As a teenager, I thought my wedding could take place at the public pool where I lifeguarded. There would be floating candles and a stringed band. Older, I wanted something more casual, maybe artisan pizzas and craft beers. At one point, I envisioned it taking place at the 50-yard line of Coughlin-Alumni Stadium.
A wedding and a husband have been long-time goals for me. Often, I’d fall asleep planning out the details – colors of bridesmaid dresses, the style of my hair – even if I did not know who would be at the other side of the aisle. For the second half of my 20s and into my 30s, I started to wonder if love and all the events that come with it were going to happen for me. Those were pretty sad and lonely times (just ask the friends I would text after two glasses of red wine). I was envious of every person who had figured love out, ignoring that their relationships likely weren’t as perfect as I made them out to be. At my youngest brother’s wedding, I was determined to show all my friends and family that I was fine being single, the last one in my family unwed. I boasted my urban life and my recent two-week vacation to New Zealand as reasons that I am doing OK, but deep down, I really didn’t want to be on my own anymore.
Three days after his wedding, I went on a date with a guy who is now my husband. It didn’t take long for the first “I love you” to come, then plans to move in together, and eventually, talks of an engagement.
When Ethan purposed, I didn’t want a wedding, at first. As I’ve said here, I know my anxieties well, and I knew that they would damper any joy trying to peak its way out. But, one fall night, while we where walking our dog, Annie, we came across a block party. Block parties are pretty common in our neighborhood of single family homes priced at $1.5 – $2 million, and while they make parking for us silly apartment dwellers horrendous, I understand their appeal. This one had white lights strung across the block, flowing bottles of something, and friends gathered to laugh and converse. That block party, along with the idea of having everyone I love in one place, convinced me that I needed to have a wedding.
My mother came for a week while I was recovering from hip surgery, and we spent that time watching episodes of “Say Yes to the Dress”, picking through bridal magazines, and putting together a plan for the wedding. Her only goal was to nail down a time of year and general location, but by the time she left, we had a date, a venue, a cater and a vision.
Outside of the guest list, the location was the hardest part. If money weren’t an object, we likely would have gotten married in Chicago, the city where we met and fell in love. I had scoped out places along Lake Michigan, botanical gardens, maybe even a boat on the Chicago River in the loop. But, our budget and city venues fees did not match, and so we had to look at other options. While it would be special to have it in Pierre, where I grew up, it’s not an easy trip for anyone outside of South Dakota. The flight to Sioux Falls is unbelievably expensive (seriously, City of Sioux Falls, you gotta make it cheaper to get there) and then you have to drive three and half hours. I couldn’t do that to our friends. I also really liked the idea of somewhere in the woods, and because we likely couldn’t afford the California Red Woods, we look at locations in Wisconsin, something that was an easy drive from Chicago. Just a few days of calling venues add a layer of tension to my shoulders. Many places were booked or out of our price range, and we would have to arrange time to get up there and see the place. It felt like shopping for an apartment. I hated it. I knew I wanted something outside and flexible, like a backyard. Since I already ruled out Pierre, we started talking about Ethan’s parents’ house in a small town 90 minutes of Nashville.
It made sense. They had a big backyard with a gorgeous view of the sunset. Nashville is by far easier to get to than Sioux Falls. And, we could add enough white lights to have that block party feel.
Then, we needed a date. One came to mind, and I did that thing where I start a sentence and stop midway to look something up. Sure enough, it was on a Saturday. “How about June 2?” I said. Ethan nodded his head and smiled. I had wanted to get married earlier in the year, but it seem almost perfect to get married on June 2 – the third anniversary of our first date. June 2 is the day we have celebrated our anniversary the last two years, and it was the best date for our wedding.
With the date and location secured, we set out on the other details. Shortly after we were engaged, friends suggested that we make a list of the things that really mattered to us and put more of our resources behind those things. For me, that was photography, flowers, and lighting.
Fake flowers were not really option for me, but because we were getting married in a small town and had a small bridal party, we were able to get beautiful bouquets (that ended up being bigger than I anticipated) for a reasonable price. For the table flowers, we purchased several bundles from the grocery store and placed them in antique soda bottles. Ethan’s aunt took it another level by growing and potting two dozen succulent plants.
Mood lighting is a big thing for me, just ask my husband who constantly wants to turn on the overhead light and I insist the lamp is just as good. I wanted an entire canopy of white lights for my wedding. My mom and mother-in-law were on light duty, and the holiday season came with great deals. We used the lights to set up a perimeter for the reception and dance floor and floated them through trees to create an outdoor romantic feel. We paired them with clusters of lit candles in jars as centerpieces.
The piece that I cared the most about was photography, even more so than my dress (not by much, but still more). I’ve long been an appreciator of good photography, and to me wedding photos are the thing, besides vows, that will last the longest. In all of my wedding fantasies, I had alway picked out a friend or a former co-worker, usually someone experienced in photojournalism, to be the photographer. For the last few years, that person has been Wes. I met him through a friend of friend when I was living in Sioux Falls, but it wasn’t until after I left South Dakota that he started building his photography businesses. His photos were popping up all over the place, and I knew that I wanted him to photograph my wedding if there was ever the opportunity.
When we started interviewing photographers, I was only looking at those located in Tennessee, but since I had had the dream of hiring Wes for this specific life event for so long, I thought I would at least inquire to find out how much it would cost. Because we would have to pay for him to get to Tennessee, his fees were a bit more expensive but he was also more experienced than the others we were considering (but definitely not the most expensive of those we researched). And, the quality of his photos were higher and more consistent. But what finally convinced me was advice a friend gave me – hire someone you and Ethan would be the most comfortable around, and I knew immediately that was Wes. We he was the first vendor we officially hired.
Over the next eight months, the rest of the wedding came together. We decided on a BBQ buffet with a popcorn bar during cocktail hour and all-you-can ice cream for dessert. We asked our good friend Kera, who remembers me telling her about Ethan and saying “I am going to try with this one,” to be the officiant. And, my mother made special trip to Chicago so we could visit three boutiques and try on 15 different dresses.
A few weeks before the wedding, I was nervous that it was going to rain. We didn’t really have a good back up plan, and so at the last minute we ordered a tent and bought dozens of umbrellas at Dollar Tree. We also made a quick order to Amazon for hand paper fans in the event it was too warm (they came in handy for the 90-degree humid day). I was also worried that we had decided to do too much DIY and it wasn’t going to come together. Once, I had a meltdown in the street while talking to my mom on the phone about how we were going to ensure cold drinks were constantly available.
Ethan and I drove to Lawrenceburg the Wednesday before the wedding, and I was a ball of nerves up until midday Friday. By that time, the forecast showed nothing but sunshine until Sunday, all of the wedding party and my family had arrived, and there was nothing left to do but the day-of-set up (which was a lot of work, but thank goodness for family and good friends willing to do the work so I could concentrate on getting ready for the day), and all of my worries were gone. We had the rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner and then a small get-together with friends, all of which was the perfect lead up to the big day.
The morning of the wedding, I woke up with little sleep but not a care about it. I wrote in my journal, had a special moment with my mom, and ate a light breakfast. My two bridesmaids, personal attendant and I went to the salon, and then we hung out until it was time to do make up and put on my dress. My friend Mackenzie remarked how calm and at peace I seemed to be, and I really was. It was not going to rain that day, but even if it did, it wouldn’t have bothered me. Nothing was going to ruin my wedding day.
Ethan and I talked about whether or not we would do a first look, and he initially did not want to see me before the wedding. But, that would mean we wouldn’t get to see each other until 5 p.m., and I wanted to spend the day together, so we decided to meet at a waterfall in a state park where we were taking our photos. The only time I had butterflies in my stomach was right before I saw him, but when he turned around and we were finally next to one another, nothing else really mattered.
The rest of the day was perfect. I mean, there were hiccups, but I do not care. Our wonderful wedding party and family were by our sides the whole day. The guest list ended up small, but intimate. The ceremony and sermon my friend gave was better than I could have imagined. And, the party was full of lights and flowers and dancing and giggling and joy. It was everything I could have hoped for.
I had told people that the wedding I am planning at 33 is far different than the wedding I would have had at 23, which is true but for all good reasons. It everything I wanted to be, and more. Not just for our loving guests or the perfect lighting or the amazing photography, but because I get to call Ethan my husband. All those other wedding fantasies don’t matter, because this one had him and that’s all I ever really wanted.
All photos by Wes Eisenhauer Photography.