If all weddings are a product of their era, my parents’ wedding was certainly a product of theirs. We tend to think that Alternative Weddings are new to our generation, but of course they really began with the counter-culture movement of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s – and my parents lived in Berkeley, the epicenter of it all. My parents’ wedding is for anyone that is worried that a practical wedding has to be small, or a alternative wedding has to have a certain style. Now I will let my Dad (who is a huge fan of all of you guys and reads all of your comments) take it away. Oh, and one last thing: my parents were so excited to write about their wedding that they told me they stayed up past their bedtime doing it, because they were just having so much fun:
Hannah and I got married at the high altar in Grace Cathedral in San Francisco with five Episcopal priests celebrating the Eucharist (i.e. Communion) early in the Winter on the Feast of the Holy Innocents. (Our entire family loves irony.)
Elaborate, yes. Expensive, not really. The five priests were close personal friends, most about our age. We asked them to wear their fanciest, most colorful vestments. A friend printed copies of the liturgy so everybody knew what to say. I asked my brother to be Head Usher; the other ushers and our attendants were close friends. We chose the hymns, and even included a Christmas carol. Other friends baked the bread for Communion. We chose the wine (a nice Zinfandel,* as I recall), and asked the priests to give big sips to the recipients. The wedding ceremony itself takes no more than 20 minutes, so we chose to have Communion. It is optional, but provides emphasis for the idea that a wedding incorporates a married couple into the Community. We are big on that kind of thing.The Christmas decorations were still up in the Cathedral; the only flowers we needed were corsages for our mothers and bouquets for Hannah and her attendants. We did not belong to the Cathedral congregation, so the use of the building cost a couple of hundred dollars, but a Verger (a custodian, wearing vestments) came with it. We decided to hire one of the Cathedral organists for another hundred or two. This did not seem like very much, and he could play anything we wanted, including, for the Recessional, some heavy-duty Bach that matched one of the hymn tunes. (We like Johann Sebastian.) We had the Receiving Line at the back of the church so that we could greet our friends, and so they could start partying as soon as they got to the Reception. The organist rang change for half an hour. The photographer had shot my sister’s wedding two years earlier (the reception had been in my parents back yard), and charged us the same price even though he was from out of town and had to travel. (His wife wanted an excuse for a trip to San Francisco.)
Hannah did all of the heavy lifting in putting the wedding together. In the late spring she had agreed to marry me, so she had about six months. I had just finished my degree, and my first full time job was on the East Coast. It started in late August, so I was not around to help her. Both of her parents worked full time, so, while they paid for the wedding and set some limits, the wedding belonged to Hannah. However, I was around when she got her wedding dress in the early summer. It was a winter dress with long sleeves, and was marked down 50% to $150 at one of the high-end department stores. This was good; her mother could not have afforded a $300 dress. The dress was actually a little short and could not be lengthened, so Hannah wore perfectly flat ballet-style satin bedroom slippers to disguise the shortness.
Hannah’s parents arranged for the reception; the ceremony was ours. The reception cost more than a thousand dollars, a lot of money in those days, but it covered the venue, the food, and the setup and service. We served hors d’oeuvres and wedding cake and champagne punch. Hannah’s mother gave us the choice of limiting the guest list or eliminating champagne service. We gave up the champagne. We bought the cake at a local coffee house, now defunct, where one of the bakers had trained at the fanciest bakery in San Francisco. It cost $100, a good price for a good cake. Different layers were different flavors, an innovation back then. They baked a sample cake for free; Hannah had them write “Happy Birthday, Mom,” and used it for her mother’s birthday.
The reception was held at the Marines Memorial Club. My father had been a career officer in the Marine Corps and a charter member of the Club; Meg is using his dress saber to cut her cake, just as Hannah used her grandfather’s sword to cut hers. Hannah’s parents also were members of the Club; her father had been an Army officer.My sister’s wedding cost a thousand dollars. Ours cost two thousand, and we did not feel that it was outrageous. Meg calculated that $2000 would be about $8,500 now, due to inflation. On the other hand, she priced out duplicating our wedding and came up with a cost of more than $40,000.**
This was an era when Alternative could mean many things. We took the standard service and pushed the envelope as far as we could; our parents were distinctly dubious about its showiness. And that did not even include the Episcopal Chaplain to U.C. Berkeley carrying the Bible into the midst of the congregation so the Gospel could be read by the Pastor of the Berkeley Free Church, one of the most radical priests of the sixties. Alternative is as alternative does. We got the wedding we wanted for $2000. We like to dress up, put on a big show, and have a party. And even the Wedding Elves: the Baker, the Verger, the Organist, the Marine’s Memorial staff , seemed to have a good time.
So cheers to my parents. 35 years later, they want you to know that they still remember every minute of their wedding, and if you want to, you will too.
* Editors note: the entire family loves a good Zin.
**That, in itself, should tell you everything you need to know about a wedding industry gone haywire.