I didn’t think it was a good idea. Telling guests—moms especially—surprise news at a wedding rarely is. My good friend Claire and her fiancé Mike had secretly gotten married in New Orleans with their darling baby Liora Rose in tow. Almost a year later, Claire hadn’t told anyone until now, not even moi. And the only reason Claire spilled the beans was that she wanted me to “officiate” at their wedding. Sort of.
You see, Mike and Claire planned a big bash a year (to the date and hour) of their NOLA elopement, and at that soiree, they wanted to announce to everyone that—surprise!—they were already married. And they’d chosen me as their partner in crime.
The plan was for me to begin speechifying as though I were going to marry them. Claire would then interrupt me and drop their big, happy news-bomb, explaining why they decided to do it this way. Would the guests be thrilled or irate? Would it turn into another “Red Wedding” ala Game of Thrones? You never know how people would react. Especially when part of the family is Sicilian.
So, it was with some trepidation and a lot of joy that I began writing the intro to Claire and Mike’s wedding vows—a short paragraph that would lead up to the dropping of the blissful bombshell. Despite my fears, I was honored they’d picked me to be part of it.
I couldn’t seem to find the right dress so I decided on a pretty black and white polka dot number I’d had for a few years. And Spanx, my first pair of Spanx, which was wonderful (slenderizing!) and horrible (tight!) at the same time.
The day of truth finally arrived. Returning from LA late the night before after a whirlwind book tour, I was slightly jet-lagged but oh-so-ready. Kind of. Two days prior came the groundbreaking Supreme Court decision guaranteeing the right of same-sex marriage in all 50 States. I didn’t think it was right not to mention it. So there I was, furiously rewriting my speech two hours before the ceremony, with damp nail polish, no less. I resent it to my Kindle and printed out a copy just in case my Kindle exploded.
June 28th was a drizzly, uncustomarily cool New York summer Sunday. Family and friends had come from more than seven States, as far away as Florida. Mike looked darkly handsome in his stylish, carefully-chosen duds: black vest and pants, new motorcycle boots and shiny Calvin Klein tie.
Claire looked radiant in a ivory gossamer dress, fresh flowers in her hair, a black net framing her eyes—and a black and white polka dot sash around her waist. Even Little Liora Rose’s frock had black and white polka dot trim. Not only did I match them perfectly but Claire’s and my toenails were painted the same hot pink shade. Serendipity.
I was excited and a little nervous when the moment of reckoning arrived. No one knew except me and my husband, not even Claire’s sisters. At 12:45 p.m., the beautiful kids in attendance assembled on a wrought iron staircase, armed with polka-dotted hearts on Popsicle sticks (which Claire & Co. had made). One hundred twenty-five people gathered below. Claire, Mike, Liora Rose and I followed. We made sure the bride and groom’s moms were front and center.
I took a deep breath and began:
I find the fact that anyone can find love in this big, old crazy world to be pretty amazing. And it would be remiss for me not to acknowledge the monumental Supreme Court decision two days ago where anybody is now free to marry anybody in the United States.
Something that I didn’t expect happened—the entire crowd, many of them attorneys and social workers, burst out into spontaneous applause. It was amazing. When the clapping ebbed, I continued:
Since Mike and Claire have been together, they’ve been through a number of huge challenges, but they went through them side by side. Just in the past year and a half, Claire moved—twice—had a baby, and lost her father. He’s here today, not only in spirit, but in the beautiful hydrangeas her cousin brought from the bush her dad gave him. Mike has been there with Claire every step of the way. And here they are today, standing before us, together, about to be joined…
At that point, Claire interrupted me and asked her nephew Joe what time it was. (The sweet boy was super excited about his big job.) This was so guests would know the precise moment Mike and Claire had been married a year earlier, under the Tree of Life in New Orleans’ Audubon Park, with rings they’d bought for $2 at the French Market. Claire recounted how Mike had surprised her and the baby with a trip, told her to pack a white dress, and planned the whole thing with the help of their friends Indira and Jason.
With all she’d been through that year (including working toward her PhD), Claire wasn’t up to planning a big wedding. But she knew she wanted to be Mike’s wife. On an earlier trip to New Orleans with her friend Nicole, Claire told the tearful crowd how she and Nicole visited a tiny two-room museum in Crescent City. There was a place where you could write your wish on a piece of paper, wrap it in a dollar and drop it in a box. “I wished I could spend my entire life with Michael,” Claire confessed.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, including mine. I waited until the thunderous applause finished. “That’s a hard act to follow,” I joked, then continued leading Mike and Claire in renewing the heartfelt marriage vows they’d downloaded from the Internet in their hotel a year earlier and spoke under that great oak tree in Orleans Parish. I avoided looking at Claire’s friend Alicia, who was sobbing happily, or I would have started, too.
The courtyard was filled with joy and drizzle that afternoon. Even the moms were thrilled, though Mike’s mother confessed, “I thought the surprise was that Claire was pregnant!” No one was disappointed, however. The happiness was even sweeter than The Benchmark’s luscious Chocolate³ and yummier than their crab cakes.
Love saved the day. Again.
Catherine Gigante-Brown is a writer of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Her works have appeared in a variety of publications, including Ravishly, Industry, The Establishment, The Huffington Post, Essence and Time Out New York, as well as in women’s fiction anthologies. Several of her scripts have been produced by small, independent companies. Her novels The El and Different Drummer were released by Volossal Publishing. She was born in Brooklyn, where she still lives with her husband and son.