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The Wedding Dance 

Celebrating a long marriage, measure for measure

click to enlarge MICHAEL TONN
  • Michael Tonn

My daughter Amy was maid of honor in her best friend's wedding four years ago. It was early October. The bride, Karen, had worked more than a year to make sure all the details were just right. Engraved invitations. An ordained college faculty friend of the groom's to personalize and perform the ceremony in the garden of the Inn at Essex. Flowers timed to be in full bloom against the fall foliage. Karen made hors d'oeuvres and buffet selections with family food allergies in mind. A white tent would shade the reception tables. She carefully planned the seating, each table a mixture of guests who knew each other already and new people who would get along well once they all met.

Karen's favorite colors, light purple and yellow, were used in the flower centerpieces. The names on the place cards were in calligraphy. She wrapped the guest gifts herself: small white boxes containing tulip bulbs and tied with a lavender or yellow ribbon. It would be the right time of year to plant the bulbs when guests went home, symbolic of the bride and groom's new life together and how it would blossom. Karen even carefully chose a dress style that would look good on all her attendants, including the bridesmaid who became pregnant after the dresses were ordered. The lavender color for the dresses worked, too.

"It's snowing!" I heard Amy say the morning of the wedding before I even got up.

"No way!" her sister said.

But it was snowing, and it was cold and windy. "Do you think the tent will have sides?" I asked.

At 11 a.m., the specified ceremony starting time, the weather had warmed up to a rainy drizzle. Silver trays of stuffed mushroom caps, bacon-wrapped shrimp, mini egg rolls and vegetarian sushi rolls were passed by catering staff dressed in crisp black and white. As they circulated among the guests and tables in the enclosed tent, servers explained, "We're just waiting a little for it to clear. Please help yourselves to the artichoke and cheese and bread selections we have for you at the far side of the tent."

At 11:15, it poured.

The ceremony was held inside the white tent with its side curtains dropped. After the vows and the buffet and the toasts, the music played for dancing. My husband and I were seated at a table with other parents of the attendants and the groom's grandparents. We talked and watched people dance. The grandparents were thrilled to have Karen in their family, "We love Karen. She is so thoughtful, and she did such a beautiful job of planning the wedding."

It was true. She had. And she was out there smiling and dancing according to the order my daughter had told me about: groom, her father, her stepfather, groom's father, groom's stepfather, and then the groom's grandfather. She had it all planned out and was following through, in spite of the rain - or maybe to spite the rain.


My husband and I dance together occasionally. Every few years when someone gets married. Our table was emptying again as people went to the dance floor for a slow song. The groom's grandparents chided us as they got up again, "Are you too old to dance?" My husband and I smiled at each other and joined them.

"This is the last dance before Karen and Jonathan leave," the DJ explained, "and I'm sure you're all wondering about the bouquet. Karen has decided to honor marriage in a new way. Why don't you all dance, and I'll explain as we go."

The dance floor was packed with couples, shuffling in small squares. "OK," the DJ announced over the music, "it's time for anyone who's not married to sit down." The dance floor thinned by a third, and the music played on. "Now it's time for anyone married less than a year to sit down." Two couples left the floor. "Now those married less than two years," he continued. Three more left the floor, each couple holding hands on the way back to their tables. Not much of the song had played before the DJ said, "Now less than five years." More couples stopped and sat down. It was now parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, parents of bridesmaids and ushers, and the couple Karen worked for. We danced.

"OK, now 10 years," the DJ jumped ahead. Karen's employers left the dance floor along with a set of parents. "Now 15," he directed. Some aunts and uncles, another set of parents, and some attendants' parents sat down. I began to feel a little conspicuous. "And now 20 years," he continued, and the remaining parents left. "Sit down if you've been married less than 25 years." The DJ sounded triumphant and smiled as he watched the floor empty, except for two couples. My husband and I kept dancing, and so did the groom's grandparents.

"Oh!" said the DJ. I was as surprised as he was. "Um, well," he continued, "please leave the floor if you've been married less than 30 years!" The DJ smiled. We kept dancing. It hadn't come up over dinner, but I hoped this wasn't a second marriage for these grandparents. I wasn't familiar with this particular bouquet tradition, but I guessed Karen's plan was to honor this couple - the only people in the room besides us, apparently, who after 25 years were still on their first marriage.

Karen watched us dance, holding the bouquet in one hand, arms folded across her elegant, white, spaghetti-strap gown. But she didn't talk to her groom, standing next to her, or to my daughter on her other side.

"Thirty-one," the DJ said with a flourish. "Thirty-two?" he asked. My husband looked at me. I shrugged. We kept dancing, and so did the grandparents. If they stopped, I planned to stop, too, even if we should have kept on. This was one time it wouldn't be good to be the last ones standing. I wanted this bouquet thing to go perfectly for my daughter's best friend. I wanted them to keep being best friends.

"Sit down if you've been married less than 33 years!" The DJ held the microphone tight in his hand.

My husband bent his head down and whispered, "How long have we been married?"

The DJ called out, "Married less than 40!" He'd left out a few years, but people laughed, and I relaxed. We backed off the dance floor, applauding with the rest of the guests, as the smiling grandparents received the bouquet with hugs from the bride.

"Thirty-four years this December," I whispered as we held hands on the way to our table. "Want to guess the date?"

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Barbara Marvin


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