Last month I did a column about what I thought were good and bad ways to save money on a wedding, and the responses (here and on my site) were as varied as they should be—clearly everyone has different priorities. For example, some people thought the ideas I hated (like a foam-rubber wedding cake) were perfectly reasonable. And some thought the things I would never give up at my own wedding (like fresh flowers) were a ridiculous extravagance.
But there was one comment in particular that really got me thinking:
"My husband's cousin did the 'fake cake' thing at her wedding. There was one real layer in the elaborately decorated tower of Styrofoam, and that was served to the bridal party. Everyone else got tiny squares of what was obviously cheap grocery store sheet cake with plain frosting out of a can. They bothered to rent out a museum and hire a string quartet, but cheaped out with the tacky Styrofoam cake—and guess what people talk about when her wedding comes up in conversation?"
Reading that comment was a revelation. Up until that moment it had never really occurred to me that you aren't just creating your own memories when you plan a wedding. So you may fondly recall the moment you and your new husband cut into that layer of real cake, but all your guests are going to remember is that you're a tacky cheap-ass who served them supermarket sheet cake while collecting their checks. Wedding guests are like elephants—they never forget.
I've been to a lot of weddings. I've been in the bridal parties of a few. Hell, I've even had a couple. And when I look back on them all, some experiences immediately come to mind as being truly exceptional. To a one, those memories were created by brides who did grand things for the people they love.
And I'm not talking about spending money. It doesn't matter what favors are on the tables if you never stop to say hello to your guests; and your bridesmaids won't care about Tiffany key chains if you've been on full-throttle Midol alert for six weeks. I'm talking about thinking about others, and doing meaningful things to ensure lasting memories for everyone. It's a concept that's hard to keep in mind when everyone keeps insisting that it's "all about you."
As an example, one bride I knew did something very generous for her bridesmaids, and it didn't cost her a thing: She chose a simple black and white color scheme, and allowed her attendants to buy little black dresses of their own choosing. Since the color scheme was so classic, uniformity of style wasn't an issue. Each bridesmaid was able to get a dress she felt good in and could wear again and again. And when was the last time you saw a wedding party in which all the women clearly felt beautiful?
As much as I appreciated that gesture—and the fact that I got to wear sleeves—there's one wedding memory that I treasure more than any other, courtesy of the most exceptional bride I've ever known.
When I was 10 years old, my eldest sister got married. I was extremely excited because I'd never been to a wedding—not to mention the fact that my sister, who really was my idol, had given me the honor of being a bridesmaid.
She had about seven or eight bridesmaids, and we all had gowns made in different shades of blue. Mine was turquoise, with lots of chiffon overlay. I even had shoes dyed to match. I put them on my nightstand and fell asleep looking at them every night for weeks. They were my first heels, and the most amazing things I'd ever seen.
A few weeks before the wedding, I started to get sick. Eventually I was diagnosed with a serious kidney infection and admitted to the hospital. Every day I asked if I was going home, and every day they told me no. Days turned into weeks, and I realized I wouldn't be able to go to the wedding. I was heartbroken.
On the day of the wedding, at about 6 p.m., I was sitting in my hospital bed watching television (the moment is still so clear to me that I can tell you I was watching The Flintstones and eating Jello). I started to hear noise like rustling fabric down the hall. The nurses began talking excitedly, and people were breaking into applause. I craned my neck to see if I could get a glimpse of what was going on, and suddenly my sister was in the doorway, wearing her wedding gown and holding her bouquet. She'd brought my whole family straight from the ceremony to see me on their way to the reception.
I immediately dissolved into tears. I was overwhelmed by her presence. She was so beautiful and elegant, and she was the first bride I'd ever seen. She came and sat on the bed and everyone took pictures—her in yards of white organza, and me, ironically enough, in a turquoise hospital gown. She helped me to the window and we looked down at the waiting limo, cans and ribbons tied to its bumper.
I'll never forget the kindness she showed me that day. I still get choked up when I think about the moment of absolute magic when she appeared. And I still have the photos.
Of course, my favorite shot from that day is one of my father sitting on the bed and whispering in my ear as I sobbed uncontrollably. Many people have seen that picture in the intervening years, and they've all wondered what words of wisdom he imparted to me in that special moment.
He said, "Don't cry on the tux, it's rented."
- April Winchell has been a talk radio host, a sitcom writer, an advertising executive and the voice of hundreds of animated Disney characters. In October of 2009, she created the hit website Regretsy.com, which led to the publication of "Regretsy: Where DIY meets WTF" in April of 2010. Even though she has been writing professionally since 1989, she still finds talking about herself in the third person really uncomfortable.*