Success: a pink sheath — non-traditional, to be sure, but hey, it's the second wedding, I'm non-traditional, and Timothy and I both like pink. Plus, it fit.

So the dress was good to go. Until two days later, when Ann and I were in an antique shop. There, peeking out from a corner, was a sliver of ivory beading.

I tried on that dress. It fit. So did the veiled hat in the same shop. And with a day to spare, I had the perfect second dress for my second wedding of the summer.

Would our rule-bending and chance-taking work for everyone? No. It was perfect for us — with essential help from our families. And am I forever grateful that we didn't do the City Hall thing? Absolutely.

As Miles puts it, "You don't have to have one wedding out of a box any longer."

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