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08 November 2010

This is the last wedding post, I swear!

So, I picked up World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie Wars during last night's bookstore trip with Greg, and got through the first chapter before we had to leave to catch our movie-

Oh, wait, there's another story I'd better tell first.

I'm married!

That almost didn't happen.

Our officiant backed out literally at the last moment, I was late to my own wedding, and finished it up by getting stung- twice- by a yellowjacket.

Totally worth it, every bit.

So, now that I'm back from having dropped off the face of the earth for a couple of weeks for wedding and honeymoon and Greg's R&R in general, here's the story:

Once we decided to get married (that is, once Greg unilaterally decreed that it would be so), one of the first things we agreed on was that we wanted a ceremony which would be culturally relevant to us both.

Neither of us is Christian, or really especially relgious at all for that matter, and we both have slight issues with various aspects of the cultural complex surrounding the modern American church-style wedding (and I, at least, am a little uneasy about much of anything very spiritual, mostly due to a guilty conscience), so that seemed irrelevant and, frankly, a little dishonest. We do, however, both share Celtic roots (despite the fact that my upbringing mostly emphasized my Cherokee heritage, I have too many freckles and too strong a fondness for Guiness to deny the rest of it).

Given that, it didn't take us long to settle on the idea of a handfasting, a ceremonial pattern dating back to prehistoric Celtic tradition, commonly used throughout the Christian period in much of Europe, and still in slightly adapted use by modern pagan denominations and others. The ceremony itself is actually part of the origin of the phrase "tying the knot" since it involves the binding of the participants' hands with cords to symbolize each of their vows, although I've also been told that a portion of the traditional Cherokee wedding ceremony involving the tying together of blankets actually deserves the credit, so I'm just going to try and steer clear of folk etymology and stick to talking about my wedding.

For now.

Anyway, we decided to modify the traditional form of the ceremony somewhat to suit our wishes and current cultural context, in particular by removing some of the more overtly relgious bits and substituting in a couple of safely generic references to higher powers (the Wikipedia page for the Unitarian Universalist church includes a very interesting discussion on taking rituals or symbols outside their original cultural/religious context, particularly if you are not familiar in detail with that original context, and we were both in agreement with the disapproval of such practices, for various reasons).

Greg wrote a really lovely set of vows and assembled a beautiful script for the ceremony. I didn't know he was planning on doing quite that much himself until he surprised me with the finished product one afternoon, and I'm not too proud to admit that there were bits that made me all sniffly.

Our only real issue was that we weren't entirely certain who the proper party was to perform a handfasting. We eventually decided that Greg being in the Army might give us a slight advantage for once in that chaplains are, at least in our understanding, supposed to be trained and willing to perform rites as needed for persons of varying religious backgrounds, or at least be able to contact another chaplain of the appropriate background if needed.

Evidently we were wrong, because when Greg contacted his unit's rear detachment chaplain, we were informed that if we wanted a non-religion-specific ceremony, we were out of luck because he wouldn't do it; nor would he bother trying to contact another chaplain who might be more at ease with vaguely pagan-ish rites with most of the relgious bits removed.

It seemed fortunate that one of Greg's NCOs happened to be married to an ordained minister who, initially, agreed to perform the ceremony; we were told that he was curious about the origins of what we wanted to do, and wanted to speak with us beforehand to ask some questions, but he was willing to officiate.

We sent him the ceremony script and stopped worrying about it- until Greg arrived two days before the wedding and we still hadn't heard a single word from the guy. We were unable to contact him, even through his wife, until the morning of our wedding, when he finally called with the news that he couldn't possibly make it to our location by the time of the wedding that afternoon and that he would try to get someone else to come out. He called back a short time later to inform us that he couldn't even do that. Shortly thereafter we got a text messages from his wife- who, remember, was sitting in Afghanistan this whole time- explaining that he had decided he did have religious issues with certain aspects of our ceremony and that he had also decided his beliefs would prevent him from performing said ceremony.

His beliefs evidently did not prevent him from breaking a promise and being too much of a coward to say so until the day of the wedding, thereby screwing us over and putting his poor wife in a very awkward position.

By the time we finally got the word, we were already at the pavilion, fretting over chair arrangements and running out of time, so we found ourselves decorating for a party that was about to be just a party with no wedding attached.

I think we both wanted to perform some combination of throwing things and sitting down and crying, but we managed to stay calm mostly for each other's benefit. We both knew neither of us was happy with the situation, to say the least, but there was very little point in throwing an unproductive temper tantrum about it and making each other feel worse; on the other hand, there was quite a bit of point in supporting each other and trying to find a solution.

At that point, the most plausible backup plan looked like us going through with the celebration that day, since it was a bit too late to call all the guests- even with our relatively small list- and abort the mission entirely, and then go get the paperwork done at the courthouse the next day, probably with my dear patient parents in tow. While Greg and my parents were still stubbornly setting up chairs and decorations (one of the modifications we made to the ceremony was the chair arrangement- a traditional handfasting calls for a circle, but staging seemed easier with rows, so we compromised on an arc, which Dad did an awesome job of setting up), I made a couple of desperate phone calls- one to one of my dive team leaders and one to my boss here at the funeral home, hoping one of them might know someone who could come officiate a wedding on two hours' notice.

My boss called back a few minutes later with a question- did we have our marriage license there with us, and had our erstwhile officiant's name been filled in yet?- and some good news- he had called the Justice of the Peace, who might be able to come out. The J.P. himself called a short time later with a few more questions- our license number, the time of the ceremony, both our names (his response to my last name being Smith was "Uh-huh, right, sure it is...") and confirmation that he would be there to officiate!

We were getting married after all!

I should have known how things were going to go when the photographer I'd arranged in advance completely failed to answer her phone or return my calls for several days prior to the wedding (thankfully I didn't pay in advance, and even more thankfully Kelly was awesome enough to step in and take lots of wonderful pictures for us).

Meanwhile, we had the chairs outside set up in curved rows centered on a very pretty small tree placed conveniently in relation to the largest piece of flattish ground we could find near the pavilion; the ends of the rows were hung with the gorgerous decorations Mom and Grandma had spent the previous night assembling. The tables inside were decorated for the reception (my tablecloth scheme didn't turn out as well as I'd envisioned it, but our centerpieces- silver tea candles in shallow glass bowls with blue-and-silver glass marbles in the bottom) were perfect), and the cake had arrived at some point in this process and was as awesome as we had hoped, complete with our Lego pirate figures on top, swords and all, and a pair of iridescent dragonflies ascending in a curve up the side, leaving blue and black scrollwork intertwined in their wake.

The only real problem was that there was an hour left until the ceremony and we were all still running around in jeans and t-shirts (Mom, of course, was taking the opportunity to wear one of her trademark Halloween t-shirts), and my wedding dress, Mom's dress, and Daddy's suit were all about twenty minutes away at my grandparents' house- Greg at least had his tuxedo on-scene. Mom and I made a very tense and hurried run to Grandma's place to snatch up our clothes and rush back to the pavilion; it was very tense and rushed, and we were both on edge.

All the rushing still bothers me a little bit. I had envisioned plenty of time to get ready, Mom helping with my hair and painting my nails and helping me get dressed. Instead we were zipping around in a hurry, both tense and worried without time to even enjoy the moment.

The judge had arrived by the time we got back, as had all the guests; everyone, essentially, was waiting on me to get my act together and get out there. Mom handed Dad his suit, and she and I scurried off to the ladies' room to change; she ducked into a stall to change into her dress, and thankfully my ever-supportive-and-awesome bestest friend Kim stepped in to help lace up the back of my dress, and she and Laura and Stacy and Kelly spent the next ten to fifteen minutes doing a flurry of frantic errand-running as I tried to run Wedding Incident Command from the bathroom in various progressively more decent stages of undress. I tend to micromanage things, which often leads to me being stressed and exhausted much more of the time than I should, so especially given the last-minute hurry, it was driving me absolutely crazy to be stuck in the bathroom, having to stand still while Kim laced my dress and Grandma tied the sash in the back into a proper bow and Mom persuaded my hair to cooperate. Thanks to my wonderful friends, the centerpiece candles got lit, Greg and Daddy and Pop-Pop got their boutiniers, the guests got seated, and the nine million other little things I'd forgotten until then got taken care of.

Mom and I finished dressing at about the same time, and there was just enough time for me to note that her dress looked every bit as awesome on her as I'd figured it would, followed by some anxious peeping around the edge of the door. Finally someone came in to assure me that Greg and the guests were safely outside, waiting for me under the tree, so we emerged at last, in time to meet Dad in the hallway. Mom pinned his boutiniere onto his suit and then we walked out- and finally, for the first time since leaving the apartment with Greg that morning, I had time to enjoy a dizzying moment of realization- I was, really and truly, about to marry Greg.

There was no nervousness with that realization, only excitement, deep satisfaction, joy, and something like mild surprise at the reality of it.

We expect these great moments in our lives to play out like airbrushed and choreographed cinema, but instead there's only reality, mundane and hurried and full of silly little details- banging myself in the head with a metal chair while trying to carry the damn thing outside; rushing through the dressing process and missing, in that hurry, what I hoped would be memorable and happy time with Mom; the awkward moment at the start of our walk down the hill to the ceremony, fumbling with my slightly-too-long skirt and my bouquet, followed by the walk itself, bantering with Dad about his opinion of Greg's fedora; and finally the ceremony itself, the judge kindly helping me with my train as I turned to face Greg, my realization that I had no one to hand off the bouquet to... real life, messy and mundane and not at all cinematic- but perfect just the same.

The ceremony itself was a standard civil ceremony, but the judge's easy humor, our own general opposition to stuffiness, and the cooperatively lighthearted mood of our small group of guests (like the moment when Pop-Pop called out to the judge to be careful with my train because he wanted it for a parachute after), made it a celebration full of laughter and light and turned the legal script into something more personal. It wasn't what we had planned, but it still turned out beautifully, and we were both happy with the tone and the mood of the moment.

Back inside, the reception went pretty much as we had planned it; the centerpieces- as noted- were as pretty as I had hoped, the cake was as delicious as it was attractive, and Daddy (despite my giving him about five minutes' notice) gave a very sweet toast, which Greg and I drank to with Bushmills Irish whiskey. Greg followed up with a toast to those not in attendance, either due to distance or death, with a nod to the memorial table we'd set up at the edge of the room, set with an empty chair and place setting and a candle for each of the family members Greg and I wanted to recognize specifically.

Neither of us is much of a dancer, but a couple of dances at least seemed obligatory. We had planned to have speakers set up to play music for background throughout the reception, which in turn we had planned to just plug into Greg's little Netbook because we'd forgotten to actually burn a CD, but once we arrived we realized that the speakers wouldn't plug into the Netbook after all, so Greg and I danced to a very quiet version of Jimmy Buffett's "Far Side of the World" while absolutely none of our guests heeded Greg's plea to come join in and not leave us alone out there.

In keeping with our steadfast refusal to be all stuffy and serious about everything, Daddy and I had selected "Still Cleaning this Gun" by Rodney Atkins for our father-daughter dance, which got laughs from the guests, especially the couple of country music fans who recognized the song (doubly so from the one or two who knew Dad).

All was well until about halfway through the song when Dad decided spinning was a good idea- and as soon as we turned, I felt a sharp pain in my side. I dismissed it initially, but a few seconds later I felt it again, harder this time, and I'd stopped dancing and blurted out "Ow!" before I realized I had said anything out loud. In response to Dad's inevitable question, I responded that I thought something had just stung me- it still hurt and was getting worse as I stood there. I wanted to finish the dance and then go deal with it, but my former-EMT-father overruled that motion, so off to the bathroom I went, trailed by Mom (undaunted by her own allergy to bees, but then I'm pretty sure that there's nothing in this universe or any other that actually can daunt Mom even a little), a nurse (our family friend Diana, who is one of the coolest people ever), and two vet students (overkill, anyone?).

I was already feeling terrible about interrupting the dance, and starting to second-guess my assessment, so I was actually quite relieved when I slipped out of the dress and discovered two red puncture marks surrounded by a swollen reddish area, which our nurse friend promptly identified as insect stings. I could deal with actually being stung as long as I knew I hadn't screwed things up over nothing (no one else present seemed to understand this attitude). I reassembled my dress and walked back outside, where I was informed that Dad and Greg had found a yellow-jacket twitching around on the floor and Greg, my fearless defender, had cut it in half and saved it on a napkin for my vindictive review.

Dad and I re-started our dance, and we finished the second attempt without further incident except a lot of laughing and me missing basically every other step because I can't, after all, dance very well.

Cleanup went well enough- my side hurt and I was still wearing a long and somewhat fragile gown, so I was essentially useless, but it finally all got done, and we bid my parents and grandparents see-you-later and set off to do whatever it is married people do when they run out of wedding schedules.

That turned out to be dinner, since we'd skipped breakfast and then hadn't had time for lunch- Greg rather enjoys dressing up, and he wanted to go do something fun in the tuxedo and the fancy dress. I really just wanted out of the dress, because one of the yellow-jacket stings was located right under a piece of boning in the bodice and the other was right under a seam, and it hurt like hell and I couldn't stop fidgeting- but I'm no good at telling him no, and the idea seemed like too much fun to pass up because of some mild discomfort, so off we went. The waiter and the people at the next table both asked if we were in costume or had really just gotten married (it was Halloween, after all, so we said BOTH!).

Our waiter cheerfully decided that our attire called him to a higher, or at least funnier, standard, so he affected a British accent off and on about the half the time, and left us a really nice note with our check, and all in all we had a lot of fun.

We set off to Austin for our honeymoon the next morning, and the trip was awesome and fun and exciting, but that's another story.

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