In the end, it all came down to the bagpipes. After years of dating a parade of unsuitable suitors, I was marrying Alasdair the Scotsman, and he was holding firm. "What is a wedding if there's no piper?" he said. "I couldn't actually be married without one—it's the best music in the world. Oh, and some reels would be nice. And maybe some haggis for hors d'oeuvres." I sat with my arms folded, smoldering. Bagpipes? I've heard better music from cats on the back fence. Haggis? Keep it in your sporran, laddie. I felt a fierce undertow of dread. This man was going to ruin the wedding I'd been dreaming of all my life. I could imagine guests wincing in their seats as the pipes yowled, politely stashing bits of discarded haggis behind the chintz curtains in the 18th-century house we'd booked. I set my teeth and scowled. Who was he, this groom with the ideas?
What woman arrives at her wedding without a portfolio of visions collected since childhood? As a late-blooming bride, I'd had years of yearning in which to draw up my list of what makes a perfect wedding. Part of hoping for a husband was the certainty that he would share my liking for white flowers, chocolate cake, and Mozart in the air.
Alasdair didn't realize he was facing a veteran of hundreds of weddings. My earliest memory is of a family wedding in which I slipped from the pew and made a surprise appearance in the recessional parade, holding the hand of the minister, my grandfather. Scores more were celebrated in my childhood, in the basement before an audience of teddy bears. My bride doll made endless sedate passages down the rug, silk shoes gleaming, lace veil adrift, her face a study of perpetual peace—no worry in her painted eyes. My sister and I also took turns escorting each other past a row of empty chairs; we even drafted our brother as vicar. And though pretend, these weddings took preparation: After rifling our mother's wardrobe for her frilliest dress, digging out her long white gloves, and upending petticoats on our heads for a rustling veil, we'd spend hours walking with that curious step-hesitation-step that we were convinced conveyed the glide of a bride.
By the time my friends began to marry, I'd reached some decisions. Candlelight. Purcell's Trumpet Voluntary. Proper engraved invitations. No Here Comes the Bride. No bridesmaid dresses that looked like cotton candy or Vegas. No step-glide-step. There would be children in the wedding party, even if they somersaulted up the aisle. As I sat in pews at dozens of weddings, danced in ballrooms and tents and gardens, and rejoiced with my friends, I made more mental notes: Nix the tiara and the announcer. Hurrah for the rosebud bouquet and the hand-painted place cards.
I became a wedding connoisseur, perhaps overly tart about what I saw as error—pastel-dyed carnations? Puh-lease. I was convinced I knew how to give a wedding, my wedding, and it would be perfect. I could appreciate a friend's choice to have an accordion at her reception; it was her family tradition. But I, whose army family had been mobile, unmoored, and whose traditions were limited to what they could carry, felt as if I could invent it all exactly as I pleased. So I filled a drawer with clippings, and my head with dreams. I even had a secret wedding dress, found in an antiques shop and cut as though it had been made for me, with falls of lace as insubstantial as a dream. It hung in the back of my closet as the years passed and I made a career—and more than a few wishes on new moons. I threw showers and dived for friends' bouquets and pressed the flowers among my books. And always, in the back of my mind, glimmering like a ghost, was that dress.
And then I met Alasdair, and we fell in love. It seemed a simple matter after all, as if he'd been waiting, too, on his side of the world. Handsome, kind, and charming with the bonus of that English accent to his witticisms, he was the perfect husband-to-be.
But today, I wasn't too sure about his potential as costar in the pageant I'd choreographed. We sat at opposite ends of the sofa, aground on the question of pipers, while I shuffled my notes and straightened the pile of cutout pages I'd pulled out of the drawer where I'd kept them for all those years. He sat quietly for a moment. Then, with a shrug of his shoulders, conceded, "Whatever you want."
I waited for the tide of triumph to hit me, but instead heard only his sadness. This was no fantasy groom, but the man I loved, after all those years of hoping. I had imagined a wedding in every detail, except the person who would be waiting for me at the altar. Here was a man with his own hopes and history and ideas of happiness, all worth listening to—even if that meant haggis. In one moment I realized my stumbling block wasn't about the music, really, but the realization that from now on, my life and my love would be intertwined. What was dear to him would be dear to me too. Suddenly, bagpipe music seemed not only bearable but just possibly wonderful.
Which is why, a few months later, the exquisite ballroom was filled with red-faced guests dancing reels to the wail of that bagpipe. My tiny niece, who'd walked down the aisle too shy to scatter the flower petals, was sweeping across the floor in the arms of her father. Our little page was stomping his new party shoes and his kilt was crooked. My own father twirled Alasdair's mother, whose hat was askew. Two friends were most uncharacteristically jumping up and down, as the music of the pipes, meant for battlements and parades, pitched somewhere between a wail and a whine, filled every cranny of the room. And I, in that once-hidden-away antique white dress, its hem tattered from dancing, spun and spun again in that circle of love and loved ones, to music so very old and yet new. It was a perfect wedding—pipes and all.