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Monday, 24 March 2008

A Gamble on White Lace and Promises

By Celia Jones

We wanted a different kind of wedding experience and we got it.

We sat tensely during my father's visit to Berkeley and waited for the inevitable, “Let’s face it; you’re living together! I don’t like this, and I don’t think it’s right!”

“It’s ok, Dad, we’ll get married eventually.”

“So, why don’t you get married now if you’re going to? Why wait?”

I guess my father was afraid that I would get pregnant before I married. This “living together” wasn’t that unusual for Berkeley in the late Sixties, but it still was “living in sin” in his mind.

Andrew and I were twenty-year-old university students in love/ It didn’t seem like such a jump from living together to being married. We decided to elope and marry in Reno. I think there are a variety of reasons why we, like many other people, chose Reno to get married: to avoid family conflicts arising from different religious, sexual and social backgrounds; to treat the marriage ceremony as something private to the individual couple, without the fuss and worry about who to invite, where to seat people, and so on; and, lastly, to have a “different,” non-conventional, budget wedding/honeymoon combined.

During the last week of the Christmas term break, we started off very early for the airport to catch the flight up to Reno. The radio played the Carpenters’ song We’ve Only Just Begun. It became our song, and we belted out the words as we drove.

After a short, but turbulent flight, we landed in Reno making our first destination the registry office. There was a long line of applicants of varying ages. Many were excited teenagers with curlers in their hair, some were pregnant and accompanied by their po-faced partners, others were outwardly composed but tense, middle-aged second- or third-timers in the marriage stakes. Some couples, dressed casually in baseball caps and tee shirts definitely appeared to be getting married on a spur-of-the-moment whim.

“Well, hell,” I naively thought, “you could get divorced here almost as easily.”

With our new marriage license in hand, we then went “window shopping” for a place to get married. Brilliantined marriage celebrants/ministers in black suits stood outside the storefront “chapels” trying to entice couples to come in and inspect their facilities. Here was a Mecca for those seeking instant gratification - instant riches, instant marriage - “no blood test, no waiting.”

Nowadays, if you look up Reno on the internet, you see a lot more theme weddings like Elvis Weddings, Star Trek and Western themes and Alternative Gay and Lesbian ones, but back in 1969, our choice essentially came down to two different types. One type offered an outdoor motif with a painted, stagey backdrop of rolling green hills, stone fences and park benches. The other type, which we chose, offered an imitation chapel where the pews were white, decorated with large white bows, white plastic flowers in white vases in front of a white podium flanked by two large white columns.

We collected our wedding outfits from the car and quickly transformed ourselves from Berkeley students to bride and groom in the little chapel change rooms. My dress was practical - short, lacy and could be used again - while Andrew wore the black suit from his job as a part-time theatre usher.

When we were ready, the minister set up the two tape recorders, one for the organ music and one to record the ceremony. The minister’s wife, our sole witness, had me walk down the empty aisle to the podium. The first words of the ceremony weren’t “We are gathered here today” but rather, “Testing, 1, 2, 3, testing” as our minister checked out the tape recorders. His wife looked on with a fixed smile.

When it came time to exchange rings, Andrew had trouble pushing the ring over my large knuckle, provoking some snickering on my part. It was my turn to put Andrew’s ring on, and he held out his wart-covered ring finger. The minister’s double-take of Andrew’s fingers sent us both over the edge, and we both burst out in a fit of laughter.

It was all too much - the nerves and funkiness of the ceremony. The more we tried to stop laughing, the harder the laughter came. All the while, we were conscious that this hysterical cackling at our own wedding would be on the cassette tape of the ceremony. People will think we didn’t take this marriage seriously. We finally managed to compose ourselves and warmly embraced each other at the end of the ceremony.

The time had come to pay for the service, and the minister’s mellifluous voice took on a more business-like tone. The original chapel fee quoted of $100 had ballooned out to $250 with the extras provided - a wedding bouquet, a boutonniere, a wedding garter, a couple of photos and an audio tape of the ceremony.

The minister referred Andrew to one of his buddies at the casino next door to cash a check. When my new husband returned and we finally settled up, the minister plunked down on the desk our first “wedding present” - a large paper bag full of goodies like tampons, washing powder and packets of Handiwipes and casino coupons.

After the ceremony, we envisioned going up to Lake Tahoe to spend our wedding night in a cosy little inn where we’d warm our brandy balloons in front of a large stone fireplace before having a delicious dinner and retiring to our cabin. On leaving the chapel, I put a red parka over my wedding dress and Andrew put on an old beaver coat and woollen beanie as it was chilly outside. The lights and neon signs of the casinos called to us, and we decided to make use of the casino coupons we received and then go on to Lake Tahoe.

Inside the casino, no one took much notice of our strange appearance. The cacophony of sounds, yelps of excited winners, the metallic clinking of the coins and the stale cigarette and alcohol smells initially overwhelmed us, but the free drinks and a roomful of flashing machines were compelling.

Already revved up from the ceremony, we changed our coupons into a cup of coins and got started on the one-arm bandits. Andrew let me do the playing.

At first, I won a few small jackpots, but I soon put the coins back in the machines. The coupon money disappeared, so we cashed one check after another, confident we’d eventually win. The spinning images mesmerized and we lost all sense of time as we chased our losses until we found that we’d used up most of the money we had in our bank account.

By then, it was too late to head up into the mountains for that romantic cabin and we were broke anyway. This “budget wedding” ended up costing much more than we anticipated. It was nearly dawn, so we returned our rental car and tried to get some sleep in the airport lounge before our morning flight.

On the trip home, we were a bit more circumspect than when we set off for the Reno wedding. I wondered if we had been too cavalier about our wedding? I felt sad that were no parents, sister, friends to witness what should have been the proudest and happiest day of my life. The wedding chapel’s wooden seats had stood empty and cold. The only remembrance I had of the wedding was blurry Super-8 film of us visiting Carson City and no still photos of the ceremony itself. The reality of our tacky wedding was starting to sink in.

Years later, at my daughter’s traditional large wedding, I watched the proceedings with great pleasure and realized what I had denied my own parents.

At my Reno wedding, the minister’s last words to us: “I give you a 50-year money-back guarantee on your marriage,” and thought how ironic that in a gambling city like Reno, he bet that our marriage was a sure thing. We looked at each other, held hands and hoped for the best as we climbed above the clouds. White lace and promises; a kiss for luck and we’re on our way.

[The vault of new stories is running low again. If you are interested in contributing, the guidelines are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Celia, I enjoyed reading about your wedding in Reno..

I suspect you sometimes regret not having a big wedding but thankfully, you were able to have that experience through your daughter's wedding. That was almost as fulfilling,wasn't it? I loved my daughter's wedding more than my own.

You seem to have happy memories of your wedding day ,that is until you get to the part about losing all your money in the casino.

I lost all my money in a casino once and I really couldn't believe it! But it was true. All Gone.. You are always so certain that you will win but you seldom do.

Anyway, I enjoyed your story,as usual.

Celia, your story is so much like mine, although not in Rena. We had no family at our wedding either, and for amny of the same reasons you stated. Nonetheless, almost 44 years later, we are still plugging along. It doesn't matter how you begin, soes it?

I so enjoyed reading your story. I felt I was right there with you.

Going to Reno was what we (my fiance and I) had planned. My mother stepped in and insisted on a real weddings, simple with the reception at home, but a family wedding none the less. So, to keep peace, I went along with it. As I walked down the aisle I was glad. I felt like a star and wished I'd invited more people.

How lovely that you had the fun of your daughter's wedding.

Reading your story almost made me cry with sadness. Sadness for the experience you missed out on and happiness for the hassles you avoided. It delights me to know about the amazing memories you made with your daughter at her wedding. I saw the photos and it looked like a beautiful wedding.

I probably won't need to get married again, but, if I ever did, I'd elope to Maui and only exchange vows to each other and make it a very personal experience instead of a day filled with demanding mother-in-law photos, a 104F degree day, enough money spent to buy a small boat and almost falling off the chair during the Hora dance. Frightening!
I love reading your stories and learning about your adventures. I anxiously await new stories to delight my passion for your life as you tell it.

Forgive me if this is private, but others seem to know: Did your marriage to Andrew last?

That was such a lovely story and I agree, it does help years later when your children are marrying to understand both sides and sometimes why a family wedding is sometimes the better of the two options. Although you did what you needed to do at that time, and it sounds like it worked for you. Thanks for sharing your story, I loved it.

My best,
Dorothy from grammology
remember to call gram

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