A few feet of snow didn't spoil their day

Wedding: Even the Blizzard of '93 wasn't strong enough to keep this couple from saying their `I do's.'

March 13, 2000|By Sarah Pekkanen | Sarah Pekkanen,SUN STAFF

This wasn't supposed to happen.

Everything will be fine, her friends had promised. The reception will go on no matter what, the restaurant had vowed. The cake will be delivered on time, the baker had sworn.

Yet on the morning of her wedding day -- March 13, 1993 -- the bride awoke to find that suddenly, everything was terribly wrong.

There was no cake. The restaurant had shut down. Even the priest was canceling.

The Blizzard of '93 had arrived.

Snow was blowing down in thick, fierce sheets, coating the Baltimore roads leading to the church where at the stroke of noon, 33-year-old Mary Bernadette "Bernie" Cunningham was supposed to walk down the aisle toward her fiance, Lou Maltese.

Seventeen inches of the white stuff -- and drifts towering more than 2 feet -- was closing everything, from shopping malls, to airports, to major roads. Gov. William Donald Schaefer declared a state of emergency.

How could this be happening? This was the day Bernie had planned and dreamed about for months: Her chance to wear a long white gown, to smush cake into Lou's face while everyone laughed, to know that for just a few hours, all the people they loved were gathered together in one room.

They had to cancel their wedding.

They could always reschedule it. After all, there wasn't anything special about this particular day. It wasn't the anniversary of their first date or Valentine's Day or anything. It was just ... their day.

How could they cancel their wedding?

They didn't have a church organist. There wouldn't be any hor d'oeuvres or slow waltz around the dance floor. But they had the one thing they absolutely couldn't get married without: A priest. One was already at the church, and he could step in.

It was almost noon. "Let's do it," Bernie said to Lou. She asked her husband-to-be for one favor, and a little while later, he pulled up in his Jeep to drop off the hairdresser.

It was after 1 o'clock when the bride arrived at St. William of York Church in Baltimore. "I guess nobody's here," she said just before she walked down the aisle. Then she saw the pews.

Scattered through the church were about 50 people, bundled in wool hats and dripping wet parkas. The few who could had walked to the church. The rest were Lou's brother-in-law's surprise: He had telephoned all his friends who owned four-wheel drives and asked them to pick up guests.

As Bernie began her walk down the aisle, she encountered another surprise -- music. Her guests were humming the wedding march.

At the altar, the best man wore a tuxedo and snow boots. Next to him stood 32-year-old Lou, tears streaming down his face.

Three weeks later, they did it all again in the same church. This time both grandmothers were there, and the organist showed up, and the reception went off without a hitch.

So which is their true wedding date? Will the Catonsville couple celebrate their seventh anniversary today, or in a few weeks?

"My husband says the date on his ring is 3-13-93, and that's the date we got married," Bernie says.

But it's more than that. After all, isn't a wedding really just an illusion? For a few magical hours, everything is perfect: The bride looks like a princess, the setting is filled with only the freshest roses, the words of love are rehearsed. Then real life begins.

"Nobody's married life is perfect, and life in general isn't perfect," says Bernie. "And that's exactly how that day started, with ups and downs."

There wasn't any white-frosted cake, but Bernie smushed a piece of bundt cake into Lou's face while everyone laughed. There was no elegant reception, but when the couple walked through the door of a local bar -- one of the few places still open during the blizzard -- the guests tossed M&Ms.

"That's how our life has been ever since," Bernie says.

Full of surprises.

"It's not that perfect life I guess [you imagine] when you're a teen-ager. ... But I know this: I would never change anything."

Not about her married life, and not about the day it began.

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