Our would-have-been-49th wedding anniversary is today. I do not feel touched by sorrow but rather I am amazed to revisit that long ago memory from 1970. Those two young people (I was not yet nineteen, and Richard had just turned twenty) standing there in their modest hippie-ish finery, seem now so innocent and brazenly confident of their life course. We had been living together for two years, but the time had arrived to take the next step.
The ceremony took place outside in the woods at the home of my mother’s long time companion, with our families and friends gathered loosely inside a circle of newly planted hemlock trees. Our minister was my grandmother’s neighbor who lived just down the road from where we were to be wed. Reverend Adolphus Bryant, then in his 80’s, stoically climbed up the dirt path approaching the mountain plateau to officiate.
Given that he was a staunch Methodist, he and Richard and I had worked hard to create a ceremony that also wouldn’t offend Richard’s Jewish family. I believe the biggest concession was saying “according to the life of Christ” as opposed to, “in the name of Christ.” Truthfully, I think that my in-laws were simply relieved that we were no longer living together unlawfully, and that no unwanted babies had been an unfortunate result as of yet.
It was a lovely August day in Woodstock, NY, and as field wildflowers offered little but Queen Ann’s Lace for picking, Richard and I reluctantly agreed that I would carry large daisies from the florist for the occasion. It took him longer than expected to fetch them on the morning of our marriage, and he was a tad later getting them to me and into his place further up the hill above the circle than anticipated. There were two glitches. First of all, the daisies were dyed lavender to match my handmade purple dotted Swiss white dress (how unnatural, those dyed flowers, and not what we asked for!), and secondly, Richard’s visual cue to descend to me was for everyone to be assembled inside the circle. Human beings acting as they do, a few people were not obedient to that request and hung around the outside instead. Richard waited. We all waited.
My mother, who was anxious and impulsive at the best of times, shouted up to him, “Richard, you can come down now!.” He never 100% forgave her for that embarrassing moment, but it did get things rolling after that. We finally stood side by side as two childhood friends sang Dona Nobis Pacem with my mother in a lovely round. Then we both proceeded to stand together in front of Adolphus. There is a great photo of us and everyone else looking very somber while the minister spoke, and a second one (the photographer friend of my brother’s being one of the un-circled participants), shows the two of us grinning widely at each other while the rest of the group was still looking soberly down in prayer.
It was a potluck reception, there against the stone wall beneath the trees, presented on a covered piece of plywood placed on top of two sawhorses. I had made a wedding cake out of various cake pans from my other grandmother’s house who lived right across the small valley appropriately called, Shady. The cake was layered in a, um, charming, way, and decorated with blueberries and grapes. I remember little of the subsequent chatting and eating until it came time for my family and most of our friends to take out our many guitars and start singing songs, which of course you did in Woodstock, in the 1970’s.
Richard’s more traditional immediate family all attended this ceremony and his mom wore a Jackie Kennedy style navy blue sheath dress with smart white piping. I remember her sitting cross legged, on the arm of a chair, nodding and smiling at the young people, (well, my mother was included), all singing songs together. When we got around to singing some blues, up came the classic, “Cocaine, running all ‘round my brain.” I watched my dear mother-in-law’s smile fading to a slight frown as the lyrics of that chorus came by again.
Somehow we all survived the event with lots of good will. Best of all, none of our elders twisted their ankles on the way up or down the hill. After a night of more singing and storytelling with our friends outdoors under the stars, we fell asleep in our sleeping bags, one by one. Lacking refrigeration, the next morning found us scooping out by hand, our favorite thoroughly melted ice creams that good friends had brought with them for the celebration. It was a sweet and sticky, spontaneous, dairy filled pre-breakfast. Rinsing off our hands in the pipe-fed spring at the base of the hill, we were further fortified by toast and eggs when my mother appeared to summon us all indoors. And that was our post wedding brunch. Richard and Judi were officially wed.