Friday, October 26, 2012


(This post, which I wrote shortly after my own daughter's wedding, goes out to my good friend, Leslie Kelly. Leslie's daughter is getting married this weekend and, like it did with my daughter, a hurricane threatens to ruin months of planning. Fingers crossed that all works out as well for your daughter as it did for mine, Les.)
            My husband and I live just yards away from the ocean on Florida’s East Coast.  The old-timers call our section of the state Hurricane Alley because big tropical storms regularly blow our way.  When that happens we evacuate further inland to my sister’s house taking our most precious possessions along with us – the family photo albums, the dishes Nana’s mom brought from “the old country”, my grandmother’s heirloom quilts … and my husband’s fly rods.  Once, we didn’t move quickly enough and spent twelve terrifying hours stranded on the wrong side of the causeway when a hurricane hit.   After watching whole trees fly past our windows and listening to our walls groan in the wind, we vowed, “Never again!” and considered ourselves experts on these big storms.   Our advice?   “Get out of their way!”

          Looking back, it was good advice.  Too bad we didn't consider it when planning our daughter's wedding.  Despite reams of lists and months of preparation, none of us ever considered the impact of a major hurricane moving straight up the Atlantic coast and into Washington, DC.  I wish we had.

            When our daughter's Maryland wedding approached, hubby and I flew up a week before the wedding to help with those pesky last minute details – like paying the bills.  We left Florida on Friday, leaving clear skies and balmy weather behind us.  At my daughter’s, the telephone rang on Sunday. 

            “We’re heading to your house,” my sister announced.  “What do you want us to get?”

            I had no idea what she was talking about and told her so.

            “You haven’t heard about Floyd?” she asked, incredulous.  “Don’t you watch the weather up there?  Floyd’s a Category 4 storm and he’s headed straight for us.”

            I don’t know who decided on giving names to hurricanes; someone with a wicked sense of humor who wanted to imbue them with personalities, I guess, but a Category 4 storm was nothing to ignore.  Storms get their ratings according to their strength with Category 1’s something like a toddler having a temper tantrum in a toy store.  Andrew, who nearly destroyed South Florida, was the giant who squished the toy store flat at Category 5.

             I asked the really important question, “Are you still coming to the wedding?”

            My question was met by dead silence.  At last I heard a big sigh.  If the airports don’t close and if we still have a house after this storm, we’ll be there … but I wouldn’t count on it.”

            Uh oh.  My sister was the wedding coordinator and if she couldn’t make it, we had a big problem.  Without her, we had no one to oversee the caterer, no one to meet the florist at the church, no one to make sure everyone walked down the aisle on time, no one to hold the smelling salts.  The way things were going I was pretty sure we’d need those smelling salts.

            The telephone rang again.  Someone else wasn’t going to make it out of Florida for the wedding.  By Monday night, we had ten cancellations.  Tuesday, another ten.  That night, Floyd made a last minute turn, struck Florida a mild, glancing blow and decided instead to head up the East Coast.  The cancellations moved right along with him. 

            Now, if you’ve ever planned a wedding, you know that the caterer gets paid in advance.  Everything is based on head count and that number is decided upon weeks before the wedding.  Last minute cancellations are like flushing money down the toilet; you’ve paid for the meal, the drinks and the cake, but no one will be there to consume them.  By Wednesday, thirty-five of our one hundred and fifty guests had cancelled; the toilet was flushing like crazy, and Floyd was bearing down on Baltimore.

            We called the caterer.  He suggested we re-schedule.  “Out of the question!” snapped the bride.  We agreed to talk again the next day. 

            Thursday and Floyd arrived together.  The airports closed.  The schools closed.  The banks closed.  But we were in full wedding mode.  Armed with lists of errands, we turned a deaf ear to the storm warnings and ventured out into high winds and torrential rains.  By noon, the father of the bride had driven far enough. 

            “We’re going home,” he said.

            “One more stop,” the bride replied.  “We have to pick up my wedding gown.”

            A huge gust of wind buffeted the car, pushing us into the on-coming lane.  I screamed.  Luckily, ours was the only vehicle on the road.  Hubby muscled us back into the right-hand lane. 

            “Nope,” he said and started turning the wheel. 

            “What about my gown?” she asked. 

            “If you die trying to get it, you won’t need it,” he answered.

            I tightened my seat belt and longed for the peace and quiet of the hotel.  We had reservations starting that night.  Or at least we did … until the airport at BWI closed.  When we tried to check in, our suite was not available.  Someone else’s flight had been cancelled and they had not checked out on schedule. 

            “Throw the bums out,” my husband grumbled.

            “Sir, we can’t force them out into the middle of a hurricane,” replied the clerk without seeming to understand that she was doing the same thing to us.  

              By Friday morning the storm had passed, the airports re-opened, and people from all over the country were calling to un-cancel their cancellations.  Thinking the worst was over, the bride and I hopped into our rental car, drove over power lines and around downed tree limbs, picked up the wedding gown and managed to arrive at the rehearsal only 45 minutes late.

            “It’s all downhill from here,” I thought as the minister took his place at the front of the church. 

            But instead of putting us through our paces, the minister asked, "Has anyone checked on the ballroom?"  He was only asking because he had just stopped at the McDonalds next door.  The McDonalds didn’t have electricity and was closed.  A sign on the door said it might be several days before power was restored.

            I had attended a wedding once where the electricity had failed; I didn’t want to do it again. I reached for the paper bag I carried for just such emergencies and tried to remember my doctor’s advice:   “Put the bag over your mouth and breathe slowly.  Everything will be okay.  Just breathe.”

            Picking the right date for a wedding is second in difficulty only to finding the right gal or the right guy to marry.  Everyone has a time when they absolutely, positively cannot be there.  Our groom was an ardent basketball fan; he ruled out an entire season.  The bride didn’t want to “glow” in her wedding gown; she vetoed the summer.  One brother-in-law handed us a Florida State University football schedule and told us to count him out if FSU was playing the weekend of the wedding.  Even my hubby weighed in, suggesting we avoid times when the fish were running.  (His request was overruled; no one can be that flexible.)

            This was our first experience in planning a wedding.  Since we only have one daughter, it will be our last.  In setting the date, we tried to consider everyone’s needs. 
            If we had to do it over again, I wouldn’t listen to a word they said.  I’d just pay more attention to the weather.

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