NOTE: It was December 21st when I started this, but December 22nd when it posted, therefore "Tonight" equals December 21st.
Tonight is the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice. It is also the best night of the year because it is my wedding anniversary. Twenty-eight years ago tonight, Michael and I had a surprise wedding at the Buel Street Pub in Soulard in St. Louis, Missouri.
The idea for a surprise wedding developed from the movie "Cousin, Cousine," a 1976 French film in which a two cousins scandalize their families by pretending to have an affair, then actually fall in love and have an affair. (The film was later remade in English.) Michael and I were laughing so hard by the end of the movie that we wanted to find some terrific trick to play on our friends and families. Since we were already seriously thinking about marriage (at least I was serious), we came up with the idea of a surprise wedding.
Our friend Bob Brandthorst owned a neighborhood tavern in Michael's neighborhood - Soulard - and we decided to see if we could get married there. (We just couldn't imagine our friends in church and besides, we had both been married in churches before to no good end.) Michael was perhaps not quite as serious as I and he tried to weasel out of it by saying that he'd do it if Bob agreed, never dreaming that Bob would agree to close the bar for an evening for our wedding.
Well, it's not a big leap to realize Bob agreed. In fact, he thought it was a great idea for us to get married and so Michael couldn't get out of it. We picked December 21st for several reasons. It was a week night, one requirement Bob had for closing his tavern to regular business. It was one week before Michael's birthday, giving us a reason to use for having a party. And it was the longest night of the year, which sounded really titillating for our honeymoon.
Honeymoon aside: We didn't have much of one, just that one night with our friend Laurel taking Alix (aged 2) home with her to spend the night so we could be alone - but we did learn a lesson that I suspect most newlyweds learn. You are too tired after the wedding to do much but fall asleep. Things improved the next morning!
We invited our friends and family to a surprise birthday party for Michael. We did confess the truth to a few people, like our parents. We told our bosses so we could get off work and we also told a few out-of-town friends to get them to fly in for the wedding. And we told the best man and best woman. Everyone else was in the dark!
People came at the appointed time and started having fun drinking free beer and eating pretzels and nuts. When Michael showed up - tall, dark stranger in tow - people yelled "Surprise!" and "Speech, speech" just like any other surprise birthday party. Here is Michael's speech: "Thank you, everybody. This is quite a surprise, but not for me. I'd like to introduce John Robinson. He's our minister and he's going to marry Lane and I right here, right now."
After a moment of dead silence, the room erupted with cheering, applause and general mayhem. People loved the idea, shocked though they were. We got married and had a great evening. Everyone ate wedding cake and then we opened our presents. Guess what we got as wedding gifts? An pipe ashtray. An assortment of pipe tobaccos. Men's cologne. The sort of stuff you would give a 29 year-old-man for his birthday. Well, what did I expect?
A few of our friends gave us "real" wedding gifts later. Steffie and Len Marks, still dear friends, gave us a set of Irish coffee goblets that we have been drinking Irish coffee out of for twenty-eight years. Our Soulard house fell into the front yard (that's another story) and we subsequently moved seven times (to various cities) and yet every one of those goblets is intact, just like our marriage. Thanks for the good mojo, Stef and Len; here's a toast to you.
John Robinson, the UU minister that married us, had performed my wedding several years earlier in a church wedding. That marriage failed in very short order. In 1976, he performed our wedding in the bar and that marriage has lasted 28 years and is still going strong. So I recommend getting married in bars.
Michael and I made a special vow to each other: "Homicide, suicide or natural causes, the only way out is a pine box." There were days (running into months and years sometimes) of our marriage during which that vow was literally the cement that kept us together. That and the "Children Corollary" which is "We can't get divorced because no one wants custody of the children." When the children grew up, we extended the Children Corollary by adopting Victoria. When she grows up, we'll just have to take our chances because we aren't going to get have more children!!!!!
Now you know the true story of the couple who got married in a surprise wedding in a bar and lived to tell about it.