Early on in the wedding planning, before we’d abandoned hope of staying within a reasonable budget, I decided that I was going to bake my own wedding cake. Out of cupcakes. Dozens of them.
Cupcakes, though? That’s no big ask. I bake avidly, experimentally, constantly. It’s a hobby I picked up during my clerkship in Boston. Baking kept me busy and gave me a sense of place and purpose in tough times, and as a bonus, it furnished sorely needed warmth to my very drafty apartment. I kept it up after relocating to Washington and found that nothing enticed new friends like an armload of homemade baked goods. Even as time has crunched tighter and tighter this year, I’ve still made time to bake. (And when there was truly no time to bake, I made truffles. There’s always time for ganache.)
In defiance of everyone who told me it was a dumb idea, I started baking in early September. Within a month, my borrowed chest freezer was chockablock with cupcakes. 175 raspberry-marzipan-ricotta cupcakes, in cups printed with cranberry-red curlicues, special-ordered from Australia. My larder was crammed with white chocolate, tubs of mascarpone cheese, quarts of cream, and supplies from Fran’s: copper fondant pearls, cranberry-red sugar rosebuds, our wedding cake topper and a bunch of cardboard boxes to transport the finished cupcakes. By the day before my wedding, all that remained was to frost 175 cupcakes, crown each with a decoration, box them up and deliver them to the caterer. Easily a day’s work.
The only problem was this: I had less than a day to do it.
So I did what any high-strung bridezilla would do on her wedding vigil: I convened a frosting party in my kitchen.
To my delight, this worked out perfectly. This morning at 9 am sharp, two cousins, a stepmother, a grandmother, a work friend, and a soon-to-be mother-in-law congregated in my condo, fired up and ready to frost. I’d set the cupcakes out to thaw yesterday afternoon, before the bachelorette evening, and made white chocolate ganache for the frosting after we’d returned home. (See? There’s always time for ganache.)
The morning blurred by in a swirl of fluffy white frosting. I was on stand-mixer duty, making the stuff; Aimee and Elizabeth piped it onto the cupcakes; and Jean added decorations and arranged the cakes in the transport boxes. As quickly as I could spin out another batch of white chocolate mascarpone mousse, my elves had already spread it beautifully over two dozen cupcakes and were demanding more. Even Helen had a go at piping a few cupcakes, while Barbara and Sarah assembled favors at the dining room table. It was delicious. It was a joy. I loved this, my frosting party, this elated harmonic flurry of activity at the heart of my home. This was as much a gift to me as any wrapped package.
By early afternoon, we’d attained Mission Accomplished. The kitchen was clean, the dishwasher was running, the cupcakes and favors (boxes of truffles, handmade last week, because there’s always time for…you know) were loaded into Jean’s car and en route to the caterer, and it was time to slip into something much fancier than an apron and head off to the Cathedral for our wedding rehearsal.
This was not something I’d much pondered in the lead-up to the wedding. Granted, the Cathedral is big enough that I could understand wanting a walkthrough before you stage a large and exhaustively documented event there. But on general principles, a wedding rehearsal struck me as little more than an excuse to organize a rehearsal dinner, buy a cute dress, make a slideshow and give the mother of the groom a chance to make a toast.
But you know? What’s wrong with that?
& and I had long ago abandoned our skeptical condescension toward the excesses of the Wedding Industrial Complex. Sure, these might all be contrivances, fabricated pseudo-rituals designed to cost us money…but HELLS YEAH we were going to have a rehearsal dinner, and it was going to be AWESOME, on the panoramic top floor of the Key Bridge Marriott, with a spread good enough for an actual wedding reception. And HELLS YEAH we’d have a slideshow, and everyone would dress up in fun party clothes, and Aimee would give an awesome toast, and & and I would give our bridal parties piles of presents and things to wear tomorrow. We were going to do all that. Because there’s a reason why it’s all become de rigueur.
The rehearsal festivities are not for the couple, I realized; that’s what the wedding day is for. Rather, the rehearsal dinner has evolved as a platform for the couple to show their appreciation to everyone else who has helped make the wedding happen — from the relatives who appear in yellowed baby pictures in the slideshow, all the way up to the friends receiving jewelry and neckties to wear tomorrow. We may be no fans of the Wedding Industrial Complex, but we enormously appreciate our family and friends and all that they’ve done for us, and this was our chance to show them.
The rehearsal itself — ostensibly the basis for all the ensuing festivities — was anticlimactic. I’d have liked to practice moving around in my Ridiculously Long Veil, not to mention pacing ourselves to the music we’d chosen. Alas, neither veil nor organist (nor, for that matter, our readers) were in evidence, so our walkthrough was more of a wing-through. Still, it did help to go over basic blocking, to move past the initial shock of finding ourselves at the heart of that huge space.
This was our first real occasion to stand in the National Cathedral as a bride and groom rather than as performers, congregants or tourists. That huge space. For one brief moment, it was going to be thoroughly our Cathedral. It’s the kind of place that can swallow you. But we were going to own it.
It became more and more real to us as the evening progressed. This was really going to happen. Our wedding. At the National freakin’ Cathedral. With the blessing of our beloved vicar, incense at the high altar, and a photographer from the Washington Post. With a hundred fifty guests packing the great choir, cheering on our happiness and standing behind our joy.
By the time we finished up the rehearsal and booked over to Arlington, several dozen of those guests were already there, party dresses in evidence and cocktails in hand. Through a panoramic window, my uncle Paul showed us a big sleek white car reposing in its own private corner of the Marriott parking lot. A Rolls-Royce Phantom. A company car that Paul had driven down from New Jersey. A car worth more than my mortgage. “Your ride,” he said.
& and I beamed in disbelief, then giggled. All evening long, periodically, the sheer implausible delight of everything would reach such a fever pitch that we’d find ourselves laughing aloud.
The slideshow was a huge hit. The food was excellent, and the various elements of our various families dined together happily and without incident. Our vicar, our wedding officiant and the same fellow who’d won me over to the Episcopal Church less than a year ago, joined us at our table and quietly took in dozens of stories (any of which may or may not appear in his homily tomorrow). &’s sister’s a cappella group appeared after dinner and dedicated their impromptu performance over dessert to us (“It’s In His Kiss” and “Fire” were my favorites).
But the show-stealer at the rehearsal dinner was my uncle Terry. My father’s youngest brother has Down’s syndrome, is about to celebrate his fiftieth birthday, and is the apple of our collective eye. It is impossible not to love my uncle Terry. When I pulled him aside and whispered that I had someone special I wanted him to meet, Terry did not even let me finish my sentence (“This is And–“) before he yelled “BUDDY!” and grabbed my husband-to-be in a Terry-trademark bear hug.
Terry is not all sweetness-and-light, though. Scratch the surface and he’ll blow your mind with the complexity he contains. “Know what I did?” he asked us over dinner.
“I went…to see…my buddy Aud.”
Any male friend of Terry’s is his buddy. My late father, his eldest brother, was named Audley.
“You went to the cemetery?”
“Yeah. I cut.”
“I took grass.”
“You cut the grass on Dad’s grave?”
“Yeah. I took it.”
And at that point in the evening — saturated with the joy of a universe full of people who loved us — & and I heard this and completely lost it. Half the rehearsal pictures will no doubt feature us bawling our eyes out. My Down’s syndrome uncle had gone to my father’s grave, cut some grass, and taken it with him.
The torrent of tears hit me first, then overwhelmed my husband-to-be. He had never even met my father. But oh. If only he could have. Dad had an intuitive sense of people that was far superior to my own. He never thought much of my first husband, but this one, he would have thoroughly adored. Dad would have recognized immediately what took me half a lifetime to discover.
I am, at long last, simply happy. No exceptions. No misgivings. I have planted my flag in our nation’s capital, made a home and a name for myself, and found a man beyond my imagination — a man who makes me laugh, makes me think, and makes me want to be a better person. I have earned not a tithe of the good fortune that has befallen me, but I am grateful, one hundred percent, for my life and my greatest gift.
I headed home from the rehearsal dinner in a state of bliss. & did not join me; he was off to our honeymoon suite at the J. W. Marriott downtown. We were going to spend the night before our wedding apart, in seclusion: reflecting on each other, our families, our friends, our universes, and how those were about to converge.
(But we couldn’t stop TEXTING. And emailing each other. Until I wrote him: “It doesn’t count as ritual separation if we’re still in constant contact!”)
When we finally bade each other good night, I dusted off my scotch collection in search of the most valuable bottle of whisky I owned. The collection had languished since I hooked up with a teetotaller, but its crown jewel, a 35-year-old Bruichladdich single Islay malt, remained unopened. It was as old as my husband-to-be. Older than me. I bought this bottle shortly after moving to DC but had not, before tonight, encountered a sufficiently special occasion to crack it open.
It was time.
I queued up a special “night before my wedding” playlist on my ipod, poured myself a dram of the Bruichladdich, and repaired to my bedroom to savor it while the Barber Agnus Dei and the Tallis Spem in Alium piped through my earbuds.
This old mattress has seen a lot. It had been a marital bed before. It had been a den of iniquity. Now it’s going to be an honest bed again, home to a husband and wife with a dog and a cat (who promptly curled up next to me) and dreams of children and grandchildren and all of the possibilities of the universe at our fingertips.
Which will all begin tomorrow.