We headed steadily southward across the Western Massachusetts countryside toward the Hampden Country Club, in a bus filled with joy and champagne. The impending rain was still on our side. The bloated clouds would soon provide a silver backlit canvas for the remainder of our wedding formal photos.
We pulled up to the front of the venue, members of the bridal party hustling off the bus and rushing around, passing bouquets and boxes this way, coats and champagne that way. The function coordinator Kim met us at the bus, along with members of her crew, and immediately began taking drink orders and providing piping hot hors d’oeuvres. Inside the majority of our guests were already celebrating to upbeat music and an open bar, a massive display of crackers and cheese, fruit, vegetables, dips, and antipasto items, clearly visible through the glass front doors.
Still in a race against the dissipating daylight and the approaching thunderstorms, we shouted to one another as we rushed along to the left hand side of the venue and its low-rising rock wall and stairs, by which we would photograph. We had so much fun using our own creatively as well as taking suggestions for poses from our photographers – both the hired guns and our paparazzi guests. [Our photographer, Julia Pai, and her assistant, at one point were so focused on the task at hand, that Julia instructed our function coordinator, who was trying to pass around more appetizers to members of the bridal party, to go inside. It seemed funny and somewhat rude at the time, but in hindsight, it was good to stay focused on the portraits. The bacon wrapped scallops were delicious, but they would not create the lasting memories our photos would.] The rainbow shaded forest of maple and birch and oak and pine, and the pure perspective of our hilltop venue, took everyone’s breath away.
All was not perfect, though. As we were down to our final ten minutes of sunlight, I realized my mother was still nowhere to be found. Our second shuttle bus arrived at that moment, and as I and others tried to usher my mom to our portrait site, she refused to go (“the grass is wet, and my stockings will get wet and uncomfortable – I’m not doing it!”). I hollered at her, insisting that she come, as bridal party members; despite her stubbornness, I would not let my wedding day pass without my beloved mother in those photos, for posterity’s sake. We quickly renegotiated the site, down the hill onto the concrete patio, with mere minutes left to spare. In the end, my mother and I, as well as my other closest family members, took the shots as planned, and they turned out perfectly.
At the exact moment my best man and I finished our last photo together outside, darkness instantly swept over us and it began to downpour. God was certainly on our side this fine day! We went inside and joined everyone in the “bridal suite,” which was actually a portion of the golf club’s locker room, which was nicely designed for our wedding purposes. Everything was clean; the sofas and chairs were off-white wicker covered in floral cushions, and the carpets were equally bright. The time to venture upstairs and prepare for the grand introductions came quickly, and away we went.
Everyone lined up behind a large room-dividing curtain, nervous and discussing what creative moves they would make as they were introduced into the room. [I’ve seen some bridal party members enter the reception at this time with beers and wine glasses in hand. Some see this as tacky; others find it fun. I believe our entire wedding party left their bottles and glasses behind the curtain, by their own volition.] As we prepared ourselves, our DJ, according to our wishes, got everyone to their seats while he played “Enterlude” from the band The Killers’ album Sam’s Town, which in effect greeted our guests and thanked them for joining us for the day. My mother was then escorted in by my cousin’s fiancée; Alison’s mother entered with her son and granddaughter/our flower girl. These folks came into the room to the Glee version of “Sweet Caroline,” as my parents-in-law are huge Sox fans. Next came the bridesmaids and groomsmen, paired up, and they danced stylishly into the room to the upbeat funk of “Shotgun” by Jr. Walker & The All-Stars (the song is more commonly known as the theme to The Cosby Show). Finally, Alison and I received our introduction as “…a couple who will change the world as we know it: Mr. & Mrs. John & Alison Dudley,” set to a version of The Killers’ song “Bones,” which I had edited. The room erupted as the curtain was pulled back, and our faces too erupted, into beaming smiles.
We made our way to the dance floor, and as we arrived, we faced each other. Salsa music came in over the speakers. We took a lot of liberty in altering the short routine we had failed to practice thoroughly. Alison showed her flair, spinning the dress wide and flashing her shoes. Our guests hooted and hollered. I played second fiddle, as a good husband should in this scenario. The salsa track, “El Menu” by El Gran Combo, faded out after about a minute and the song drifted romantically into the soft touch of Sting’s “Fields of Gold.” [I had edited these two songs together as well. Some may ask, How did you choose these songs? Well, a salsa track was a definite, as Alison and I had taken salsa dance lessons a couple years prior. We chose this one for its slower tempo and food-related love lyrics. For the Sting track, I actually heard it twice as I suffered through a root canal not more than two weeks before the wedding; it provided me a short bit of comfort for me then, and later it hit both of us as a very moving song, with references to a long future together, children, etc.]
Following our dance and a round of cheers, the bridal party remained flanking the dance floor as they did during our first dance. We went right into our toasts. Alison’s mother started with a welcome and thank you, on behalf of herself and her husband. Alison had two toasters: her cousin, and her closest friend (maid of honor). I also had two: my two best friends. The bridesmaids’ speeches were very touching, as they typically are. My groomsmen’s toasts were brief, both touching on our friendships, with very funny sentiments (and neither toast shared anything embarrassing about me, which was very pleasing). Even my DJ, who is a good friend and colleague of mine, also shared a few personal, very sweet words about Alison and me. Lastly, I, in my father-in-law’s stead, led the evening’s benediction, thanking God for all he had given us.
[Interjecting a couple of side notes here… First, for those brides or grooms out there who may share a similar story at their wedding, I was without the company of both my father and younger brother, both of whom had passed away. I wanted to honor their memory, and did so in a couple distinct ways at the reception. I brought along two photos of us, which were fashioned with leaves and placed right next to the matted photo we used as our guest book. I included their names in my benediction. I also had my DJ play a couple of hand-selected doo-wop tunes by The Drifters; these songs we listened to, as my dad would croon, on long car rides my family shared when my brother and I were young. For my brother specifically, who passed due to a drug overdose, both Alison and I wore a silver overdose prevention ribbon pin, on our dress and tuxedo, respectively.
Second, with respect to our centerpieces, which we reviewed in prior posts, we had many last minute problems and changes. The large log slices into which we had planned to drill three-inch wide holes and then have the bridesmaids place their bouquets, to serve as centerpieces for about a third of the tables, were not able to serve as such. My valiant do-it-yourself (DIY) approach resulted in many logs with a one-inch hole in them – not adequate – and left in our backyard. One completed slice made it to the reception, which served to display my bride’s bright white bouquet on our sweetheart table; we flanked this on both sides with the bridesmaids’ bouquets, as you can see in the photos. We replaced this failed concept last minute by going to A.C. Moore and purchasing five very-thin and sanded wood slices, and used our wood-burning tools purchased from Michael’s Crafts to write special messages on each, like “Eternal Love,” or the date of the wedding, or a heart with our initials inside. We surrounded each on the tables with more artificial leaves and small battery-operated tea lights purchased from Michael’s. We actually used leaves and the small lights on every table. The handpicked forest item, potpourri style vase idea, referred also in a prior diary entry here, turned out as lovely as expected, though we ended up using this concept on two-thirds of the tables. Everything on the tables matched nicely with the brown lace chair bows, which we again purchased online for $0.60 a piece, and which our function coordinator so generously offered to tie onto the chairs.]
It was time to eat! We had gone with ‘stations,’ as opposed to formal plated meals. We wanted a free-flowing atmosphere at our reception; we did not want folks stuck at the tables all night. The menu featured two carving stations of turkey and steamship round of beef, sides of mashed potato and squash, cook-to-order pasta station, lobster bisque and minestrone soup, and garden salad seasoned with extraordinary custom-made vinaigrette. People all grabbed a plate or two of something or other, and headed back to the tables. It was just about this time that we went over and performed our cake cutting ceremony, set to Alison’s choice in music, a live version of Sarah McLachlan’s “Ice Cream.” The cake, baked and decorated by the function venue with our cake topper and artificial leaves, came out perfectly. Our concept for the top tier had a lovely result: it appeared as if the bride was shoving the groom into a pile of leaves. [We found this topper on the internet; multiple websites featured it.] There were no fork on the table, so after we sliced and pulled a small portion of our white cake with Grand Marnier vanilla frosting, we delicately fed it to each other with our fingers. [The woman always eats first, then the husband!] We sealed everything with a sugary sweet kiss.
Right after our cake cutting, we took an opportunity to surprise my uncle with a cake of his own. His birthday fell on the day of our wedding. With his family and friends singing the song, cameras snapped away, a huge smile on his face (he’s usually a very low-key, private guy, but he ate this up!). Then, if there were not enough sugar already in the room, my mom-in-law presented me with my groom’s cake, a surprise to me even though it sat right next to the wedding cake – I swear, I didn’t notice it! This edible art was the coolest thing I had ever seen, and many guests said the same thing. The cake was a chocolate and peanut-butter filled DJ’s turntable complete with headphones, microphone, and a record that featured my name and a photo of Alison and me. Again, the coolest thing I had ever seen and definitely one of the most thoughtful!
My mother and I then shared our much-anticipated slow dance together, to her choice in song, Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.” With that, the formalities were finished, and it was party time! [For couples seeking a high-energy, quick-pace wedding: it took just under one hour to go from the grand entrance of the bridal party to the dance floor party!] Everyone had a blast to the music; my friend the DJ even tossed me the microphone so I could lead the Cupid Shuffle – I couldn’t escape it. Our most reluctant family and friends all made at least one visit out to the dance floor, which made us very happy, to see them enjoying themselves. Of course, the open bar (especially our seasonal signature drinks for the night, Spiked Apple Cider and pumpkin beer) kept the night extra exciting: a couple of our friends started a round of invisible double-dutch at one point, leaving one very good friend of mine laid flat out on the floor after ‘getting his legs caught up in the ropes.’
The photos kept snapping. People kept dancing. Faces kept smiling. After a couple hours of nothing but dance, it was suddenly over, and our guests were shouting at me to get into my shuttle. Apparently, Alison and everyone else were already inside it! I jogged through the main corridor, with friends and family to my left and right, giving and getting high-fives as I went along. I hopped up the stairs of the luxury bus to a round of cheers as the door closed behind me.
What a perfect day.
[This Wedding Diary is written by full-time Boston-area wedding specialist, DJ John Dudley. You can find more information, tips, ideas, testimonials, videos, photos, and more at http://www.DJJohnDudley.com , http://www.YouTube.com/user/DJJohnDudley , on Facebook (DJ John Dudley Entertainment), and on Twitter (@thebostondj). We welcome your questions, comments, needs for wedding advice, etc.]