I made my husband Ernie wait three days for an answer to his marriage proposal. I had traveled to be with him for Easter, and he proposed after the midnight vigil Mass, April 1995. I left him hanging. We talked about it until the sun dawned. Easter dinner at his house was uncomfortable. All the siblings were eager with anticipation. We both were sleepless. His brother, thinking we were engaged, kept prompting him to make an announcement. Ernie kicked him under the table and assured him there was no announcement. Two days later I finally said "yes." I just needed to get used to the idea, I told him. "We Short women are not good with decisions." But from that "yes" on, I had not a doubt. I was filled with peace, a peace that only grace can bring. That day we went shopping for rings. We found one at a Pacific Beach pawnshop -- a 1940s English ring, white gold, with three diamonds. The saleslady found out we had gotten engaged that day and cut us a deal. We were happy to find out, ten years later, that it was indeed a quality diamond ring and we had paid a bargain price. A few days later, I flew home to Connecticut to prepare for the September wedding.
The day of the rehearsal, I was a nervous wreck, actually shaking as I stood in the church. This doesn't bode well, I thought. The dinner was at a restaurant called Ernie's Roadhouse, and it went by in a dazed blur. A few moments stood out: Ernie's 70-year-old bipolar aunt telling my unknowing brother that she was the Rose Parade queen one year, and an Irish song my sisters dedicated to us with the soulful refrain, "It will not be long now, until our wedding day." They were a bit mortified to sing in front of Ernie's family, many of whom are professional singers. I was so touched and proud of them. Ernie's mom was moved to tears.
September 2, 1995, dawned sunny, with the glowing colors of a New England fall. I calmly got dressed alone, until my sister Meg arrived. "Oh, you're all alone, that's not right," she said, bustling about my childhood bedroom. My hair was twisted up on the sides into a high, curly ponytail, as I had often worn it during college. My mother's wedding veil, three layers of scalloped tulle, hung down from a tiara I had made of pearls and rhinestones. We took pictures in my front yard by the dogwood and Japanese maple trees. My sisters Cathy, Meg, and Nancy were bridesmaids, as well as college friends Adele, Clare, and Molly. They wore purple silk suits and carried yellow lilies with baby's breath. My gown was a beaded silk top with sweetheart neckline and a chapel-length organza skirt with clusters of beading on the skirt. Yellow lilies, baby's breath, and purple irises lay across my arm. "You look like a princess," my oldest sister Cathy assured me. A joyful, relaxed aura was felt throughout the group. My mother's brothers poked fun at my father in his morning suit. "You're all dressed up for your funeral," they laughed.
My uncle arrived to whisk me off to church in his silver Jaguar. The Irish song "Maire's Wedding" blared from his stereo onto my town's small main street. We drew glances from window shoppers.
Saint Mary's was half full when I arrived ten minutes early for the 11:00 a.m. wedding. Glorious music wafted down from the choir loft. Ernie stood peeking out of the vestibule, sharing jokes with his groomsmen. "She's probably halfway to Maine by now," his friends teased him. His groomsmen were his brothers James, Leon, and Peter and friends Alan, Josh, and Steve. They all wore dark morning suits with cravats.
I had prayed for months ahead of this day that I would be calm and happy and would remember all the little moments of the day. As I walked down the aisle to Charpentier's "Te Deum," I knew God had heard my prayers. Always good for a silly joke, Dad pulled at my arm, whispering, "Let's do a little two-step -- down the aisle," as he danced a couple of steps. Arriving at the altar, Dad gave my hand to Ernie and told him to be good to me. My brother Peter met us at the kneeler and with a smirk asked, "How are we?" Our beaming smiles answered him.
The Mass was perfect -- reverent, traditional, yet personal with fantastic music. We sat a foot from the altar and about five feet from the tabernacle. The gold from the tabernacle glistened. I remember thinking how intimate and powerful it was to sit so close to the sacrifice of the Mass. My two brothers and our pastor concelebrated the wedding. Most of Ernie's siblings were in the choir loft singing. His brother Danny sang the responsorial Psalm 127. "Your wife shall be a fruitful vine, enriching your abode." How little did I realize the significance of that blessing at the time. Ernie and I now have a large clan of little people. The choir sang Hassler's Missa Secunda, Mozart's "Laudate Dominum," Palestrina's "Sicut Cervus," Bach's "May God Smile on You," and Ernie's favorite, "O Jesu Christe" by de Mantua. At times during the wedding, Ernie sang along beside me in his rich tenor voice. My brother spoke in his homily about the wedding rings being sacramentals, that they should remind us of our vows to each other and to God. The Mass flew by. As we recessed down the aisle to Handel's "Hornpipe," I looked up at the choir loft filled to capacity with Ernie's family, beaming down at us. The church bells tolled as the choir sang Viadana's "Exultate Justi."
The reception was in the remodeled church hall across the street. Ernie's mom commented that she thought she was in an upscale hotel ballroom. White floor-length tablecloths were draped over each table, and cracked-glass bowls sat high in the middle of each table, filled with tea lights and surrounded with ivy. Trees with white lights lined the dance floor. A table by the entrance held old wedding photos of our parents. And in the corner sat a grand piano. The sound system we had rented for the music had arrived broken, so during hors d'oeuvres hour, my friend Sam played Mozart sonatas until the new machine arrived.
We feasted on roasted chicken and fettuccine. There were many toasts. In order to get a smooch from the newlyweds, people had to sing a song with the word "love" in it. The cleverest table sang, "It's a Jolly Holiday with Mary," from Mary Poppins. "No wonder that it's Mary that we love." My brother-in-law Bill recited the St. Crispin's Day speech from Henry V. He had changed the ending to personalize it:
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers
For he to-day that marrys a Short girl Shall be my brother
Be he ne'er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition...
The time came for the first dance, and I realized this was the one pertinent detail I had not thought about. One of our groomsmen, Josh, said not to worry and started the music. Neither of us knew what it was. He had chosen the song "At Last," soulfully sung by Etta James. He knew it perfectly described the culmination of our rollercoaster courtship. Next, all the married couples joined us on the floor for Anne Murray's "Could I Have This Dance (for the rest of my life)." My sister Meg smiled at me and said, "I love this song." We danced away the afternoon, and as we left for our honeymoon in Bermuda, our guests serenaded us with "Let Me Call You Sweetheart."