47-Love Letters from Vietnam: Tim and Kate's Wedding, December 23, 1969
For an index to the Tim and Kate beginning episodes, click here.
Before the Wedding
"...and all these things she kept in her heart, and pondered them."
I struggle for the words to write about our wedding day. If I were a writer capable or lacing my work with meaningful metaphors, I'd find the perfect images to match the feeling of the day, but I can't. All I can say is that after forty years, after everything that life brings and takes away over such a long time, the memory of all that transpired on December 23, 1969 gives me the kind of simple joy of a silent smile and has become one of the treasures of my life.
In the morning of that snowy Tuesday before Christmas, Tim came over to my mother and father's apartment. Tim and I left right away for the shops on Mitchell Street. (I think Schusters' was still on the corner - a nice store of almost Macy quality as I remember). We were looking for a gift for Ellen, our maid of honor and for Matt, Chuck's best man. I think we settled on the one pretty necklace for Ellen that we could afford, but I can't remember the gift we found for Matt. A bottle of Chivas would have been all he needed!
It was snowing a sort of wet-rain drizzly type of snow, and I could tell Tim was cold in the thin spring jacket, the only one that he had not packed away before he left for Fort Campbell last May. When we got back into the car after shopping, we hugged and suddenly I felt Tim shiver in a way I had never felt any one shiver before. It was intense, and I was scared. We held each other and Tim kept assuring me that it was only because he had not been acclimated to the weather here back home as yet, and that he would be fine. A dread tried to creep into my soul somewhere, telling me that this was all too much for him - the wedding - me; but I shut that fear out. After a few minutes of holding each other, and the car warming up, Tim seemed recovered and we continued onto the florist to pick up the flowers that were to be the headpiece for my veil.
The florist seemed proud of her creation as she opened up a corsage box which held, much to my shock and negative awe, an arrangement of three carnations with one bright red rose plunked in the middle! "It matches the altar flowers," she cheerily explained. The carnations seemed gigantic to me, not the delicate tiny hybrid type that one might use or that I had envisioned for a headpiece. I had never imagined she would have added a red carnation in the middle! I tried to smile a "thank you" for something I knew couldn't be changed at this point. It would be ok, Tim assured me in the car, "You'll make it look great."
Tim drove me back to the apartment and left within minutes after a brief hug for my mom; we both needed to get ready for the service later than evening. The next time we'd see each other was when I walked down the aisle to the man who would be my husband.
I imagine we all only remember the unusual and unexpected things that happen on our wedding day - the things we never plan for.
I remember not planning to wear boots with a wedding dress, but I did. I needed to dress at home for some reason and the snow had been continuing since morning. I schleped into my dad's car with my dress on and arrived in time to see the 5:00 Mass just ending. I remember taking off the boots caked with grey slush in the back of the church and laughing to myself as how ridiculous this whole scene might appear if someone were to have walked in. I snuck down to the church basement were I must have fiddled with the flowers and my veil and gotten ready with Ellen, my maid of honor, but the memory of all that is gone.
The second thing I remember not planning was a wedding gift from Tim. Matt, who was, and still is an extraordinary jewelry designer, came up to me in the vestibule of the church with a delicate gold necklace with one diamond. (Tears now come to my eyes as I write because I know that Matt knew Tim couldn't have afforded that necklace, and I suspect that he and Anne convinced Tim to let Matt "buy it" from him). And Ellen put the necklace around my neck.
The music started - music that we also hastily planned, played by an organist we didn't know, and I started own the aisle with a father who was visibly shaking and needed my reassurance. I remember exactly the one image that struck me as I walked toward Tim, my focus now only on him. It was the kind of an image that plays in your mind as if some filmmaker purposefully slowed down the action of the camera and zoomed in on that item as if to make the whole point of the story - Tim's white tie. For some reason, in all my 24 years, I had never noticed that grooms sometimes wear white ties! I thought at that moment it was a little secret between us - a little surprise that Tim had arranged - a wink to us, if you will, that we had done it - we both had succeeded with the difficult task of "waiting.". It brought me great pleasure at that moment to think that after all the frustration, after all the sacrifices we made to wait, this had been our decision, a decision that Tim was pleased with, and one that afforded both of us the privilege of wearing white that day.
The thirty-five friends and family who attended our wedding mass managed their way through singing, "And They'll Know We Are Christians by Our Love," and whatever else we threw together for music during the service. Anne read from Gibran "On Marriage" as I recall, and the priest read that passage from Paul about husbands and wives that everyone used to pick. I know for sure that somewhere in the Mass, someone read the lines, "and your people shall be my people," because it has always been one that I thought poetically perfect.
Before getting to the vows, Father McHugh talked to the group assembled there. He started by saying that he would keep it short because Tim had a fever of 102! I was shocked and looked over to Tim who dismissed the priest's comment as nothing, but I, of course, was worried. The rest of Father McHugh's little speech was a caveat, if you will, for marrying us on such short notice, and it embarrassed me. He said something to the effect that he had never met Tim before Saturday and commented that we hadn't gone through the Cana pre-nuptual classes that were usual. He added that if he hadn't known me through my teaching evening religious class to the 8th graders, he wouldn't have approved of this wedding! He somehow waltzed himself out of that thread of thought and into our vows. Nothing else mattered to us because we were now man and wife.
Either the shock of Father McHugh's statements had made me nervous or the florist had not wired my bouquet correctly for the final part of the ceremony. The middle of the arrangement was supposed to come out easily so I could leave the middle portion of my bouquet at the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As Tim and I walked over to the altar, I discretely struggled to loosen the center from the floral arranagement, but I couldn't. Tim, as an altar boy growing up, was used to glitches at Mass and winked to me that it was all ok, so I simply pulled one lonely rose from the bouquet for myself and left the rest of the flowers on the altar. The photographer my dad had gotten for us snapped a beaming me with one single rose and an equally beaming Tim almost running up the aisle I had walked down and out to the vestibule.
The final surprise to me in the Church that day was the signing of the marriage document. No one ever mentioned signing of the document and at that moment, more than any other, the profundity of what we were doing struck me. It was the only time I had tears in my eyes.
The reception was not usual. It was only to be a dinner for our friends with no music or dancing. Later, that would be the part I'd regret. I remember feeling a bit silly in the restaurant since it seemed to me that Nino's Steakhouse didn't normally accommodate weddings, and here I was, the only one in this white dress! But there was a toast or two; Tim and I pretended we were eating the dinner; I threw the bouquet that someone had recovered from the Blessed Virgin back at the Church, we sped through the cake eating; and Tim and I were off - for the only ceremony at that point, that we were interested in.
After forty years, for the privilege of that day ..."I stand before the lord of song with nothing on my lips but "Hallelujah."*
Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"