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 SartwellLike 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.
Hayes and Vince Winik
request the honor of your presence
at the marriage of their parents.
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
On the night of the party, Dubravka acted astonished as one group of friends after another showed up. But shortly after cocktails, her son, John, mounted the stairs, thanked everyone for coming, and explained that, actually, the joke was on them. This wasn't only a birthday party, it was a wedding. Dubravka and Terry were married in front of the fireplace then and there. ("I thought that peach satin formal was a little much for a birthday dinner," my friend Ellen said later.)
People who knew I was collecting interesting second-wedding stories told me to call Harriette Cole, the author of Jumping the Broom: The African-American Wedding Planner. Ironically, and somewhat painfully, Cole had been asked to write the book while in the middle of a divorce. But she decided to go ahead with it anyway. "I wanted to focus on traditions that were not just pretty but substantive," she says. "Things that had helped people stay together." As it turned out, the project was the place where she buried her first marriage and found her second. She began dating George Chinsee, a photographer with whom she'd worked, and married him one month after the book's publication.
"We consulted Brahman priests for a date that would be good astrologically," says Cole, who is a devotee of Eastern spiritual traditions. They chose 11 o'clock on a Tuesday morning and found a beautiful spot—the Tea Garden in Loch Sheldrake, New York, near the couple's ashram. While Cole's first wedding was a Methodist extravaganza, her second marched to a world beat. She wore a gold and red form-fitted sheath, a crocheted cap, and golden sandals. Honored female relatives and friends were draped in hand-dyed scarves, honored men received vests, and all were served ginger beer and sorrel tea from the groom's native Jamaica.
The climax of the ceremony was jumping the broom, the African-American slave ritual that gave Cole's book its name. Because slaves couldn't legally marry, the act of jumping over a decorated broom—easily accessible as well as a symbol of homemaking—became the commitment ritual. "I'd written and talked so much about it, but it was another thing to do it," Cole says. "As we prepared to jump, there was a crescendo of drums meant to invoke the grace of the ancestors. Everybody stood up and started cheering. Then, the moment we jumped, I saw my dead grandmother's face. She was 101 when she died, right around the time I met George."
Finding a way to evoke the presence of those who have died is a common thread at second weddings, perhaps because those who have been around longer have more loss in their lives. My friends Bob and Vicki found a way to combine gift evasion with the theme of remembrance.
Before she met Bob, 56-year-old Vicki, a nurse and hospital administrator in Baltimore, had raised her sons, given up dating, and thrown herself into marathon running and law school. So when she bumped into an old friend on the running trail and he wanted to fix her up on a date, she had to be convinced. "He's an amazing man," her friend said. "He was my English teacher in high school." It wasn't until the night of the date that Vicki thought, His high school teacher? He has to be, like, 70 years old.
He was. But doubts about her date dissolved as Bob started the evening by buying Vicki a tequila shot. Not long after, they moved in together and decided to be married at a French restaurant. "At my first wedding I saw no one because we were so busy taking pictures, and at my second wedding I ate nothing because we were so busy making sure friends were taken care of," Vicki says. "So I planned my third wedding with no cameras and lots of hors d'oeuvres." In lieu of gifts, guests were asked to donate to the cancer center where Bob's first wife had been a patient—both in memory of her and in honor of Vicki's older son, who had survived leukemia. The thousands of dollars raised meant a lot more to the couple than a barrage of new sheet sets and food processors would have.
I think Vicki and Bob would agree with the sentiment expressed in an e-mail I received when Sue Jernigan, the friend who introduced me to Crispin and whose own second marriage preceded ours by a year, heard of our engagement. We quoted her on our invitation: "This is the ephemeral and elusive happiness that you can't even look for because it doesn't have a name or a site. It floats and soars through luck, karma, destiny's twists and turns. If you are very blessed, you turn around and it grabs you tight around your heart. And you have the intuition to grab back, smiling and breathless, stupid and brave."
Second (or third, or fourth) time around? Keep reading: