The first wedding where I was in the wedding party was on July 31, 1976.
I was the groom. It was the day I married Mary. The smartest thing I ever did.
I didn’t know what to expect. I had only witnessed one wedding before this day.
All this had also happened pretty quickly. I had moved from my hometown of San Diego to attend Cal State Chico in fall 1975. Within a month, I had met Mary. It didn’t take me long to realize she was the kindest, wisest, most compassionate woman I had ever known.
I figured I better grab her before somebody else did. So, I proposed in January 1976 while we were still in college. We got married six months later.
Mary had been to perhaps a thousand weddings in her time. She also was much more savvy and sophisticated than I was. So, when it came to the wedding, I did the smart thing. I let her plan it.
We got married at St. John’s in Berkeley, the same church where Mary’s parents had tied the knot in 1945. Since Mary’s father had died of cancer in December 1972, the selection had special significance for my fiancée’s family.
The night before the wedding, I slept at the dorms at U. C. Berkeley. A high school friend was a resident assistant there, so a bunch of us hunkered down there. That was fine until the next morning when we realized no one had any shampoo. So, yes, I stood at the altar with unwashed hair. Mary still married me. It wouldn’t be the last time she looked past my imperfections.
The ceremony began with our college friend singing The Beatles’ “In My Life.” Her beautiful voice accompanied only by her guitar echoed through the church. The bridesmaids walked down the aisle. Mary’s oldest sister had told me I’d be nervous. I assured her I wouldn’t be. I nodded my head at her as she walked by, signaling I was calm. She shook her head in disagreement. We have the same repertoire going to this day.
Mary’s other bridesmaids waltzed past. The maid of honor looked like she was going to throw up. Talk about being nervous.
In the front row, Mary’s other sister wiped away tears. She had her 2-year-old daughter next to her and her pregnant belly in front of her. Her son was due any week.
Mary finally walked down the aisle to some traditional wedding march music. I don’t exactly remember what it was. Walking with her was Mary’s brother-in-law. To those who knew Mary’s father, this was quite a moment. Her brother-in-law had been part of the family since Mary was 9 years old.
My bride was simply stunning. A simple yet elegant white wedding dress, flowers in her hair, her sweet, radiant smile on her face. I don’t remember much of the ceremony itself. For starters, my 12-year-old sister was one of the bridesmaids. She started crying… loudly… as soon as the minister started talking. I tease her to this day about “ruining” my wedding. That’s what older brothers do.
The other reason was… when I wasn’t glancing over at my sobbing sister, I was staring into Mary’s beautiful eyes. The minister’s words floated by. I repeated what he told me to repeat. The rings were exchanged. We kissed and we were married.
I remember feeling like I was walking on air as I left the church and walked into the brilliant summer sunshine. We were driven to the wedding in an old car by my best man and the maid of honor. I remember feeling overwhelmed on that short trip. Mary remembers feeling the same way.
The reception was in the clubhouse of Hiller Highlands in the Berkeley Hills. It was a happy, fun affair. I don’t remember much of that either. Things went by in a blur. Everyone was talking to me. I didn’t know who half of them were.
Mainly, I wanted to get away from everybody and be with my new wife. We finally did that. Driving off to San Francisco, having dinner at The Carnelian Room on the top floor of the Bank of America building. We stayed at a hotel near the airport and flew to Hawaii the next morning.
A lot has happened since that day. Not all of it has been uplifting.
The Carnelian Room is now closed. The Hiller Highlands clubhouse burned down in the 1991 Oakland Hills fire. That same year my best man, died at the age 33 of alcoholism. Mary’s brother-in-law, the same young man to walk her down the aisle, is now in the final stages of Alzheimer’s.
Life does take its twists and turns. But mostly, the past three and a half decades have been blissful and rewarding.
Mary and I raised two daughters. We did so living three blocks from her sister and brother-in-law. Mary’s mom lives close by, too. Our children, Melinda Jean and Katherine, got to experience what it was like to have an extended family. We have two grandchildren now from our oldest daughter. Our youngest daughter is getting married herself this summer. Mary and I will celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary this summer. We have lived in the same house since 1980. Our children grew up there. Now, our grandson and granddaughter run through it.
I remember our wedding with fondness. I also look back on it as a beginning. The start of a terrific life with a remarkable woman. My life would be so different today if I hadn’t said “I do” on July 31, 1976. It would not be nearly as full or fulfilling.
So, I urge people to look at their wedding day not as an event or milestone in their life, although it certainly is. I urge them to look at it as a beginning. The first step in a joyous voyage. The first brick in the building of a family.
As The Beatles said…
Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before.
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life, I love you more.