My first wedding really was the happiest day of my life. Held at my mother's country club in the grand style of my girlish fantasies, it was orchids and lace and a half-dozen kinds of smoked fish. It was young people with moussed-out mid-eighties hairdos dancing to the Bronski Beat as my mother's friends looked on in wonder. It was a Jersey Jewish girl and a Philadelphia Catholic boy married by a mayor.
Thirteen years later, I married again. By then I'd been widowed and was raising two sons alone. In planning my second wedding, few of the frothy rituals that seemed so indispensable the first time made sense to me (and my mother would no longer be footing the bill). But my philosopher groom and I wanted something more romantic and personal than a quiet little trip to the courthouse. Not a gala but a flamboyant event in its own way, one that would involve our closest family and friends in our second attempts at lifelong partnership.
Like anyone who says the wedding vows more than once, we knew a few things about always and forever. For instance, things will always be more complicated than you think. And forever is a goal no mortal can claim. We knew by the broken hearts and families, by the funerals, by the trouble we'd seen, how little can be promised. And in light of all that, if we had the nerve to try again, if we were older and wiser and still stunned silly by love, shouldn't we throw ourselves one hell of a party?
We thought so, anyway. We decided to hold our ceremony in a glade in the woods behind our new house in rural Pennsylvania and then move to the backyard for what we'd begun to refer to as Woodstock III: the Love-In. I spent several afternoons with my 11-year-old stepdaughter-to-be, Emma, hand-embossing, tying ribbons, and dripping sealing wax on parchment envelopes for the invitations, which read:
Emma and Sam Sartwell
Hayes and Vince Winik
request the honor of your presence
at the marriage of their parents.
Like many second weddings, ours was as much about merging our families as forming a twosome. Emma was my maid of honor, 11-year-old Hayes was Crispin's best man, and the younger children, who were 8 and 9, walked us down the aisle. We all wore white: shorts for the kids, satin pedal pushers with a lace bustier for me, linen drawstring pants and a pullover for my curly blond husband, who played the wedding march on a Cajun accordion. In one of the few similarities to my first wedding, a mayor was on hand.
Combining two fully operational households, we hardly needed gifts. So instead of registering anywhere, we informed our guests that we'd be interning them as servants—we'd have a completely do-it-yourself wedding where the invitees were also the help and the entertainment.
The 35 adults and children who attended hauled rocks and rental equipment, decorated, arranged flowers, and prepared food. They brought in the crawfish feast from New Orleans for the rehearsal dinner and the tomato pies from Philly for the wedding lunch. My children's grandmother—my late first husband's mother—baked our wedding cake and drove down with it from the Poconos. The highlight of the whole event was a talent show in the cornfields that went on into the evening with music, poetry, lip-synched dance routines, and trampoline demonstrations.
One lingering question was answered for me that day: You can make those promises with just as much passion the second time around. Such is the regenerative power of the human heart.
Starting around the time of our ceremony, in predictable generational lockstep, I've been invited to or heard of a whole raft of second weddings. I've been struck by the individuality and romanticism they share with ours, yet each expresses so differently. Released from their frozen positions atop the third tier of the cake—and from parental controls—brides and grooms are dreaming up celebrations that reflect their personalities and their approaches to marriage. (Remember John and Yoko? Second-wedding pioneers.)
One pair of friends remarried in a frescoed palazzo in Venice, then took the wedding party into the countryside for a few days of feasting and winetasting. Two newspaper editors we know rented out a lodge at Mammoth Lakes near Yosemite and invited 46 people for a weekend that included a five-mile hike on the morning of the ceremony. A designer friend whose first wedding involved not one but two enormous, rococo events—one in Mexico City and one in San Antonio—married the second time in a handmade minidress at the home of the elderly friend who had introduced her to the new guy. The couple served cake and Champagne to a party of four.
Next: Finding a way to bring past traditions into the present