I grew up going to an all-girls sleepaway summer camp in Maine. For seven blissful weeks each summer, I’d slip on the camp uniform of blue polyester and dash out of a platform tent in the pursuit of pure joy—sailing, hiking, canoeing, taking star turns as Daddy Warbucks on the camp stage, singing hearty rounds about swinging along the open road, fostering wonderful relationships with other similarly wholesome youngsters. I still dream about renewing my Junior Maine Woodsmen badge. I drag K with me to Family Camp every August, and stand on the dock with other alumnae reminiscing about that great summer of 1994 and the time our canoe tipped on the Sheepscot River, what a lark! K enjoys it, or tolerates it, in a bemused way, while I stand around harmonizing “The Happy Wanderer” and getting a little teary about the first time I got to swim out to the raft.
We started wedding planning in earnest just after Family Camp last summer. One of the first things we did was make a list of all of the hopes we had for our wedding day, per the book. I had about a hundred different ideas, but K had just one key phrase—community. The idea that our wedding might be a one-day, five-hour intensive celebration was too overwhelming for her deeply introverted self. Her family and friends are far-flung, and she hoped our wedding would be a low-key gathering where she would actually get to spend meaningful time with people. And that’s when I suggested a weekend wedding summer camp getaway.
If our wedding was at summer camp, we could have a lot of activities, so our occasionally awkward and loving families could mingle if they wanted, or walk the labyrinth if they didn’t. All challenge by choice, of course; if you wanted to stay at in town you could, or you could stay on premises with us and perform your talent for the Rehearsal Dinner/Campfire, and then face the lake to sing “Taps” to the setting sun/the happy couple.
And so began my search for the perfect summer-camp-like experience within the tri-state area. I conducted such a thorough literature review that I should submit it for publication. When I stumbled on a low-key resort in the lower Adirondacks, I thought we were golden. On the five and a half hour drive up, we both agreed that it was a bit of a pain for our guests to fly into New York, rent a car, and keep driving for half a day, but we assured each other that the meaningful time they’d have upon arrival would make it totally worthwhile. We’d even make them a mix CD with some camp songs to kick it off.
We toured the place on a cloudless June day. It was warm, a little windy, and the old buildings could not have looked more quaint and welcoming. We traipsed through old Victorians and I mentally calculated how we’d tell our guests that every room was a single, so don’t mind the twin bed, just come outside and look at the water sparkling off the mountains. I figured sharing a twin bed would be the cutest wedding night ever, like we were make-believe college girlfriends, fine! When I saw the old boathouse and dock, I was hooked, imagining twinkling white lights draped across the watery structure and darling rustic cocktails, maybe a banner saying, “A wet knot is harder to untie!” I know. I can’t even write about it I want it so much.
As we passed hiking trails, we dreamed about having a midday pre-wedding hike (K: “Anyone who wants to can hike up the mountain,” and me: “And charming platters of hors d’oeuvres and maybe champagne can be waiting at the top!” K: “You’ve got to be kidding…Oh, you’re not.”). K was sold when she saw Adirondack chairs scattered hither and yon. I knew what she was thinking—here is where she could have early morning meaningful time with her best friends, where they would sip coffee and mostly exchange monosyllabic words while watching the fog burn off the lake. Me, I imagined how ephemerally beautiful I’d look coming by canoe to our simple ceremony, and how I could paddle my new husbutch away from the reception while people waved from the shoreline and placed candles in floating Dixie cups into the water.
We drove home (six and a half hours, with traffic) the same day, and we were all in. It was going to be the world’s best community-minded summer camp festival of a wedding. It was going to be the best weekend of our guests’ lives. And so we started planning, and things started to fall a bit flat, one sticky s’more after another.
Yes, we could rent the place, but it wouldn’t come with any staff, food, setup, or cleanup. That was okay, we could cater it! I totaled up how much it would cost to bring in simple catered meals for over a hundred guests for a long weekend. There went our sperm fund, but it was worth it because these were the memories of a lifetime. K started researching the cubic footage of our Honda Fit and assured me that she could fit a hundred pounds of pulled pork in the backseat. My little sister, a college junior, thought her sorority sisters wouldn’t mind driving upstate and helping with setup and cleanup. I mentally moved a block of the twin beds aside for sorority sisters and added the new line item to our budget. We made a list of people we hoped would be excited to help. We heard from a few friends that they wouldn’t be able to get there in time for pre-wedding festivities, but promised they’d roll in just prior to the ceremony. We calculated the cost of bussing people upstate. We figured out a way to get K’s priest there using a combination of trains and taxis.
Finally, when we were looking at tent rentals and liability insurance, things went to pot. You know the fast-cheap-and-good triangle? How you can pick any two but having all three is statistically impossible? Yeah. We were way past affordability at this point. K thought we could ask some close friends to cook the early meals, and actually enhance the community feel. I didn’t disagree with her, but we couldn’t afford a multi-day event coordinator. I knew that stage-managing a three-day summer camp was going to be so stressful for me that I would struggle to stop to enjoy myself or even fleetingly soak in the enormity of the weekend.
At this point in the planning, we could not have a conversation that didn’t devolve into tears. K wanted to go forward with the plan and trust that it would work out, trust that our community would pitch in to carry the load, but I couldn’t get past the indignity of the cost-cutting measures. We had The Sandwich Fight: K suggested that we save money at a non-wedding day meal by having people make their own lunches and then clear their plates, and I responded that I was not going to ask my father to eat a ham sandwich and load the dishwasher at my wedding, and then we basically wondered why we were getting married at all if our values were so completely different. Rinse, repeat.
A few weeks after The Sandwich Fight we sat down and ordered ourselves to hold a tiny Quaker meeting in our living room where we promised to remain calm and truly listen to each other. Was it the summer camp we wanted, or was it the low-key community feeling? We had originally rejected getting married in New York City, where we live. It felt too expensive, too urban, too overwhelming. But maybe we could figure out a way to bring the feel of community to our corner of Brooklyn, without spending millions of dollars or hours in the car.
Once we gave up the dream of recreating summer camp (and it pained us both), things slowly started coming together in different ways. My friend put together a Pinterest board of simple decorations we could use for the cobblestoned, slightly wild garden next to K’s church. We found a bunch of airbnb apartments scattered through our little Brooklyn neighborhood, and our college friends and family were happy to reserve them. K’s dream of having early morning coffee with her people will still happen; now it’ll be at the cafe across the street from our apartment. And my camp friends are swapping rounds and planning what we’ll all sing during the ceremony.
We’re thinking of it now as if our wedding is a part of normal life, instead of a one-in-a-lifetime dreamscape. We’ll get up; we’ll swing by the bourbon bar that doubles as a flower shop to get a spontaneous bouquet; we’ll take the Q train to K’s church and I’ll point out Governor’s Island when we’re on the Manhattan Bridge like I do every sunny day. It’ll be like any other Saturday—but this will be the best by far.
After the wedding, we’re sneaking off for a few days to a lakeside cabin in the Catskills. There’s a fire pit and a porch with Adirondack chairs and a mountain view across the lake. And I made sure that the place has a canoe.
Photo Emily Takes Photos