My $25 wedding: You can’t put a price on love
By Rose DeShaw
Wednesday, July 31, 2013 2:32:25 EDT PM
There’s a hot topic right now in the Advice Biz: wedding etiquette and handling the costs thereof.
August is the most common month, with 49% of Canadian weddings. This year there will be 165,297 of them. According to a weddingbells.ca survey, the average cost of a wedding has risen to $23, 488 dollars.
My church wedding cost $25. Five bucks for a supermarket bouquet of iris and daisies and $20 to pay the man who officiated. He had brought my husband and I together, a mailman and part-time pastor who refereed the standoff between my father and I when we failed to come down the aisle despite increasingly desperate playings of Wagner’s “Here Comes The Bride” on an out-of-tune piano. (Wedding pianists cost $400.)
All weddings have a component that, looking back, will be judged hilarious or tragic. That last category increasingly ends up on television judge shows, with the bride and groom demanding their money back. Some couples have even started to calculate a refund into their costs, as nothing is ever perfect and topping the list of the least-perfect things on earth are weddings.
Marrying among friends who have your best interests at heart is really the only way to beat the odds. While we were poor students I would never have considered appealing to guests for funds. Weddings are The Little Industry That Grew Into The Monster That Ate Common Sense. Now you can take a 55-week wedding planning course at college and become certified as a professional bride or groom.
I was married in the mid-’60s in the small nondenominational church where I grew up. The congregation had built it from cement blocks in our semi-rural community outside the city limits.
In those days of lax building codes, this sturdy structure served the marrying , burying and spiritual needs of the neighbourhood. But due to an unbreakable clause in the deed, it could never opt for the support of any denomination or the land would revert back to the community.
So the leader of the Sunday School was Jewish, the pianist was Episcopalian, her husband was a free-thinker, one adult teacher was Four Square Gospel while another was Mormon. There were one or two broad-minded Catholics. The mailman who led the congregation was a Baptist, but not at all pushy about it. Since there were few other religious opportunities close by, everyone made the best of what was available. Which turned out to be the most open-minded, peaceable kind of place you could ever want to marry in.
That was important, since my mother was against my marrying at all. She’d grown used to the idea of having a spinster daughter around to support her. (I was 24, but over half my high school graduating class was married by 16).
My father wanted me out on my own, but he wasn’t speaking up.
I would make my own dress. (Average cost of wedding dresses: $1, 075.) What was so hard? Just find a $2 pattern and run the thing up on the sewing machine (which I hadn’t touched since seventh grade). I sent bridesmaids patterns to all seven of my attendants, specifying a light green taffeta. “Barf colour,” they immediately termed it among themselves.
“We’re getting married,” my husband and I told our parents just after Christmas.
Mother rushed to the papers and announced a June wedding, which gave her six months to talk me out of it.
We rushed to the mailman and asked for March.
On weekends I came home from college to work on the dress, which was a straight taffeta sheath with a long zipper down the back. Then I’d stuff it under a bunk bed in an unused bedroom and go back to school. Whereupon mother would insert her ample bulk under the bed, drag it out and change whatever I’d done.
The day before the wedding she pricked her finger with a needle. Blood spurted right down the front of the dress. Lots of blood. Thinking quickly, she wadded it up and stuffed it back under the bed.
“How could she?” I howled, in my version of Wedding Bell Blues, when I saw it.
“Now, now,” my soon-to-be husband said helpfully. Then he found a 24-hour cleaners and explained the problem.
“Come back in an hour,” the cleaner said, shaking his head. An hour later, my dress was cleaned, pressed and wrapped in plastic.
“It’s on me,” the cleaner told him. “You got enough troubles, buddy.”
I thought of having his words immortalized in bronze.
“Flowers.” Mother said.
“Nope,” I said, as conciliatory as an old tin can clanging along with a bunch of shoes behind a wedding car.
Down in the ladies room in the low-ceilinged church basement I put on the dress. As someone (mother or I) had put the zipper in upside down, it immediately came apart. One of my attendants, who knew me well, had sewing supplies and stitched it back together with bright yellow thread. Meanwhile, the church ladies finished making their gift of sandwiches and cake for afterwards. ($25,000 is standard for receptions.)
Then everybody went upstairs except for my father. Mother had given him reservations on my choice of spouse.,
“Have you thought this through?” He was holding my bouquet, absent-mindedly tossing it from hand to hand.
“Of course. Give me my bouquet.”
“It’s not too late to have second thoughts. You’re not married yet.” He moved the bouquet out of reach.
“Give it to me!”
Through the door leading upstairs came the words of the mailman’s son’s solo. (Wedding singers get $325.) I had no idea what he was going to sing and I couldn’t concentrate on it now, with ownership of my little bunch of supermarket flowers in question.
Upstairs the church was packed. Weddings, by common understanding, were attended by whoever was in the congregation or happened to be walking by and smelled coffee and sandwiches. One or two of my old boyfriends and several of his old girlfriends had come, watching amusedly as the mailman’s son went into reruns and still I didn’t appear.
Finally his voice gave out and he sat down grumpily, folding his arms and refusing to have anything more to do with the service.
Wagner’s wedding march was wearing out the piano. It had slowed way down and taken on the qualities of a dirge. The ancient Episcopalian at the keyboard gave the mailman a beady eye. Finally he set his Bible aside and went nervously downstairs.
“I don’t want to talk about it. I’m marrying him,” I was repeating like a recording that says your call is important to them but –
“How many more times can they stand hearing that poor woman play Wagner without lynching her?” the mailman said as he came in, grabbed the bouquet, handed it to me and begin shooing us upstairs like ducks at a sheep dog trial.
Sunlight filtered through the industrial-grade windows donated by the atheist contractor who had married the church treasurer. I looked at the altar where my husband-to-be stood patiently with his lone groomsman. On the other side, my seven attendants in their barf-coloured dresses looked like they’d expected nothing less. Fascinated speculation hung in the air as my father and I made our way stiffly down the aisle, lined with familiar faces. But I didn’t see mother.
She was in the basement with a dozen daffodils, some black electrician’s tape and a staple gun. (Wedding flowers, on average, cost $1, 924.) Beheading the daffs, she stapled tape to each one, then to the ceiling. (Daffodils are about $25 per dozen. Electrician’s tape is about $2.)
All through the reception that followed, you could hear little clunks as my wedding flowers rebounded off taller heads roving the room. They showed up nicely in the few Polaroid pictures I was given as souvenirs. (Photography goes at about $300 an hour.)
No, there wasn’t any liquor or dance floor, but the love I felt from that roomful of disparate believers made up for any lack. And my dear parents, God rest their well-meaning souls, would probably be relieved to know it’s been 47 vastly amusing years this coming March.
Rose DeShaw, a member of the Whig-Standard’s Community Editorial Board, is a retired bookseller with prison library experience, and is employed part-time by our community credit union.