Up until about a week before my wedding, I was calm. And probably would have stayed that way if not for a couple people from the church.
The experience with my church has been hilarious. In retrospect. The cast of characters includes Una, the elderly church secretary who doesn’t really quite know what’s going on and never returns your calls even when she promises to; the Monsignor, who doesn’t like talking to people and with whom you can only chat if you catch him on the short walk between church and his residence, and even then most of what you say is delivered to his back; the wedding coordinator, who was brought on as a pinch-hitter and who made such a meal out of things that it’s a wonder she didn’t get indigestion at the rehearsal, and who was also notoriously inaccurate about what she was telling us anyway; and the florist, who is really just a tangential player in this little soap opera, but he gets credit anyway.
1) The Monsignor.
Father Murphy gives interesting sermons — it’s not often you get one on the life of poet W.H. Auden, for instance — but he is a man of few words. As my mother put it, who is of Irish descent herself, "He’s got to be the only Irish priest in the world who doesn’t like the sound of his own voice." His face is often arranged in an expression of quiet bemusement and/or inscrutability. He inspires in me that most deadly of social flubs: verbal diarrhea. I so desperately want to engage him and make things easy that I just start talking to fill the silence, and then I can’t stop. To wit: As we followed him into his office one day to get some paperwork, I was so overcome by the awkward silence as we gave chase that I blurted out, "GOD, what a beautiful day," then gagged in mortification at having taken the Lord’s name in vain in front of the priest who was three weeks away from marrying us. Or there was the conversation Kevin and I had with him back in October, when we were trying to get permission to be married in his church; he asked us questions about whether we could support each other and we joked and joshed in fine fashion until we realized that he was being deadly serious and had taken me rather concernedly at my word when I said, "Are you kidding? He’s WAY spendier than I am!"
He also prescribes Monday night meditation for anything: baptisms, weddings, godparenting, you name it. We went whenever we could — which wasn’t often, given that it starts while we’re usually still at work — and noticed that every week, there is always somebody who is thoroughly confused about why he or she is there. "Is this… class?" the person invariably whispers to another attendee, or to Father Murphy himself, who usually just grunts, "Yes." But we did manage to go, collectively, about seven times, either together or apart — this in addition to attending mass here and there and greeting him afterward. To his credit he remembered our names. So we were amused one night when Kevin went a few weeks prior to the wedding and Father Murphy asked him, "Now, where are you getting married?" The following week, he called me Ashley.
He asked Kevin and I to write personal statements about each other that he could incorporate into his sermon. I realized what Kevin’s had led with when, a few days before the wedding, Father Murphy called me and said immediately, "So, you’re a Notre Dame fan?"
What followed was the longest conversation either of us has ever had with him, and it included more sentences strung together than the sum of ANY of our other interactions. He talked about the Blue-Gold scrimmage (slated for our wedding day), he talked about recruits, Joe Montana, Charlie Weis… he went on and on. Somewhere in the middle he stopped and asked me if there was anything I liked about Kevin other than his sense of humor, "because there ARE other qualities," and I rambled an answer that satisfied his curiosity enough that his reply was, "So, Jerome Bettis is going to be there for the scrimmage this weekend."
At the rehearsal, he asked me which vows we wanted, and whether I’d heard that ND was about to get the youngest of the Clausen brothers to sign on at QB. That was all.
A curious man.
2) The wedding coordinator.
Due in part to Monsignor Murphy’s decided lack of interest in communication, nobody at my church actually knew much about what happens in a wedding ceremony that doesn’t include the actual Mass portion. To glean any inkling at all, I had to go to a Christian bookstore and buy a pamphlet called "Together For Life" that had a very helpful selection of readings (confirming the unfortunate fact that "my lover is like a gazelle" is indeed the only Old Testament reading one can stomach, because as ridiculous as it is, it’s the only one that doesn’t promote the subordination of women) and which told me everything — and then some — that I needed to customize. Of course, it ended with, "Your priest will ask for you this information," which never happened and was never going to happen, so I really just had no clue. Adding fuel was the fact that the church’s regular wedding coordinator was going to be on vacation.
Somehow, and I’m unclear how, they dug up a woman named Karen who allegedly had done something like this before and would be helping me organize things for my wedding. Karen had a sing-songy voice and her answering machine said only, "It’s another wonderful day! Leave a message!" She had suggestions for how to incorporate a unity candle into the ceremony and claimed she’d be getting a detailed rundown from Monsignor so that we’d all be on the same page. She would also run my rehearsal and be there for the ceremony. Helpful, right?
I can’t fault her for failing to get Monsignor for a heart-to-heart, but I will say this: The woman was totally ridiculous. I wrote her an entire document laying out who the wedding parties were, their relations to me and Kevin, and how we wanted them to process in and out of the church, and why. This confused her so thoroughly that I explained it to her four more times, on four separate occasions — one of which was in the pews right before the rehearsal was to begin. Her standard response: either "Oh! Riiiight…" or "Okaaaaaay…" in that light lilt with the slight uptick at the end, which indicates that she really just has no idea what you mean, or worse, thinks you have lost your mind. She pronounces the hell out of that ellipsis.
She was just FULL of illogical things. For one, she had the procession with only three pews between each person; that made for a lightning-fast procession indeed (we changed it on her at the last second on the wedding day, with Lauren getting to inform her gleefully that we’d made the executive decision to space it out more).
Another one: I had six bridesmaids, including the maid of honor. I lined them up going tallest to shortest from the outside in, with Lauren being intended for the leftmost side and Alison for the rightmost side — although she wasn’t shortest, she is my sister, so I wanted her standing next to my maid of honor Julie, who would in turn be closest to me. Ergo, I designed the processional order with Lauren entering first, figuring that — logically — she would reach the altar, bow, and then file down to the leftmost place, with the other bridesmaids lining up next to her, left to right, ending with Alison and then Julie, who would have to travel the least distance and would be standing closest to the center. Did I explain that clearly? Probably not, because it’s confusing, but bear with me.
Karen instead planted Lauren at the rightmost spot, and had the other bridesmaids filing in and squeezing past her to fill up the space from right to left. Which makes NO LOGICAL SENSE. So of course this ended with Alison standing furthest away from me and Julie, which is not what I intended. So when it was Julie’s turn to walk up, I asked her if she’d correct Alison’s position. Bless her, when Julie got up front and told Karen that we wanted Alison to be close to center, the poor creature blew a gasket. She could not understand. "It just won’t look right," she panicked in that breathy way of hers. Julie explained that it’s because Alison is family, and tried to explain that it’s also because I had designed the processional order to happen differently, but that didn’t wash; it took 10 minutes before Julie flatly said, "Heather would really like it to work this way, so let’s try and make it work and it will make her happy." That shut up Karen. Temporarily.
Once the wedding parties were up there on the altar, they were positioned in two diagonal lines so that they framed me and Kevin and the priest, rather than extending out next to us. That’s due to the layout of the church. Karen gave them strict instructions to face the front of the church — face forward, basically — which meant that a) the bridesmaids’ backs would be to the lectern, and b) they would be facing the wall during the vows. When we asked if everybody could please be allowed to turn and face us and the priest during the vows, Karen had to take a moment to think about it. One of my maids finally said, "Yeah, I definitely want to watch the vows — that makes no sense." Karen finally told them it would be okay if they "pivoted" in order to watch the vows, but only if they all did it at the same time. She then suggested I put my unity candle on the floor — the unity candle holder, mind you, is three inches tall — and when I asked her how we would handle lighting something that would be so close to the ground, she said, "Hmm. That’s tricky." Yes, Karen, it is. She also changed her mind several times about when we were supposed to kneel or stand, constantly referred to my organist as a "he" despite the fact that I told her the organist would be female, and generally forgot everything I told her moments after hearing it.
The capper: On my wedding day, at noon, she called me while I was in the makeup chair and said, "I need to know whether you want your wedding party to pivot so they can face the lecturn for the readings." Biting my lip, I replied politely, "You know what? I’ll just ask them to come to a consensus, and that way they can do whatever feels right to them." Her response: "Oh. Okaaaaay…"
At that point, we had to resist the strong temptation to turn my procession into "Things We Can Do To Make Karen Black Out." Maybe it sounds like we were being nitpicky, but she turned the rehearsal into the most confusing tangle of a mess and although I appreciated that she was donating her time, she was absolutely ridiculous about it — and more than a bit rude, as after the wedding, she scolded Julie for not fluffing my train enough. Huh? Pipe down, incompetent lady.
3) The Church Lady and the Florist (and The Return of Karen).
I decided to keep it simple for flower arrangements: Two on either side of the high part of the altar, three aisle nosegays on either side, and then our bouquets. I didn’t want to detract from the hotness of my ladies, you see.
The wedding was scheduled for the weekend after Easter Sunday. On Easter Monday, the church secretary phoned and rather shirtily informed me that my florist had contacted her about decorating the church that upcoming Saturday for the wedding.
"But the church is already decorated," she sniffed, aghast. "I don’t know if you’ve seen it, of course, but it’s decorated from Easter and we always leave that up for about 10 days."
My reactions: 1) Way to insinuate that you don’t think we went to mass, lady; 2) Thank GOD we went to mass that weekend; 3) I’ve been in the books for SIX MONTHS NOW as getting married the weekend after Easter and she is only NOW telling me that the church will already be full of other flowers?; and 4) Awesome, because the church looked fantastic all decked out with lilies, and we would be very lucky to have them present for our ceremony.
Still, I managed to remain calm — I mean, seriously, those flowers looked amazing and we had even remarked to each other that nothing we could do on our wedding day could possibly equal how majestic it looked on Easter Sunday. So I told the florist to send our big altar arrangements to the reception instead, and went on my merry way…
… until Una called me Wednesday morning and told me that I should really rethink my plan to use the church flowers — MY plan — because all the flowers would in fact NOT be up for 10 days, but would instead be totally dead and brown by Friday. She decided I should call the florist to find out his schedule and his plans.
But, okay, because it would be worth it to have those flowers everywhere if possible, right? Una suggested that perhaps only some of them would need to be pruned, but seemed unclear on whether the others would be replaced or simply removed.
But, and there is always, always a "but" with Una, she gave me the wrong number for the florist — unless he really is a dermatologist, and merely moonlights at flower shops. And Karen was no help either, as I had to explain the issue to her five times, although to give her credit she did put in a call to the church about it.
Time passed. Friday morning rolled around and nobody had given me an answer about the flowers, and at this point, I really had no clue whether I’d have a bunch of rotting Easter lilies on my hands or an empty church or what.
Here, I should make it clear that we are talking about a lot of flowers. That church had baskets of flowers on every pillar on each side of the church, two huge arrangements up on the altar, four big arrangements below the… altar table (man, I am an a-hole for not knowing what that’s called), eight huge arrangements along the base of the altar, and plants and flowers adorning the entire atrium.
Which is why I found it so delightful when Karen came up with the awesome idea that maybe my florist should take it upon himself ("Herself," I interjected, perhaps with more attitude than the occasion required) to make time to do all the pruning and removing and replacing.
Excellent idea, Karen. Sure! I’ll just call my florist the day before the wedding and say, "Hey, just load up the truck with a bunch of lilies and then on Saturday, cart away a bunch of arrangements you had no part in creating, and replace them with more lilies! Thanks!" Even more awesomely, Una and the church florist both separately suggested that idea as well: "Just have her bring a bunch more lilies to replace them — it’ll be easy, and she can just get rid of the dead arrangements," the florist said.
Well, I blew a gasket. "I have already paid for my flowers. I don’t think it’s my florist’s job to take care of dead flowers that she wasn’t responsible for in the first place, and I really don’t think it’s as easy as all that for her to summon up and bring over a bunch of replacement Easter lilies on half a day’s notice — at great personal cost either to her or to me — all because you guys don’t know what’s going on with your flowers despite having had a long time to figure it out."
Okay, that last part came out a little more politely, but still.
Luckily, he agreed that he would in fact proceed with doing the job he was being paid to do, and come to the church Saturday morning to cart out anything dead and brown. Since it was unclear whether that would include the two massive arrangements up high on the altar, my mother called my florist and asked if my original arrangements might be available after all, and Ann totally undertood and agreed to improvise once she arrived at the church and gauged the flower situation for herself. But, I kid you not, on Saturday morning my mom took time out of her day and walked down to the church at 10 a.m. to make sure that everything had been taken care of and the day wouldn’t turn into a funeral for nature.
It all worked out — he came, he removed the ones along the base of the alter just like we thought he might, he left the baskets and the wreaths on the chandeliers, and my florist booted their altar arrangements in favor of hers and added our aisle nosegays. It was beautiful, in the end.
[Click on the photo to see it properly.]
So why am I complaining? I’m not, really, so much as I’m trying to share the comedy of errors. Because I am lucky that this cast of weird characters — and all the truly unnecessary last-minute hand-wringing they caused me — are really the only things that went anywhere close to awry.
And, to show myself and anyone else out there who might be planning a wedding or any kind of event that the things that appear to go wrong are always, always, nothing more than good stories and inside jokes once it’s all said and done. They make the day truly yours. They add personality. They’re just a few of the millions of hues that color the day.