Holly & Chris, Part 1

Today’s wedding graduate post is in two amazing parts. It’s the story of balancing an elopement with family needs, of a simple last minute at home wedding service, and of the sweeping vistas of Yosemite. It’s about amazing photography and simple intimate loving moments. So let’s start Holly’s story (Holly is, by the way, an excellent photographer in her own right) on a farm in Florida, with her family gathered round. Here is The Wedding Day, Part I:

This is the story of how we ended up getting married twice in one week. Once on a family farm in Florida and the next in the middle of a valley in Yosemite. Two weddings never was part of the plan – that would just be crazy! But that’s how it ended up happening. And we wouldn’t change a thing.

Chris warned me within the first twenty minutes after I accepted his proposal that our wedding would have to include “everybody or nobody.” He comes from a large family, has never been married, and has tons of friends, so naturally everybody wanted to celebrate with him.  Our main concern was how on earth we would pay for such a soiree. In talking about the type of wedding we envisioned, we both imagined having a more practical affair. So that’s what we set out to have…

A widowed mother of a preschooler, I am currently working as a self-employed photographer and he is a marine biologist…which basically means we’re not at risk of being wealthy anytime soon. But we are very much in love and were determined to have the wedding of our dreams within our budget, which was essentially nothing. Working in the wedding industry, I knew what things cost and how quickly things add up.

I made budgets, spreadsheets and guests lists for seven different weddings, and for one reason or another none of them would work. Wedding planning was taking away from time that I should have been spending with my young daughter and when I should have been up editing other people’s weddings or sleeping at night.

Frustrations grew and every day elopement looked to be a better option. Finally, one day, we used our airline miles to book two tickets to California and announced to our families that we were going to elope in Yosemite seven months later. The announcement was met with a mixture of happiness and disappointment. Happiness because they knew that was what we wanted, and disappointment because everyone wanted to be there to share in our day with us.

As the time grew closer, our families had a harder time talking about our wedding. I knew in my gut that I would never forgive myself for saying “I do” without my daughter, Charlotte, who Chris is going to adopt, there with us. And I knew that our families, though they would never say it, would always be hurt that they weren’t there to see us. I wanted Charlotte to hold our hands as we promised our lives together as a family. And I had no idea what we were supposed to do about it at that point. The idea of bringing her with us on a plane to California and then dragging her along for ten days sounded absolutely miserable and was out of the question.

Our first idea was to hold a surprise wedding with our parents in my backyard the night before we left for California. We got so far as ordering a few tables before we realized it was a horrible idea. I was photographing several large events that week and couldn’t handle anything else. And what if the surprise backfired somehow? I’d been sneaking around, trying to coordinate everything and keep secrets for over a month, as well as keep my business running and deal with what seemed like a constantly sick child and then sick fiance. We decided that the only thing to do was to tell our families.

I’ll never forget that phone call. Chris was in bed with a fever and I was so stressed out I couldn’t stop sobbing. We talked it over with my mother and then called his mother and told her that we’d like to get married on his grandmother’s farm. In nine days. Once she got over her shock she wept tears of joy. We’re not entirely certain what happened beyond that…all we know is that phone call set off a chain reaction unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

There were people gardening, decorating, making barbecue, pressure washing, hanging lanterns, baking… It was a whirlwind of activity all around us. All we had to do was tell them when we wanted to do it, and approximately where we’d like to do it, and show up. We didn’t care that the date we chose happened to be Friday the 13th—we weren’t superstitious and by that point all we wanted to do was get married. We kept our plans a secret from even our closest friends and planned on telling them after the fact. Sadly, because it was so last minute, some of our immediate family was unable to make it.

There were just a few of us there that evening on the farm. Charlotte and I wore white cotton sundresses and stood hand-in-hand with Chris. When she wanted to climb on me we let her. Our friend, Amy, who has known Chris since birth, married us as the rain came down. My friend Kirsten did my hair and makeup, and Chris’ sister Jami slaved in the heat all day to make the place look like something out of a movie. Patrick, who I work with, came to photograph the whole thing for us. Our mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, all came together to toast us and celebrate us. We were officially a family, united in front of our family…

(Next Up… the Wedding Day, Part II)

Photos by: FRSHNK Photography

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  • Aurélie

    Bubbles on the cake! So pretty!
    And the cake and cupcakes themselves: so pretty too!

  • faith

    Oh, so precious! I resonate with beginning to plan many different weddings…and they just don’t work, and with the everyone or no one at the wedding.

    Unexplainable things happen that make it clear that there is a definite way that your wedding is meant to be. Happy that yours was such a beautiful time! Can’t wait to hear the rest!

  • Your story is off to such a great start! I love how your family rallied and worked so that you could celebrate together.

    Can’t wait for part II!

  • I love how you included your daughter. And boy do I feel you on the seven different spreadsheeted-to-death potential weddings thing. And most of all, I love it when a non-plan comes together.

  • 9 days. I love it. And the pictures look like it was months of prep work – fabulous!

    • Yeah, we kind of lucked out in that department… His family is over-the-top talented at party planning. I don’t know of anyone else that could have pulled off what they did!

  • Love, just love.

  • Woow! So beautiful, and Chris is a marine biologist, secret dream. I love the picture of your little girl signing. And I love how yes… the families don’t take a “no you won´t be there” as an option and just come and help and share with you it is so intense. We also had 2 weddings… civil and religious, in May and September, but the civil one in May was supposed to be a simple, only hubs and me + 2 friends affair, cause he is shy, and the date was available, and we did not want to wait forever, and there was not a date available around september and when we informed our parents, including mine who live across the ocean, they still came. It was like, well of course we will be there. So it was a very emotional 16 person thing, and then we all went for cake at a Cafe.

    • :) “cake at a Cafe” Love it! Your wedding sounds amazing as well. I really think 2 weddings are the way to go.

    • Ariel

      I also love the photo of your daughter signing… I’ll be marrying a man with a three year old daughter sometime in the next year, and I find your photos inspiring for how to promise to be a family together without doing some potentially cheesy (in my opinion) ritual. Your process looks honest and joyful and serious and perfect. Thank you for sharing!

  • From the pictures alone, this wedding looks so meaningful. There’s a strong bond and sense of love evident between Holly, Chris, and Charlotte. Even with the challenges Holly writes about here, I’m so moved by such a lovely family. Can’t wait for part 2!

  • Anon

    This is so beautiful I’m crying. Love and support within your baby family and your extended families that made dreams come true. What could be better? Congratulations!

  • Freakin lovin’ the flowers.

    • They were all picked from his grandmother’s farm! Beautiful, aren’t they?

      • Grandmother’s garden?!

        *shudders with happiness*

  • The picture with Holly and Chris and her daughter in the middle really hit me in the gut and made me teary. This post really moved me. I look forward to reading part II.

  • Zan

    Three cheers for family. It’s amazing how people will step up for you in ways you never dreamed.

    Also, your daughter is adorable, I love her hairbow.

  • Yes. This is what I want! Beautiful, not brain breaking, full of love.

  • I l-o-v-e the photos of the 3 of you, and of Charlotte signing the certificate. Absolutely beautiful.

    I’m also terribly jealous you had two weddings. Terribly.

  • THANK YOU! I woke up and realized that today was the post today and I had to get out bed to look (I’m super sick) and it totally perked me. And then I realized that there were COMMENTS already! :) Now I’m crying tears of happiness all over again.

  • So happy for you Holly! Reading this now I can’t help but think how perfect it was that Charlotte was able to stand with you as you exchanged vows. So much love :)

  • That black and white photo of the three of you, sixth from the top, totally gave me goosebumps. What a rare privilege for your daughter to have beautiful memories of her parents’ wedding day.

  • Lynn

    I have seen time and time again that people are willing to help…and perform gargantuan feats…if only you ask. They want to be a part of your day, in whatever way they can. I am so glad that your family was there for and with you. Congratulations!

  • Just looking at the photo of your adorable Charlotte standing with you & Chris it is so very clear that she had to be there. You can see & feel the love!

  • Edelweiss

    I love how you wanted to gift your families with a surprise and they turned around, pitched in and gifted it to you.
    The warmth of your community is so evident here. I’m dying to read part 2 and hear about the warmth of your day with Chris.
    Your daughter is so lucky to be surrounded by so much love.

  • Really beautiful photographs. So simple but so stunning. thank you for sharing.

    • Yes, that was yet another thing I lucked out on. Patrick Engman from FRSHNK photography(who I’m now working with) was in the loop the whole time. We shoot weddings together and have a similar style and so when Chris and I planned the farm wedding all I had to do was ask Patrick to show up and he totally rocked it out. It’s nice having so many talented friends to call on! :)

  • You have captured the sentiment and meaning that so many large weddings are lacking these days. Beautiful!

  • shanarae

    Such a beautiful celebration!
    I wrote a post a couple months ago in which we were engaged and expecting our first child (& it was my 2nd marriage/Jared’s first – same conversation). After Atticus was born quite premature, we both felt the need to be married immediately. It was no longer about us, it was about the binding cement of a family-in-formation. We wed 5 days later and so many people showed up and asked what we wanted and needed and how they could make it happen. It was love organic.
    It is a wonderful whirlwind to see what can be accomplished when everyone is working towards the same goal. Marriage is committment and community. It makes so much more sense when it happens this way then the hair-pulling, frenetic bride who rushes around to create a perfect wedding when perfection is all around us every day in the order and rhythm of nature, in the way we love.
    I look forward to the second post and wishing you many, many days of happiness and love.

  • Holly, your family, both your baby family of you, Charlotte, and Chris and your larger network of relations, are beautiful. Congratulations and thanks for being an amazing reminder that love is the part of the wedding that really matters.

    P.S. Meg…your two part Wedding Graduates are just so tough! I get sucked in and cannot wait for the second part! :-)

  • Shotgun Shirley

    I’m reading this aloud to my two month old daughter, and she gives the biggest, goofiest gorgeous-est grin at Holly wanting to include her daughter in their wedding. I love that this message continues on APW – your wedding day is not all about you, it’s about your families too.
    This is such a beautiful example of family coming together to make something wonderful happen. Those flowers!!!
    Kidding… only partly… this story is off to a great start. Looking forward to the second half. :)

  • What a great story! I really enjoyed reading it. What a great way to end a confusing wedding planning and everybody was happy in the end. Congratulations to you guys and I do hope you will forever be happy!

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  • What an incredible story!! Making spreadsheets for seven different weddings–great idea, why didn’t I think of that? I might have chosen differently if I could have seen a comparison of factors between the wedding we’re about to have and the other weddings that could have been.

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