Today is my 17th wedding anniversary. The time has just flown by...
Since Jonathan is at work for the next few hours, I thought I would share what my wedding day was like...
My mother was sick. Very sick, fighting breast cancer. To surprise her, my dad decided to fly the three of them (Mom, Dad & my stepmother) to Portland to visit for the very first time.
Jonathan and I were thrilled, and we immediately knew we wanted to make sure Mom's visit was special. We were considering various outings when Jonathan just looked at me and said, "Hey...why don't we get married?"
We now had ten days to plan a wedding.
First thing first: we needed to find a venue, and fast. We didn't want to go a Justice of the Peace, as it seemed a tad impersonal. And a traditional house of worship would have been a prickly topic, as I am a Christian and Jonathan is Jewish. An outdoor wedding at a park was not an option, as it rains pretty much all day, every day, during the winter months in the Portland area. The final consideration was to find a venue that would not be hard for Mom to be comfortable in and at the same time be a venue that will not in any way irritate my easy-to-irritate father.
Our first choice? The (sadly now-defunct) Portland landmark: the 24-Hour Church of Elvis.
CoE was well-known for hosting fun weddings, both the legal ceremony and civil unions. It was run by a husband-and-wife team: the husband was an Elvis impersonator (of course). His wife, Stephanie Pierce, was known as "the spokesmodel" (she was the licensed minister and officiated all the weddings).
Both were primarily artists, and their work decorated both the interior and the exterior of the building. They had se wonderful collages and work with reclaimed materials. The CoE was part of their business, known as "Where's the Art."
The Church of Elvis was a beloved institution in downtown Portland, a few blocks from Powell's Books (the nation's largest independent bookstore) and directly across the street from a small but well-cared-for park.
The CoE was also famous for its dedication to performing gay marriage ceremonies, and its great pride in being a venue that wanted to create happy wedding memories regardless of the genders of the couple in love.
The Church was listed in numerous magazines, books & websites as being one of the places to check out when in Portland. However, in the year and a half Jonathan and I had called this city home, we'd yet to pay it a visit. I was a little nervous, getting married in a place I had never seen. But it came so highly recommended by friends and co-workers, that we decided to take the leap without looking first.
Truth be told, even though the CoE is no more, it remains a big part of the city's heart and character. Every few years there are rumors of its possible return. And items from the Church are collectible and not always easy to find online. With a little hard work and patience, it's still possible to track down their famous Elvis church identification card, booklets, and t-shirts:
Ultimately, the 24-Hour Church of Elvis was primarily famous for its kitschy and wonderful wall of coin-operated confessionals/alters that decorated both the interior and the exterior of the building, and were available 24/7.
Excited at the idea of tying the knot in such a cool place, we called Where's the Art. At first, they had no openings available for the entire week my parents would be in town. After I shared my mom's condition and pleaded our case, they were kind to us and agreed to come in on their day off just for us. I was so relieved and grateful! They had only the one spot that would work: the Friday after my parents' arrival. We immediately booked it without a second thought.
My parents were speechless when we sat them down for their first meal in Portland and told them what we had planned for their visit: a museum on Wednesday, Multnomah Falls on Thursday, and what the hell, let's have a wedding on Friday at the Church of Elvis!
My mother was thrilled. And, in a rare moment of post-divorce solidarity, both she and my dad loved the CoE idea.
This was not at all surprising. I have a joke I've told about my parents for years: they had nothing in common except four kids and an unnatural obsession with Elvis Presley.
In the days before our wedding, I got to do a little pre-matrimony bonding with my mom. We got the license together (she even brought my birth certificate for it), went shopping for a blouse to match the skirt I'd chosen, and got a bouquet of flowers (plastic, as almost everyone invited was allergic, including the bride & groom.) We had dinner at the Godfather's Pizza in Sellwood, mostly because all the Godfathers in Ohio had shut down years ago and my mother was fond of their deep-dish pies. Every time we drive past that area now, I think of her and how excited she was to be part of her daughter's big day. It is a memory I cherish and keep close to my heart.
On the day of the wedding, my dad went out in the morning for coffee, donuts and a paper. That's when we all realized what day it was: December 7th. Pearl Harbor Day. The day that will "live on in infamy." We'd had no idea...we were so wrapped up in plans it just never occurred to us. We still get raised eyebrows over it every now and again...
But back to the story. That morning, my mother helped me with my hair & makeup (and used the time to have an Are-You-Sure-You're-Sure-You-Can-Still-Get-Out-Of-This chat). We then got the kids dressed and made sure my dad's video camera was operational.
Finally, everything and everyone was ready. Off to the CoE we went!
Jonathan and I both wore black for the ceremony. He wore slacks, a dress shirt and his favorite Snoopy vest. I wore a blouse, skirt, and a Spanish mantilla over my hair. My "something borrowed" were a pair of my mother's earrings. For my "something blue": my grandmother's shawl that she had worn to her own wedding.
It was a very small ceremony: me, Jonathan, Dad, Mom, my stepmother, our friends April & Chris, and our kids Phoenix & Serenity. Our wedding songs were two versions of "Can't Help Falling in Love (With You.)"
Before the ceremony began, we took a tour of the Church. Phoenix loved all the coin-operated one-of-a-kind machines (and my dad's habit of always carrying around a big pocketful of change came in very handy indeed.) April and Chris were drawn to the antique posters on the wall ordering all people of Japanese descent or origin to report to an internment camp, and chatted with Stephanie about how awful that part of our history as a nation really was. This led to Stephanie and my dad talking about a trip he'd recently made to Wounded Knee.
Then we went into the Elvis chamber. My parents and Stephanie had a lively conversation about the King of Rock 'n' Roll. At one point, my dad remarked that he had more Elvis gear in his closet than this place had in the whole building! And he wasn't just whistlin' Dixie. He was a lifelong collector of all things Presley. My parents fought over that Elvis collection for ages following their split. Custody they figured out right away. Who got the Elvis license plates? That took years.
I had been nervous, but for once, my parents put aside their personal disagreements and complicated pasts for one day so their oldest daughter could marry the man she loves. In the end, the only one to make a fuss was 15-month-old daddy's girl, Serenity, who had trouble understanding just why her father couldn't hold her throughout the ceremony!
We gave our vows, and then were marched down the street into Powell's Books with a big "Just Married" sign. Everyone stopped and applauded!
Then we were off to our apartment, where we had a little reception with food and a cake my father bought (the cake was easily Phoenix's favorite part of the day). We toasted with champagne and took congratulatory calls from my grandfather and my sister.
And I kept wanting to ask people to pinch me...after all this time, and all we'd been through, Jonathan and I were now husband and wife. It felt like a dream!
Alas, there was no honeymoon...we spent the time with my mother instead. We plan to take a trip to Vegas in 2017, our 20th anniversary. I have been looking forward to it for years, and I can't believe it's only three short years away now. We are so excited!
Over the years I've had people ask me if I plan to have a "real wedding" later on down the line, or if I wish I'd done anything differently. My answer to both is an emphatic no. I wouldn't have changed a thing (except possibly not wearing high heels that pinched my toes painfully during the March to Powell's). It may not have been your usual run-of-the-mill ceremony, but we're not the usual run-of-the-mill couple, so it fit us perfectly.
It was the only time my mom got to be the mother of the bride: she died seven months later. In 2010, my father also passed. By their requests, Elvis' version of "Peace in the Valley" was played at both ceremonies.
In those last, precious seven months, my mother showed our wedding video to anyone who would watch it. She was just delighted, and anyone who thought our wedding was "weird" got the cold shoulder. She joked that ours was the only wedding video people actually wanted to see! I admit to telling that same silly joke myself in her honor.
And thus, Jonathan and I were wed. Here's to 17 more years...and beyond!