The Hijinks of Getting Hitched

Big or small, weddings can be full of surprises

Every couple wants to create a joyful wedding day that also adds a special spin that says, “Here’s who we are. Let’s celebrate it!”

But when it’s time to plan the wedding, there are those couples content to tread the well-worn path formed either by family tradition or wedding traditions fed to us through pop and consumer culture. Those are the weddings that, in the minds of guests, tend to run together over the years.

But weddings are, by their nature, meant to be memorable. Sometimes those memories result from careful planning and flawless execution. Other times, thanks to nature, lousy luck, the random inebriated guest or the curmudgeonly father of the bride/groom, the day is unforgettable for entirely unexpected reasons.

And those who eschew the traditional church wedding and reception hall party can find themselves faced with challenges.

Take, for instance, Kerry Kristine McElrone. In planning her wedding to well-known Wilmington musician Joe Trainor last September, she knew she wanted to get married someplace different. What she found, however, was that all the “different” places had realized their appeal as marriage locations and created pricey wedding and reception packages to take advantage of that appeal.

The couple lived on Kirk Avenue in Wilmington, and the one-block street between North Jackson Street and North Van Buren Street is known for its annual block parties. So, early on in the planning, the joking suggestion was that Kerry and Joe should get married right there.

“We probably should have just stuck with that idea from the get-go, because that’s exactly what we did,” she says.

With the help of friends and neighbors along the close-knit block, the pair put together what was to be an event that was low on formality but high on fun. Streets were swept, front porches were spruced up and the weather leading up to the happy day was gorgeous.

“Our biggest fear wasn’t just rain, but sideways rain,” says Kerry.

Unfortunately, sideways rain is exactly what they got.

Just in time for the couple to return from a photo session on the Riverfront, the skies opened, and 150 well-turned-out guests got soaked.

But aside from the inconvenience, there was charm in the moment, Trainor says.

“It was just a sea of umbrellas on Kirk. We had strung lights over the trees, and it was really just beautiful. Then it rained harder and harder during the ceremony. The more we got married, the more it rained.”

And then, when the ceremony ended, so did the rain. The DJ began the music, the sky cleared and the celebration commenced.

“I have never been to a wedding as cool as this,” Trainor says. “It was outside and beautiful and everyone knew everyone else. It wasn’t stuffy. It was probably the most ‘us’ I could have imagined.”

Jeremy and Dawn Sheiker got married in Arden, in the back yard of the groom's mother.
Jeremy and Dawn Sheiker got married in Arden, in the back yard of the groom’s mother.

Bringing It Home

There are some who gauge the success of their wedding by the number of attendants, the grandiosity of the cocktail reception and the money spent on the dance band.

Others, like Jeremy and Dawn Sheiker of North Wilmington, use different criteria, such as whether the bride and groom are to be found at 5 o’clock the morning after the nuptials, glowing and sleepless, eating breakfast at the Marsh Road Diner.

They were with six other intrepid souls, she in her wedding dress (only $300—the one that made her mother weep for joy, and in which she’d earlier performed cartwheels), her new husband dressed down to his faux tuxedo t-shirt, chowing down on diner grub after their small ceremony in the Arden back yard of the groom’s mother.

“The madness was that if you’re having a party in your mother-in-law’s back yard, there’s no end time,” says Dawn.

Jeremy’s childhood home in Arden sits adjacent to the village’s Sherwood Forest, which is among northern Delaware’s most pristine and well-preserved woodlands.

“It’s a really special place,” Dawn says. “[It’s] the last house and you’re in the woods. Before he was even thinking about being a husband his plan was to get married there.”

Dawn, meanwhile, admits she isn’t the type of person who normally wants to keep special occasions small. But when it came to her wedding, she had a very specific number in mind: 60 people.

“I’m a very grandiose person and I do everything big, but taking our vows was really important to me and I wanted to make it very intimate,” she says. “It was important being able to celebrate with our friends, who are our family to us.”

They also insisted on seating all the guests together for dinner —served from a food truck driven onto the property—to further emphasize that intimacy.

“I had a big thing where I didn’t want to have individual tables,” Dawn says. “It was really important to me that we all sat together as a family. We basically sat in a big square as opposed to little pods.”

A Wedding Among the Redwoods

Former Delawareans Brian and Kori Truono, who now live in Cincinnati, took their small, set-in-the-woods wedding a step further. With his family in Delaware and hers in Kansas, the prospect of trying to bring both sides together in a single location wasn’t practical. So, they didn’t invite anyone.

They were married in the Prairie Creek Redwoods near Eureka in northern California, with only them, an officiant and two photographers.

“We sort of eloped, in a sense,” Brian says. “The price of everything had just skyrocketed, and we had other things we wanted to do besides spend $50,000 on a wedding.”

One of those things was travel, which the couple can do thanks to his job as a freelance photographer and web designer and hers as a pediatric oncology pharmacist.

U.S. national parks are a favorite destination. So, on a trip to see the redwoods, Kori researched and found a local officiant, who performed their ceremony in a towering, cathedral-like space among the trees. Kori rode to the spot in the officiant’s truck—“It probably smelled a little bit like pot,” Brian says.

After vows were exchanged, the officiant presented the couple with a redwood sapling and a spade engraved with their names and the wedding date inscribed on the blade.

“We planted it there in the woods, which was probably highly illegal,” Brian says. “Maybe when we go back we’ll check the spot to see if it’s growing.”

Memorable Mishaps

In spite of all the planning, there’s always the uncontrollable variable of human behavior. No one—planner, couple, guest or vendor—can tell what’s going to happen when family and friends gather with all their emotional baggage, personality quirks and human foibles.

Jim Coarse of Wilmington-based Moonloop Photography can attest to that. As someone paid to observe and capture special moments, he’s seen plenty that ended up not being so special.

Coarse recalls one wedding in which the order of toasts got mixed up and seemed to throw the DJ into a surlier mood each time he was called to correct himself and let wedding party members speak.

The crowning catastrophe came when, just as the reception dancing began, the DJ’s Windows 8 laptop suddenly began its mandatory update.

“In the middle of the dancing the music was just…gone,” Coarse says. “Everything just stopped. They had to wait for the whole computer to restart. It was definitely awkward.”

Coarse says fathers of the bride can be particularly difficult, occasionally living up to the comic potential alluded to in the movies of the same name. Sometimes the divorced father of the bride refuses to participate in a photo with his daughter and his ex-wife; or butlered hors d’oeuvres may lure him away, Homer Simpson-like, from a family shot.

“It’s a frequent occurrence at weddings where the ceremony and reception are in the same place,” Coarse says. “The father of the bride will just walk out of the frame to follow someone with a tray. Then I’ll send someone to get him and he won’t come back either.”

But as wedding party members go, some might be surprised that the groomsmen are rarely the ones who misbehave on the day of the wedding. Coarse says it’s the bridal party that’s often the source of inappropriately early inebriation.

“The groomsmen will sometimes pull out a beer early on, but that’s about it,” he says. “The girls are all about the mimosas the day of the wedding. It’s always the girls with the mimosas and the champagne.”

A Blending of Cultures

With large, formal weddings, a wedding planner is charged with taking elements from the lives of the couple and bringing those out in the celebration.

Consider the wedding of Stephania and Henry Costa, a Wilmington couple with family traditions that stretched from the United States to Italy to the African nation of Liberia. Planned by Christina Maddox of Wilmington’s Heaven Sent Wedding Consultants, their nuptials at the Four Seasons in Philadelphia included all the trimmings.

One key to planning a successful ceremony, says Maddox, is to ask a lot of questions.

“My initial consultations are very detailed,” she says. “I probably ask about 100 questions. For me, with 15 years doing this, when I walk away from a consultation the wedding is planned, and now it’s just time for me to execute it.”

One of those questions is how the couple met. Knowing that helps Maddox add extra touches throughout the wedding day, such as a cake that might reflect the moment that first brought the couple together.

“It’s those little things that I can incorporate into their day and personalize it for them,” Maddox says. “And any good wedding planner would be able to do that.”

With the Costa wedding, one of the ways she ensured the couple were reflected and celebrated was with food.

“Dinner was five courses, very extravagant and very detailed, and that’s how they wanted to show their Italian and Liberian cultures,” she says. “The Four Seasons had a special chef come in and do a tasting for us. And that chef, he got it. He tweaked it for exactly what they were expecting. Everybody was talking about the food.”

The Spirit of the Ceremony

Another important consideration is the officiant, Maddox says. Couples who have a more active and formal faith will require one type, while those who aren’t religious or might be coming into the marriage from diverse religious backgrounds would require quite another.

For some, like the Sheikers, the officiant might be a member of the family, or perhaps part of a house of worship they already attend.

Others, like the Truonos, will hire an outside officiant who will help them make the type of service they envision a reality. Neither of the Truonos were particularly religious, “and the vows were representative of that,” Brian says. “We mixed cultures and incorporated different things into the ceremony. And in that sense it was fun and meaningful.”

Newark’s Lynda Daring, an ordained non-denominational minister in the Universal Life Church, has administered many vows over the years.

“There’s a big culture shift right now,” she says. “I wouldn’t be in business if everyone was getting married in churches. I approach things passionately and way outside the box to help [a couple] focus on that bottom line” that they’re committing to a lifetime together.

One of her first questions to couples is what their beliefs about marriage are. Are they more religious or secular, and what elements of religion might they want kept in or left out?

“I tell them it’s OK if you don’t go to church. I’m just a person who loves bringing people together,” says Daring.

In the end, regardless of unique venues, unexpected mishaps, the whims of weather or combining cultures, bringing people together is what weddings are all about. And it’s in that spirit that love—the true purpose of the day—wins above all.

Tips on Creating a Special Wedding

• Sit down with your future spouse and figure out what’s most important for the wedding. “Once you’re on the same page for marriage, that will help you navigate the challenges of family, finances and staying true to your goal and your dream wedding,” says bride Dawn Sheiker.

• Have a wedding date in mind and know your budget going in. “Budget is crucial. It’s everything,” says Christina Maddox of Heaven Sent Wedding Consultants. “It helps me narrow down venues and vendors. It is the beginning of your wedding and your reception.”

• Know your beliefs and the tone you want the ceremony to set. That informs what kind of service you want, says wedding officiant Lynda Daring. “I want to find out what this is going to be about, because a couple is usually so wrapped up in plans about the tuxes and the dress.”

• Even if you go totally non-traditional, know the traditions you want to acknowledge in the ceremony. “It’s a fine line when you go off the beaten track between keeping the sanctity of the ceremony without going too far into ‘we’re just having a big party,’” Sheiker says. “You have to balance that and really think.”