Today’s Vintage Wedding is a brilliant must-read for about a million reasons. But what I like best is it simultaneously reassures you that simple weddings are very traditional, while reminding you that the wealth of options we have now (Keep your name! Get married in a park with a reception in a BBQ joint!) are not to be taken for granted. All that, and it’s just super smart, so read on. (And then go interview your parents and submit their Vintage Wedding.)
My parents were married in Toronto, Ontario, on August 21, 1971. My mom, Amy, was 21 and my dad, Fred, was 23. My mom says, “I think the average age for getting married was younger then, but we were pretty young even so—we were both still in school. In 1971, and in our families, we couldn’t live together unless we were married. We badly wanted to live together, so we got married! We had a little car (a Datsun sedan we called Daisy), some used furniture, an apartment that cost $125/month, about $1000 in the bank, and lots of high hopes!”
My mom made her own wedding dress, and for reasons that she says “have disappeared in the fogs of time” decided that every inch of her skin should be covered—long sleeves, high neck and even a bonnet in August—but she loved doing it. She says “I remember spending many hours that summer in my parents’ basement, sewing and dreaming about our wedding and married life!” Typical of my mom, the dress pattern doubled as her major project in her Advanced Flat Pattern course at University (her major was Clothing, Textiles and Design).
The wedding was very small—only about 20 people. This decision didn’t come without a fight—apparently family arguments over guest lists are nothing new. “The wedding itself was lovely (except that the front of the church was under construction). But the hours and minutes before the wedding were tense. Until they showed up at the church, it wasn’t certain whether Fred’s family was going to attend. They were upset because we had foolishly told them they could invite only six people to the wedding. Since there are literally hundreds in their extended family, this was not a popular decision!”
My dad says, “By the time I was ready to go to the church—with the best man [his brother, who hadn’t yet shown up] or a substitute—I was so stressed I just wanted it to be over. I was resigned to the fact that my family might not be there, but I wasn’t going to miss this day for anything.”
It was important to my mom that the wedding be small—she was terrified of being the centre of attention of such a large crowd, and there were financial considerations as well. Funnily enough, 40 years later she’s an Anglican Reverend who specializes in officiating weddings and other celebrations, so it’s her job to speak in front of those crowds! Luckily my dad’s family turned up (all 6 of his siblings and his parents), and in retrospect, she says, “I didn’t handle things well at all with my in-laws. No wonder we weren’t sure they were going to show up on the big day. They did turn up at the wedding and after our honeymoon they gave us a lovely party in their home town. ”
The ceremony was followed by a simple, early afternoon luncheon at a nearby inn (talk about retro, my mom says). There may have been champagne for toasts, but my parents can’t remember!! Then they made their escape in their Datsun to their honeymoon at the cottage of friends in northern Quebec—a six hour drive. They made it halfway there and collapsed, both of them, exhausted and with headaches. Their advice is not to plan a long drive immediately following your reception.
Their answers when I asked about their favorite moments of the day were funny, I thought. My type-A, perfectionist mom’s favorite moment was “walking down the aisle with Fred, knowing that we were married! One of the happiest moments of my life.” My laid-back Dad on the other hand? “Earl [brother and best man] was so late getting to Toronto that I thought I’d have to phone my friend Alan to be the best man. I was more than stressed. The best memory was the feeling of relief I had when Earl and I finally arrived at the church. We weren’t really late—we just got there after the bride! I guess she was truly excited about the day! How many brides get there early? I loosened up a bit when I saw Amy walking down the aisle.” I think it’s cute and telling that he was so nervous and remembers that stress so vividly 40 years later.
Something that came up again and again talking to my parents about their wedding was that there wasn’t a lot of choice—something my mom really appreciates that couples have when they’re getting married today. She says, “Our wedding was straight from the book, there were no choices that I recall. It was not possible to be married outside the church, in a garden or at a country club. It was not possible to insert anything personal into the ceremony. I wanted to have Karen Carpenter’s We’ve Only Just Begun during the service, but the organist told me not to even think about it! I believe that the wedding ceremony should reflect the personalities of the bride and groom and the love between them. So I give lots of choices. I encourage brides and grooms to choose the words and readings they want, or to write parts of the ceremony themselves. The marriage ceremony is important because it affirms and seals the relationship. Bride and groom stand up in front of their friends and family and declare their love for each other. It’s important to do that in words that sound right to them and that reflect their values and beliefs. And it’s important to have the music they want, too!”
I also remember feeling, growing up, that my mom wished she hadn’t changed her name to my dad’s when they got married, so I asked her about it. She said, “In 1971 not very many women were keeping their own names. I expect all of the elder generation on both sides would have been horrified if I had not changed my name to [Hislast]. But, frankly, it didn’t occur to me to keep my name, just as it didn’t occur to us to live together instead of getting married. I think it was probably at least four or five years later, when feminism had really reached Canada, that I even thought of it. By then I had the beginning of a professional reputation, so I didn’t want to revert.” She says that now that she’s had our family name for twice as long as her maiden name, it would feel wrong to go back.
Finally, from my dad, the truth about wedding photos: “When I look at the pictures of the wedding there is one taken when we were in the back of the 1932 Buick, it looks like we’re laughing and smiling. It was taken at the precise moment she was saying, ‘You’re sitting on my veil!’”