On her 7th birthday, Denni Haw was given a Cinderella watch and figurine that became the most cherished gift of her childhood. Nearly 30 years later, Denni couldn't pass up the chance to live out a fairy tale of her own making in a Cinderella-theme wedding.
Like most modern fairy tales, Denni's Cinderella story has its own twists and turns.
The fairy godmother who brought Denni and Norm Crouse Jr. together was not a kindly old woman armed with a magic wand. Norm -- though he is tall, dark and handsome and conveys a certain charm -- wasn't searching the kingdom of Baltimore looking for a wife. And Denni is certainly no poor char girl, toiling among the cinders, left to the mercies of her wicked stepsisters.
In Denni's version of the classic tale, she and Norm met through his younger sister, Melissa. Melissa worked for Denni at Eastern Savings Bank in Hunt Valley. When the company's annual holiday ball rolled around in December 1997, Melissa asked Denni if she'd consider taking her older brother to the gala affair.
Looking back now, both Denni and Norm say neither of them considered the occasion a true date. Norm, a long-divorced father of two, had recently ended a relationship and wasn't looking to begin another one. (In the process of dissolving his own business at the time, Norm has since become head of the regional construction division at Union Federal Savings Bank.) Denni was an independent career girl who had always been too busy -- working and having fun -- to even think about settling down. (She started at Eastern National as a teller 17 years ago and has since worked her way up to savings operation manager.)
But something happened that evening at the party. Perhaps it was the romantic setting. Or maybe there really is such a thing as fairy dust. But Denni and Norm, who weren't looking for love, found something clicked between them.
In January 1998, Denni and Norm started to date. But it's not so easy to get to "happily ever after." As in most fairy tales, the couple faced perils along the way. Norm admits now he was cautious about the relationship because of his prior marriage and his commitment to putting his children first in his life.
Denni, who says she knew early on that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with Norm, was frustrated by his attitude. At one point, the couple broke up. But the separation didn't last long. By September 1998, Norm realized how much Denni meant to him, and they were back together.
In January 1999, Norm surprised Denni with a marriage proposal while on a romantic weekend getaway. She tearfully answered, "Yes."
On Nov. 26, Denni, 36, and Norm, 39, culminated their courtship with their Cinderella-themed wedding. Denni was every inch her part in a white sleeveless ball gown with a shimmering tulle overskirt. A pearl tiara perched on her golden hair and a chapel-length veil cascaded down her back.
Family and friends agreed that Norm had never looked more handsome in his black tuxedo. When the minister at Trinity Episcopal Church in Long Green asked for the wedding rings, they were presented inside a "glass slipper" resting on a satin pillow.
Norm's sister Melissa was his honor attendant, and his son, Matthew, was his groomsman. Denni's twin sister, Terri Smith, was her honor attendant, and Norm's daughter, Lindsay, was her bridesmaid.
The 97 guests at the "celebration ball" after the ceremony included Denni's parents, Marvin and Jeannie Haw III of Timonium, and Norm's parents, Catherine and Norman Crouse Sr. of Fallston.
The words of two toasts made earlier in the evening seemed to hang in the air as Denni and Norm, smiling at one another, waltzed across the dance floor at the Hunt Valley Golf Club in Phoenix.
"May your marriage be modern enough to survive the times and old-fashioned enough to last forever," Melissa, the couple's own fairy godmother, had offered.
Denni's sister Terri looked toward the future and the story yet to come. "It has been a fairy tale," Terri said, her voice thick with emotion. "But this isn't a perfect ending. It's a perfect beginning."