July 30, 2023 Betsy Voreacos

A Wedding Story

“You know you can say no,” a random woman I befriended at the beauty parlor snorted after I overshared that I was going to my 87rd wedding that weekend.

I may actually be under-estimating the number of weddings I’ve attended in my life. All I know for sure is that when we moved across town 17 years ago, I dumpstered all 63 (I counted) wedding invitations that I’d been saving since 1980. In hindsight, I would have been better served purging my Aunt Mary’s china (boxed since her death in 1988); half, or even a quarter of the 10,000 books that overflow EVERY room in our house; or at the very least, the 30 lidless-Tupperware containers that tumble to the floor on a daily basis. I’ve often wished I had kept the invitations, if for no other reason than to solve the myriad memory-slipping debates:

Was Susan’s wedding at the same Long Island venue as Allan’s? Was Jack’s reception really at The Fort? How many years have Peggy and Pat been married? What was Peter’s ex-wife’s maiden name?

As it stands, I have to trust the memories, some hazier than others, as I recollect the many, many nuptials I’ve witnessed. There was the wedding at the St. Regis Hotel on a snowy December night, the picture-perfect August afternoon at Trentadue Winery in Sonoma and the Phoenixville church where the white tuxedos got stained by bird seed (an early attempt to be eco-conscious). There was the fully-masked ceremony on the Puget Sound, the lavender farm in Wiscasset, Maine, the McGuire Air Force Base-d event in New Jersey, the beach bash in Fort Lauderdale and the love shack on the Ocean City boardwalk. There was the VFW hall in Chippewa Falls, the Holiday Inn on the highway, the Pearl S. Buck house in Perkasie, the manor overlooking the Hudson River and the New Orleans courtyard wedding complete with a brass band.

I was at a wedding that was evacuated when the fire alarm blasted in the midst of the I-do’s, one at which the groom’s drunken mother slid her way across the dance floor, one where the bride’s father took the stage to play drums with the band and many, many featuring a maid of honor who interjected inappropriate college memories. I’ve witnessed couples as they connected through the love of Jesus Christ, by the power of God, beneath a Chuppah, in the eyes of an unnamed higher power and by online-certified BFF officiants. I’ve heard both original vows that evoked audible sniffles and biblical pronouncements wherein the wife promised to obey her husband, only to defy him (good for her) before the first dance. I’ve seen ugly crying from mamas who can’t let go of their sons, fist-bumping fathers who are happy to get their daughters off their phone plans and siblings whose distaste for their new family member is palpable.

I’ve been to weddings held in backyards, barns and beaches as well as formal fetes thrown in country clubs, repurposed mansions and skyline ballrooms. I have drunk from both kegs and champagne flutes, been served wood-fired pizzas and food-truck fare as well as oysters on the half-shell and chateaubriand. Not to mention the many, many, many plates of rubberized chicken francese, twice-baked potatoes and green beans sprinkled with slivered almonds.

And while so many weddings seem to fade into one another, there’s always a reason why I keep saying yes.

Last weekend’s reason was Anthony.

I’ve known Anthony almost as long as I’ve known my own kids. And because he’s not my kid, I’ve been able to enjoy his antics and adventures with minimal distress. Anthony is that kid who drove the family car, booked a solo trip to Italy and took a plunge into the Hackensack River all by the age of 12. Born into a family of older brothers and multiple mischievous cousins, he navigated his childhood operating way beyond his years.

Because he’s not my kid, I’ve been able to simply shake my head over his impulsive decisions, roll my eyes at every transfer of school or job or state, and pretend to love even the most dubious pieces of body art that he started penning long before his peers.

My ever-loving spouse (aka Coach Dave) and I spent a lot of time with Anthony in his formative years. As team mom for the Titans baseball team, this kid was with whom I consulted about hotels and flights and sprinter vans.

Meanwhile, he was the one riding shotgun in Coach Dave’s 20-year-old, un-air-conditioned, Toyota with the hand-cranked windows, never missing a tournament that offered the opportunity to show off his cannon of an arm. Anthony would orchestrate the four-or-more-to-a-room sleeping arrangements, putting himself in the best possible position to sneak out and roam the hotel corridors once Coach Dave settled into his snoring.

Anthony is fun and fearless, and (thus far) has managed to land just this side of the law. Which clearly has less to do with his behavior and more than a little to do with the many cops and multiple angels that constitute his extended family and friends.

Among those angels is his father, Phil, who died after a long and gnarly illness when Anthony was 12 years old. Phil was a beloved father, husband, coach and friend and the world took a big hit when he passed. He has remained very much alive in the hearts of all who knew him and more than one of us have wondered if Anthony would be the Anthony we know and love if he hadn’t lost his father when he did. And most of us agree that some of Anthony’s life choices are better off viewed from heaven. Anthony grew up to be his father’s mini-me, more so than any of his siblings. So it was only fitting that, though his two older brothers who both had their weddings in different Julys, Anthony was the one who managed to get married on his father’s actual birthday.

Anthony is now a married man so I wouldn’t want to dwell on any past and fleeting romances. But suffice it to say, when I met Jacqueline a couple years back at a Yankees-Mets game (“we” won, Anthony lost), I knew that she would be his bride.

“Be nice to her,” I said to Anthony. “Do NOT screw this up.”

And to Jacqueline, “God bless you.”

It’s impossible to describe Anthony in mere words. He’s more like an experience. And no matter how long you’ve known him or what adventures you’ve shared, the take-away is always the same. There’s absolutely no point in trying to figure out what makes him tick.

Last Saturday, over 200 people gathered for Anthony and Jacqueline’s wedding. From the tearful father-daughter dance exuding mutual adoration to the sob fest that ensued when Anthony took the floor with his mother, (“No!” the mother insisted earlier that week, “I’m NOT going to cry.”). From the piped-in cloud-like smoke to the photo booth to the sparkling fireworks and thrones upon which the bride and groom perched. From the abundance of gourmet food and free-flowing bourbon to the spot-on toasts and heart-felt love. From the cascading stairways and crystal chandeliers to the marbled hall and spectacular floral arrangements . From the dozens (literally) of bridesmaids, groomsmen, Bible readers, grace givers, flower girls and ring bearers to the authentic Italian music and hand-held flags – this celebration was Anthony and Jacqueline personified.

“Such a waste of money,” a jaded divorcee grumbled when I recanted the magical evening.

While I’ve never wallowed in excess cash, and cringe at the mere mention of wedding costs in relation to my own offspring – should they choose that path – trust me on this one. However many dimes were put into this event, not a single one was wasted.

A wedding is fun and festive and full of friends and family who (hopefully) support the couple. It’s a living testament to who you are and from where you came. It’s the coming together of two separate families complete with all their quirky ways and the commingling of two sets of life-long friends and influencers. If you pay attention, you can learn an awful lot at a wedding.

What I’ve learned from decades of wedding-going is that some couples were destined to be together and others should never have swiped right. Some marry despite a slew of objections and others marry because of them. Some marry for beauty, others for money. Some marry for security, others for escape.

But whatever the reason, weddings are fueled not just by love and joy, but by an overwhelming sense of hope. Hope that the relatives will behave. Hope that friends will have fun. Hope that there’s no wardrobe malfunctions, that the dance floor rocks, the sparklers spark and the shrimp stays fresh. But most of all, the celebration is filled with hope that the love couple gets their storybook ending.

There’s nothing particularly remarkable about Anthony and Jacqueline’s story – after all, swooping in on another guy’s gal is perfectly acceptable – at least once the dust settles and broken hearts heal. But there definitely was something extraordinary about their wedding day. Beyond the pomp and circumstance, there was an overpowering emotion that coursed through the hearts of every one of those 212 guests. Whether it presented itself in a sigh of relief, a high-five, a smile, a check, a toast, a tear, a hug, a blog, or a thousand heart emojis, the sentiment was the same.

Anthony and Jacqueline’s story is far from over. Still to come are plenty of suspenseful scenes, massive amounts of dramatic content and tons of character development. As friends, family and angels watch the plot twists unfurl, we’ll all share wistful smiles. Because we know that each and every one of us is responsible for a paragraph, a page or a chapter in their much deserved happily ever after.