By MARILYN SHAPIRO
In a Dennis the Menace cartoon published in 1973, just before Larry and I got engaged, the eponymous five-year-old and his friend Joey are looking into a bakery window at a multi-tiered, highly decorated wedding cake. Joey looks mesmerized, but Dennis is not impressed. “After the cake was gone,” he says, “you’d still be married.”
In my lifetime, I have seen many wedding cakes at many weddings. I have realized that the most important part of getting married is not the size of the cake or the grandeur of the festivities but the quality of the relationship and the depth of the love in the months and the years that follow.
My parents’ wedding in 1940 was certainly not elegant. It was held in New York City on a Tuesday night in a hall whose costs were offset by the twenty-five cents given to the hatcheck girl. My father and mother made a handsome couple under the chuppah, Bill in his rented tuxedo ($7) and Fran in her rented wedding gown and floor length veil ($18). After the ceremony, guests were served tea sandwiches, fruit, and wedding cake. Unfortunately, by the time the photographer finished taking pictures of the happy couple, many of the guests had left. Nevertheless, their marriage lasted 68 years. (Priceless!)
Larry and I were married in Agudat Achim in Schenectady on a lovely September afternoon in 1974. The ceremony was a little long. Larry admitted to me many years later that if the rabbi had talked any more, he, the impatient and hungry groom, would have left the bima early and headed for the hors d’oeuvres. The meal contained peas, even though we had specifically asked them to NOT include them on the menu (Larry hates peas!). The band completely botched the words to our first dance, Barbra Streisand’s He Touched Me. The wine my parents had purchased up north in Plattsburgh was not kosher and almost wasn’t served until my mother told the caterer, “I don’t care! Just cover the darn bottles with foil and serve it!” During the course of the afternoon, my father, a little tipsy on the almost rejected wine, took to the microphone to thank Keeseville National Bank for financing the event. To top it all off, Larry spent most of our honeymoon in a Quebec City hospital dealing with a kidney stone. Despite our less-than-perfect nuptials, our marriage has flourished for over four decades.
The majority of the weddings Larry and I have attended have followed a similar pattern: white bridal gowns, rented tuxedos, synagogue or church settings, large receptions with multiple course meals, a band or a DJ, and lots of wine and dancing. Each one has been unique, but not a one any more special than the smaller, less conventional ceremonies.
My niece Laura and her husband Paul had their small wedding on a beautiful summer’s day in the gardens behind the Arlington, Massachusetts, library. Less than twenty-five people were in attendance, with Laura’s Uncle Max officiating. After Paul crushed the wine glass, the newlyweds turned on a battery operated CD player and danced to Alison Krause’s When You Say Nothing At All. Then everyone convened to a seafood restaurant. Laura and Paul now have two beautiful children and an adorable Australian Labradoodle puppy named Cooper. Laura recently posted on Facebook that Paul had suggested that they create more “just us” time by going out onto their yard and picking up the dog’s poop together. Laura wrote, “Thirteen years of marriage and he is still a romantic!”
When my daughter Julie got engaged to Sam in 2006, Larry and I were thrilled and more than happy to start their married life with a traditional wedding in a large hall with many relatives and friends in attendance. After several months of researching numerous options, however, Julie and Sam opted for a small destination wedding at a resort near Moab, Utah. Just the immediate family was invited: Larry and I, our son Adam and a girlfriend, Sam’s parents, and Sam’s two sisters. The day before the wedding, all ten of us went to Arches National Park and hiked up to Delicate Arch, where we posed for a group photo. Julie and Sam were married on a brilliant May afternoon on the banks of the Colorado River with the rock formation from Arches as the backdrop. After dinner in the resort’s restaurant, we shared a flourless chocolate cake topped with the two figures from our own wedding cake thirty-three years earlier. The next morning, several of us took a white water rafting trip down the Colorado River. All of us treasure the memories of that long weekend in Utah where we not only celebrated the love between two special people but also the beauty and wonder of an iconic national park and the twisting, historic river that runs near it.
A marriage doesn’t have to last decades to be successful. We have a number of friends whose first marriage, for whatever reason, didn’t work, but their second marriage is going strong. Most of their second weddings were small affairs. And we also have friends and relatives who have never legally tied the knot but are involved in successful long-term relationships. In all these cases, the wedding didn’t make the marriage. Their commitment to each other did.
Barbara de Angelis, author and relationship consultant, wrote, “The real act of marriage takes place in the heart, not in the ballroom or church or synagogue…not just on your wedding day, but over and over again.” Exactly, Barbara! No matter how big or how small the wedding, it is what endures through the years that follow that is important.