A thoroughly modern wedding

August 26, 1994|By Janet Heller

IT WAS A wedding to remember. The ceremony took place at 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning, on a lakefront beach in northern Michigan. The couple wanted to begin their new life together at the beginning of a new day. The guests arrived -- sleep still in their eyes -- sporting a variety of informal garb; one elderly lady looked quite comfortable in a pink nightgown. A handsome young man paraded around in a kilt and worn sneakers. The youngest guest, one month old, was topless and the bride and groom were barefoot. She wore an ankle-length dark sheath and he wore trousers cut off at the knees.

Some of us stood, others sat on blankets or on chairs planted in the sand. As the sun rose, the Unitarian minister, a stern-faced woman from Traverse City, Mich., quoted from the Indian poet Tagore and the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery, but the phrases traditionally heard at most weddings were not uttered.

The couple stood under a chuppa made of four slender birch branches topped by a canopy of baby's breath and sweet peas. Such structures signify the creation of a new home and are commonplace at Jewish weddings. In this instance the bride (the product of a Christian and Moslem union) and her Christian groom found the concept appealing and some of their friends had thoughtfully put one together.

Midway through the formalities, the bride's curly-haired little son from a previous marriage emerged from beneath a blanket and (( was included in a portion of the ceremony.

The groom's pretty, fresh-faced sister played a piece on the guitar composed for the occasion. She was joined in song by her significant other -- a plain young woman who's very much a part of the family.

Attending the festivities were: the groom's mother, who has three other adult children, and her second husband with whom she has no offspring; the groom's father and his second wife and their two young children; the bride's divorced mother who has not remarried; her Iranian-born father and his second wife. It was a complicated scene but one apparently without rancor.

The folks who summer in the area are the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of a group of Protestant Ann Arbor, Mich., clergymen who in the early 1900's built modest cottages overlooking the lake. Later they were followed by their parishioners and a Congregational Assembly was formed that still exists. The founders would probably have a difficult time adjusting to their descendants' divorces and the same-sex union. For better or for worse, the rigid Victorian mores that governed their lives have been replaced.

After the ceremony the bride and groom spent a few moments alone by the water's edge while everyone else trooped over to the Assembly Hall to partake of a buffet-style wedding breakfast of waffles and fruit and much needed coffee. Guests sat at long tables covered with white paper on which the kids and anyone else could draw or leave messages. There was no receiving line and there were no toasts.

Some of those who didn't head home for a morning snooze -- after every last waffle had been consumed -- attended a traditional church service at 10 a.m. God's presence was felt that morning in various locations: on the beach as the sun was rising and in a church as the choir sang.

Janet Heller writes from Baltimore.

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