Monday, October 25, 2010

30 Years Ago Today


I got married.

It was one of those whirlwind courtships that come with youth and idealism.  I had just finally broken the last threads connecting me to my former Muslim medical school boyfriend in Brussels when he came to visit me in D.C. in late February.  Two weeks later I met Bob, a friend from college, for dinner after work in Dupont Circle at Vesuvios Pizza.  Bob was married and a matchmaker at heart.  He brought along another Macalester  alumnus to pizza, a guy named Jim.  Jim didn't remember me initially that evening, but I certainly remembered  him from college.

Jim was distinguished by a gold capped front tooth, giving him a bit of the air of a pirate when he smiled broadly.  He had lived in Kirk Hall the year that I was a resident assistant in that dorm.  He was an English major at the time with long hair, and was more, shall we say, laid back than I was attracted to, so we remained simply acquaintances for the remainder of my time at Mac.

However, when we re-met--7 years later--he had revved up both his career and his personality following graduation, obtaining a Masters of Public Affairs from the University of Michigan and then moving to DC and  working as a staff economist (loosely speaking) on the Senate Labor Committee, which was headed up at the time, by Senator Harrison "Pete" Williams, soon to be infamous and convicted for his role in the Abscam bribery case.

The dinner was breezy and fun and Jim called me later that week to make a date.  He picked me up Friday evening (it was Good Friday) in his friend Andy's old Mercedes outside the Pentagon where I worked as the Special Assistant to the General Counsel, and we went to dinner at a fancy Asian restaurant.  We found that we had many things in common besides going to Macalester and one date grew into more.  Soon we were talking on the phone every day and night if we weren't going out.  Two or three weeks later, he proposed to me at the Tune Inn, a dive of a Capitol Hill bar that was popular with young Congressional staffers.  I accepted gladly, and then the real fun began.

My parents came to visit a month later and we announced our news.  They seemed  pleased (although, of course my mother had her reservations about the University of Michigan given that she was a Minnesota grad).  Next we flew to Ohio to tell Jim's parents:

I was Catholic at the time, so Jim agreed to do an Engaged Encounter weekend, which was required (or pre-Cana classes over several months) before you could be married in the Catholic Church.  We got through that ok, and then found out that the priest at the church I was attending in Old Town Alexandria, did not do 'mixed' marriages, even with the Engaged Encounter completed.  We went to plan "B" which was to hold the wedding in Lexington where my parents lived.  In the meantime, I had gotten very busy with my job, so it seemed an ideal solution, particularly as my mother, who had done another wedding at her house for my next oldest sister, seemed to be an old pro at this sort of thing.  We initially set the date for October 18 but my youngest sister had a dressage/jumping event that weekend, and we agreed to move it to October 25.

I flew home the Tuesday before the wedding. My first clue that I was no longer on the east coast was the bright blue "Reagan Bush" yard sign in my parents' front lawn.  When I protested to my father, he responded that he was simply trying to let the neighbors know what kind of bush he had in the front lawn. Of course, this is the same father who voted party over religion when he and Mom voted for Nixon in 1960 and were staunch Goldwater supporters in 1964, so I knew my leg was being pulled to the point of dislocation. Both Jim and I worked for the Democrats, and most of our friends who were coming from out of town to attend our wedding were Democrats as well.  Finally Dad agreed to pull the sign out and store it in the garage on our wedding day.

We had arranged to go to the Keeneland thoroughbred races that Thursday and had set our DC friends up to stay with friends in Lexington, to help make a longer trip affordable.  It was a beautiful fall day and such a treat to attend the races with a large group of friends, intent on having a good time, even if none of us cashed many tickets.  Friday night was the modified bachelors' party--all of us went to the gay nightclub in town to drink and dance. I left early, mindful that I had to get up  the next day, but Jim stayed to the bitter end and at some point danced with some one's purse.  He was rather the worse for wear the next day.  And the best man was late to the formal picture taking before the wedding.  So you won't see Jud in the formal, wedding party picture:              

I got up way too soon on Saturday, so I could have my hair done professionally for the big day.  I had a hairdresser who had done a nice job cutting my hair when I was a law student so I returned to Steve for the haircut of my life, but for whatever reason, he botched the job, giving me bangs when I really did not ask for them.  I came home and tried to comb my 'don't' into something presentable, but it was not very attractive and showed in most of the pictures. 

My wedding dress however was another story.  It was made by a young dressmaker just getting started in Crystal City outside DC,  named Hannelore.  She charged me $211 to make the off white silk gown from a pattern I brought to her.  I understand that she eventually specialized in wedding dresses and  is much more expensive these days. Her workmanship was exquisite and the dress was a real pleasure to wear (the shoes were not. I had to change into flats to make it through the reception.)  How was I ever this skinny?

Jim's father was a Presbyterian minister, so we worked with the priest at the Newman Center to make sure Leonard was included in the service. He gave the sermon, which consisted of finding various pieces of colored paper stored in his pockets that had advice for us newlyweds to help us through the years.*  What we were not prepared for is during the priest's recitation of the standard vows was that he asked Jim if he would agree that the children born of our union would be brought up Catholic.  That had not been discussed with us prior to our wedding and I held my breath, but Jim, a trooper at the time, gave the correct answer and we sailed through that part.

Beth and Carol playing Jesu, Joy of Man's Desire

The bagpiper is one of Jim's roommates from college, Tad, who from what Jim told me, liked to ingest lots of garlic in some misbegotten health scheme which made their dorm suite in Kirk quite odiferous, because Tad also liked to exercise on his bicycle in the common room of the suite. Tad loved bagpipes and practiced  at odd hours, using his chanter when he was indoors so as not to blow the other dorm residents out of their rooms. Tad  agreed to come to our wedding and play, but when he showed up in Lexington, he had forgotten his kilt. My mother loaned him her kilt and it fit Tad just perfectly.  He even used the fabric she had left over when she had it shortened, for the wrap around his shoulder.  I am sure that the Newman Center, where we were married on the campus of the University of Kentucky, had never had "Scotland the Brave" performed as a recessional before.

After the ceremony was over, we went back to my parents' house for the reception.  This being 1980, there was champagne and beer in abundance and the food was fabulous, having been prepared in my folks'  kitchen by Lexington's best caterer:

What we completely forgot, was that some people, might not drink alcohol at all.  Those folks being Jim's parents.  Oops.

Then there was the reception line.  Both mothers were in it as were me, Jim, my youngest sister who was the maid of honor, and maybe the best man, but maybe not.  Things went swimmingly at first:

However, as we were greeting folks who were coming through the front door, friends of my parents from Defiance, OH, Bill and Betty Kirtley, were coming through the back door through garage.  Bill saw the "Reagan Bush" sign and, on his own, decided that it needed to be paraded through our reception:

My mother was the first to seen the approaching lawn sign of doom, while the rest of us were preoccupied:

She recovered quickly.  But then, Jim and his mother saw it:

Things could have gotten ugly, but my father waded into the fray, caught up to Bill and tried to tell a few jokes, repeating the lawn sign one to smooth ruffled feathers.  Dad did manage to get the sign out of Bill's hands and back into the garage where it stayed for the rest of the reception**:

And eventually we all got to leave the reception line and get a drink and things got better.

Another interesting conflict that developed during the wedding, was that as Jim and I had been living on our own for a number of years, we didn't think that we needed all the traditional wedding gifts that friends and family showered upon you, and we wanted whatever money our friends would spend on those gifts to go to a cause that was near and dear to our hearts:  Macalester College and minority scholarships.  Several of our friends there had been African American and my current boss was African American, so it made perfect sense to us.  I thought I might get an official imprimatur of approval for our idea if I wrote to Miss Manners at the Washington Post.
Miss Manners responded in a column published in the Washington Post in the spring of 1980:
Yours is the most altruistic of the many letters Miss Manners receives from people who want to have some control over the selection of present they expect. Others ask 'How can I let them know I want money instead of some crummy toaster?' or "Instead of each giving us silver we won't use, why can't our friends get together and pay our mortgage?" Then there are the people who either sympathize with their friends' problems of buying present or profound distrust their taste, and want to say, "No gifts please" on their invitations.

What Miss Manners must tell all of you, regardless of your motives, is that there is no tasteful way--not even any moderately decent way--of directing present-giving, when you are on the receiving end.

Contrary to general belief, present-giving is never required. It is traditionally associated with birthdays, Christmas and weddings, but cannot be used as an entrance fee to related festivities. You must pretend that you invite people because you want to celebrate important occasions with them and you must seem pleasantly surprised when they give you something. To act as if it is such standard payment that you can acknowledge your expectations is rude-rude-rude.

Perhaps what has confused you is the business gimmick of the bridal registry, by which engaged couples inform stores of their tastes in the hope that their friends will come in, get this information and act on it.

There is just enough distance between the giver and the receiver to make this a passable practice. The bride and bridegroom do not actually instruct their friends--they only tell their preference to a neutral business establishment. And the present-givers only receive information if they ask for it.

Another practice that has confused you is that of bereaved families who ask that "contributions" be made to a charity instead of flowers being sent to them or the funeral. This is also a borderline case, most practical when there are huge numbers of mourners and it is known that there will be more than enough flowers (Notice to florists: Miss Manners adores flowers, and believe that they are an important symbolic part of a funeral, but too many of them, sent to the bereaved family's house, can be oppressive.

However, we were talking about weddings, not funerals, and the charitable donation idea is appropriate to the latter, not the former. Your wedding guests should not have to "memorialize" you with a charitable contribution in your name. If they want to remember you charitably, they can invite you to dinner.

So the answer is no. Miss Manners knows you mean well but you must take what people decide to give you looking grateful that they went to the trouble to get you anything at all. And then you can exchange it.
Reading Miss Manners today, I can see that she gave me excellent advice.  But back in 1980, it was not theadvice I wanted to hear.  So, I simply disregarded it, and hand wrote notes which I inserted in every wedding invitation that we sent out--over 200 of them.  My mother was horrified.  That was not the way you did things, neither when she got married, nor in 1980. So Mom engaged in a bit of guerrilla warfare herself,  and without my knowledge, set up the traditional wedding gift table in the back bedroom, just in case any of her friends didn't want to give to the minority scholarship program at Macalester.  Just like the Reagan Bush sign, I discovered the gifts table when I came home, but unlike the yard sign, I was not get it removed.  So it stood during the wedding as a symbol of the clash between traditional bridal mores and my rash assault upon them:

Mom: 1,  Me: 0.  But Macalester did receive $1005 from friends gracious enough to overlook my very bad manners.  It was a lot of money back in the day, and both Jim and I were very thankful. 

As the reception was winding down, we discovered that many of our friends didn't have plans for the evening.  Utterly on the spur of the moment, we called a restaurant in the Tates Creek shopping area to see if their private dining room on the second floor was available.  It was, so the party spilled over to there and eventually to their second private dining room. At that point, I was drinking bloody marys and the festivities became very loud and boisterous--with many jokes being told by those at the table.  In the second room there was a large joke that had to do with the Arch in St. Louis, but in the dining room I was in, the only joke that I clearly remember from that night was one told by Jack Edwards, a Macalester classmate (who I just learned passed away this past March--gads!).  Jack, although he grew up in Louisville, had a store of Sven and Ole jokes from his time in Minnesota and he spun them out that night, one after the other.  The one I remember was about Sven and Lena, his wife.  Lena was feeling poorly it seems, and Sven took her to the doctor to be looked at.  The doctor examined Lena and came out to Sven,  and said, "Sven, I'm afraid Lena has acute angina."  "Oh, dat's ok, doc," said Sven.  "I know dat already.  I peeked!" 

October 25, 1980 also marked the last day I ever smoked a cigarette.  I gave up smoking as my wedding gift to Jim.  But, of course, I tried to smoke all that I had left that day.  This just made the next morning, getting up for an early flight to DC and then on to St. Thomas for our honeymoon, that much more enjoyable.  Not.  I barely made it off the plane in DC and to the bathroom before I gave back my breakfast and part of my supper from the night before.  Luckily our friend, Karen, was on the same flight back so she shepherded me to and from the women's room, while Jim waited outside, a reversal of roles from the day before.  Giving up smoking meant quitting a habit I had developed for 9 years.  I say, with 20/20 hindsight, that I would not have quit that way again, because our honeymoon turned out to the one from hell.   But that is a story for another thread.

So, Happy Anniversary to me.  Glad I quit smoking 30 years ago.  Should never have started, but coulda woulda shoulda.


*Four years after we married, Jim's parents divorced after 39 years of marriage.

**Unfortunately for Bill Kirtley, we had a fairly bad recession Reagan's first two years in office.  Bad enough that it closed Bill's business in Defiance. 

I guess that's those are some illustrations of the law of unintended consequences.

Update October 26, 2010.  I was at  Metropolitan Markets tonight picking up a coupon special.  And who should I meet there but my former husband.  Who looked directly at me as one would a constituent, but did not register that this person smiling at him was his former wife with chemo shortened hair.  Almost 19 years of marriage, and he did not recognize me.  It will be interesting to sit with him at Sarah's award ceremony next Friday.


Katherine said...

I am at work and have 2 big filings due so I have no business writing about this now, but I was so overwhelmed with nostalgia, sentiment, etc. that I just had to write. First things first- Gina, youer hair, like the rest of you, looked great. I remember meeting Jim in college (during my one and only year at Mac) and later finding him again in DC (his friend Andy, owner of the Mercedes mentioned in your post, was dating my roommate Millie). And I remember when he introduced me to you. We had dinner at the Thai Room and I remember thinking "what is such a focussed, smart woman like this doing with a mellow guy like Jim? I also remember thinking that Thai food would never be very popular! But your wedding sticks in my mind as one of the most fun events of my life. I tasted bourbon (too much, probably), went to a gay club, saw a horse race, etc. It was such a blast, and I also remember meeting your friend Dave(?), a photographer who seemed so cool and artsy. But one of my sweetest memories (sad how i can remember this and not, say, who called me 15 minutes ago) was when I was chatting with your mom. I mentioned that I had gone to Mac but just for a little while and, sadly, I had not met anyone to date, let alone marry. She said, "Well, you just have to go to more reunions" and gave me a little pep talk about getting out there. In a nice, not bossy way. Thanks for the fun and the memories. XXOO Katy

Dorothy & Michael said...

What a great story, moe, and I thank you for sharing it. Today happens to be my 31st anniversary. Much of the clothing that appears on your friends in the pictures looks very familiar!

I'm dying to know - did you speak to Jim when you bumped into him at the market? And btw the date is incorrect on your update portion cuz today is only the 27th of October.

Dan Matyola said...

Another great story, Regina. I hope you are putting all of these together for a book.

I remember Vesuvio's very well from our DC days. Washington was always a fun city for the young.

Like you, I often look back and wonder whether we were ever really that young, and skinny and idealistic.

Lee and I also had a mixed marriage. I was not prepared to take that vow to raise my kids Catholic, so we compromised, and got married by an Episcopal chaplain at Andrews AFB. My son was baptized by a Catholic priest and confirmed in the Lutheran Church, and now it's hard to tell what he is.

Keep up the great stories; I love to read them.

Take care and Live Strong.


moe99 said...

Dorothy, good catch on the Oct. 28 date typo. I've fixed it to Oct. 26. And no, I did not speak to Jim because he turned around and walked away after grabbing some fruit. My voice is pretty low and rough and to raise it like that means I usually start coughing. So we shall see next Friday. Maybe I should introduce myself as Marion Nellermoe. I look more like her with my haircut these days. Just don't have the fancy jewelry to make the full character.

Dotty Smith said...

Well Gina, you got me this time!!!!!!Photos of Betty,Bill, Suzy ,Hilda and Al Topping were a thrill.
I follow your saga every day but haven't been prepared to write much. I have been dealing with polyradiculopathy since Jan and have been either hospitalized or drugged to the extreme. But all is better now and I appear( to the consternation of a few) to be on the road to a complete recovery short of a slight limp in my left leg.Send me your email and I'll catch you up on the news from Ridgway CO(John. Alex(Patty) etc.Dearest love to you!(Remind Barb that I went to Michigan- twice!!!!!Go Blue!)

Dotty Smith

moe99 said...


My email address is reginac23 @ . Just put all those together and it should work out. Thanks for your note. I will definitely tell Mom!