Lessons in Love and Lace From a Wartime Wedding

Claire, who became our substitute granddaughter when both our families were living in Panama and missing our North American relatives terribly, e-mailed me. She said her wedding was only a month away. "There is so much to do!"

"This is the time for me to tell you my wedding story," I e-mailed back. My husband and I were married in the middle of World War II, but with his Navy assignment and my job, we had only 10 days to get our wedding plans in order.

I longed for a simple wedding in the rock garden Mother and Dad had built, with its small pool and fountain. I had loved planting mountain laurel and flowers in it as a child, and they had thrived. But I was outvoted. I wanted only parents, grandparents, and close relatives present. "But," Mother pointed out, "what about your friends and ours? There isn't room for everyone there, and cars will be whizzing by, making lots of dust and noise."

Reason prevailed, and I agreed to be married in the church I had attended from childhood. Even in wartime it wasn't necessary to reserve a church long in advance, as it is now, but I had written the minister because I wanted him to marry us wherever the services might be.

My next skirmish involved music. "I usually play 'O! Promise Me!,' and other traditional wedding music," the organist said. She had been my first Sunday School teacher, and I was fond of her, but my taste in music was not hers. "Could you play Tchaikovsky's 'Romeo and Juliet' overture?" I begged.

"That would be nice," she smiled, and as it turned out, everyone else thought so, too.

The dress mother wanted me to wear had to have a train, and be white. I was overweight and would have preferred something more slimming - navy blue, for example - but again I gave in and got what she wanted. We went into New York City and found a white satin dress we both liked. Surprisingly, it was also slimming, though high-priced. But it seemed the only choice, given the time limit.

Mother was a bit of a comedian and sometimes made jokes I considered unfunny. Brightly smiling, she told the smart, slim young salesgirl, "This isn't a shotgun wedding, you know, just a wartime one!"

The day arrived. A friend loaned me a veil trimmed with exquisite antique lace, and a train even longer than my dress.

The church was lovely. It dated from the 18th century, and had been equipped with heat early in the 20th. It had ventilators in the aisle leading to the altar.

On a day's notice, one of Mother's friends rallied to the cause and decorated the church beautifully with whatever late-summer flowers she could find. My favorite uncle agreed to be one of the ushers, apologizing for having only a sports jacket and flannel trousers to wear. My father and my fianc's brother would wear Army uniforms, and the groom his Navy whites. I assured Uncle Ed that his clothing would be just fine. "There's a war on," was a catch phrase then.

We started up the aisle. At the first heat register the antique lace caught; I couldn't move without tearing it. I had been offered the usual white-satin runner to protect my train, but turned it down. "Too ostentatious," I said. "This is wartime."

I removed the veil. A friend caught it just before it reached the floor, and I was married bareheaded. Later, my father said he was prepared to drop a handkerchief on my head, should the minister object, but Reverend Harland was sensible and saw I was having enough trouble avoiding hysterics.

SO we were married, with suppressed giggles in all my responses. I thought the whole thing very ironic, and had to remind myself that I mustn't guffaw at my own wedding.

"You may kiss the bride," the minister told my new husband, but I heard nothing and had forgotten that part of the service. I turned for the romp up the aisle. My husband is a calm man, able to keep his head "when all about .... are losing theirs." Gently, he put his hand on my shoulder and made me face him. After the service, someone said he could see the buttons on the back of my dress wiggling. He thought I was weeping for joy.

We survived the wedding, and celebrated our golden anniversary several years ago, with the help of my substitute granddaughter's parents. Survival is my point. Marriage is a matter of managing somehow, putting up with, trying your best, adapting to the circumstances. Married people should adopt the slogan, "We try harder."

When our granddaughter was married, another granddaughter, aged 6, calmed her stage fright by saying, "You look like a princess!" And she did.

And so, dear Claire, will you.

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