What a day... Newlyweds reflect on the good, the bad, and the funny

Published January 27, 2005 in issue 0404 of the Hook


It's a day to remember, that's for sure, and these 2004 newlyweds show you can't plan for everything!

Emily Umberger and Pradeep Rajagopalan

September 18, 2004

Ceremony and reception at Lego Estate

Emily: Planning an outdoor wedding? Make the following your mantra: Mother Nature is in charge. On one level, I understood this as I planned our September wedding. I even convinced myself that I could be mellow if the weather was lousy. At the same time, I was certain that the lady in charge wouldn't send two hurricanes in as many years to Charlottesville on the third weekend of September. I counted Isabel's 2003 appearance as some sort of "insurance" policy for good weather at our nuptials.

As any bride knows, frequent visits to weather.com begin at least 20 days before the big day. So I watched nervously as Frances and Gaston threw their weight around. And then there was Ivan. That bastard wasn't just a hurricane, he was a Class 5 monster swirling around in the Caribbean. Despite the reassurances of friends and family (all evidently amateur meteorologists), I had a sinking feeling that he was headed our way.

The forecast grew more ominous by the day. Norm Sprouse's long-range outlook showed gray and black skies and a greater than 90% chance of extreme weather for our wedding weekend. It didn't look good for the home team.

So, what's a bride to do?

1) Accept that everything you've planned for the past year can change at the last minute. Allow yourself one big meltdown, and then get over it. There's too much work to be done. Our elegant, hillside garden wedding seemed like less and less of a possibility with 40-65 mph winds and several inches of rain expected.

2) Be willing to consider alternate plans. (Understand, of course, that all these options will feel lame and hideous in comparison to the idea you've nurtured and loved for a year.) My original Plan B was simply to tent the event, but the tents were guaranteed in no more than 35 mph winds. We needed a Plan C! Our wedding team (tent guy, wedding coordinator, gardener, and property owner) went into high gear in the last four days. We fielded our options, casting some aside and entertaining others.

3) Prioritize. One option, moving the entire event indoors, required canceling our band due to lack of space. Not acceptable. Another called for a major step down on the elegance scale. It was a choice we were willing to make. And so an enormous three-car garage with cherry doors and stone facing was emptied, cleaned, and decorated. A parquet floor was laid, and voila– a dry, sure-footed dance floor. What seemed crazy (if not a little white trashy at first) ended up being just the right blend of quirky, intimate, and fun.

3) Realize that your friends and family understand (and kinda think it's cool) that your wedding is taking place during a natural disaster. Our friends arrived from all over the continent armed with flip-flops, Gortex jackets, ponchos, galoshes and, most importantly, smiles on their faces. The show must go on!

4) Bottom line: come rain or shine, you will be married to the person you love most on the planet. Beautiful weather is just icing on the cake.

In the end, Ivan had his way with Central Virginia on Friday, September 17. Rain-soaked rehearsal dinner guests braved apocalyptic conditions, including torrential rains and tornadoes. I sported wellies with my cocktail dress. At this point, you either laugh or cry.


The morning of our wedding dawned windy and cloudy. As the winds diminished and the sun came out, we changed our plans again. The garage turned dance floor and bar was a keeper, but with just two hours 'til show time, we decided to get married in a small rock garden rather than in the foyer of the home. There was no time for a run through– we decided to wing it. After all the chaos and drama, we were married outside on a beautiful, 70-degree afternoon, a perfect start to our life together. All in all, our experience was a good reminder that in wedding planning, like life, sometimes you gotta roll with the punches.


Melissa McAllister and Robert Parrish

September 18, 2004

Ceremony and reception at Beaverdam Farm, Troy

Melissa: When my future husband and I got engaged, all we needed to do to get the ball rolling was to call my party-planner cousin Jim and say, "Go." I handed over wedding planning to him, while my mother commissioned him to plan our engagement party. Cut to a fantastic engagement party, Mom giving cousin money to pay the vendors, and cousin using said money to line his pockets.

Also note that these were the same vendors we planned to use at our wedding (who all were extremely gracious, considering their payments were late). So there were a few bumps in the road to September 18.

Hurricane Ivan assured that the rehearsal dinner was rain-soaked, but the weather on the 18th was perfect, and we were able to have the ceremony under the oaks at my husband's farm as originally planned. Our dog spent the ceremony chewing on our guests and barking at squirrels. It was the single most perfect, happiest day of my life thus far and worth every headache and dollar spent.


Andy Jaspen and Jenny Phillips

July 4, 2004

Ceremony and reception at Ash Lawn-Highland

Andy and Jenny: We met at UVA in 1995 and were married on July 4, 2004 at Ash Lawn-Highland. The weather was sketchy at best, but we decided that afternoon not to put up a tent for the ceremony– we would cross our fingers and hope for the best. A few hours before our 6pm ceremony, the clouds broke, and we were feeling pretty good about our chances for success. It was actually quite a beautiful afternoon, but during the ceremony, just after we exchanged our vows and kissed, a slow rumble of thunder quieted the crowd (we like to think the heavens were applauding for us).

The weather held up until the end of the cocktail hour, but a fast-moving storm forced our guests to run toward the reception under cover in the Ash Lawn pavilion or risk getting soaked. At the same time, the photographer ended our picture session under a large tree in the Peacock Yard because of the rain. Five minutes after everybody was safe in the pavilion, the loudest crash of thunder that any of us had ever heard in our lives shook the place. As we quickly realized, lightning had struck just 100 feet away from our reception– and had hit the tree that we had just been standing under for pictures 10 minutes earlier!

The storm was an impressive one and actually created quite a festive atmosphere at our reception. Our Caribbean band, Ban Caribe, started up, people were dancing and enjoying listening to the rain and thunder and watching the lighting. Within the hour, the skies totally cleared and we were treated to an incredible rainbow over our wedding celebration. It was perfect– a truly amazing July 4 wedding.

We even have "before" and "after" pictures of us under the tree that was struck by lightning. There was a huge gash in the trunk that actually looks like the shape of a heart.


Shawn Decker and Gwenn Barringer

October 23, 2004

Ceremony and reception at King Family Vineyard

Shawn, who is HIV positive, and Gwenn, a pageant winner and activist, have received national press attention for their efforts to increase HIV awareness and research.

Shawn: So many talented musicians offered their services, from my great uncle's jazz sax to Bella Morte's post-punk gothic grooves. Lauren Hoffman and Tony Lechmanski (of Bella Morte & The 40 Boys) played during the ceremony, even throwing in a couple of Cure covers for good measure.

Everyone feels like their relationship is unique, which is what makes love so great, but I totally felt like the luckiest guy on Earth and so fortunate to have somehow attracted a beautiful, classy, and intelligent soul to share this journey with.

In the old days, you married someone to get to know them– kind of like text-messaging today. My advice to couples is to live together and nurture the relationship before you open it up to the chaos that is the wedding day. Also, in these not-so-modern times, not every couple is able to "tie the knot" due to antiquated bigotry. So if you're in a committed relationship, don't let societal pressure tell you that marriage is required to legitimize your love.


Maurice Jones and Michele Davis

December 18, 2004

Ceremony at UVA Chapel; reception at Alumni Hall

Maurice is the city's director of communications.

Maurice: My lovely bride, Michele, came up with the idea of having a sparkler send-off to end the reception. When she first suggested it with great excitement, I smiled, nodded, and politely concurred. Undeterred by my lack of enthusiasm, she forged ahead with the plans. Now, I can honestly say it was the perfect way to end a wonderful ceremony and reception. On that cool crisp night, our guests waved the lighted sparklers as we ran to the limousine. I will always cherish the memory of my bride's face lit up with great joy and satisfaction as our friends and family celebrated the beginning of our new life together."


Jennie Donnellon and Matt Elkin

December 31, 2004

Ceremony at UVA Chapel, reception at Glenmore Country Club

Shortly after I received my engagement ring at the end of August, I was predictably barraged with the wedding date question. "Probably December 2005," nearly 15 months away, had been my initial reply. We liked the idea of a winter (and especially a New Year's Eve) wedding, but I thought that it was impossible to have the kind of wedding we wanted this winter. We didn't have enough time to plan a traditional wedding in a few months; everyone had told me that there was so much to do pick themes, reserve venues and vendors not to mention finding the wedding dress.

Then I took a step back, thought about the depth of the love that I was committing to, and realized that societal conventions and timetables weren't going to rule my life. When we decided in October to have a December 2004 wedding, everything magically came together for us– not just the locations, the vendors, and having nearly all of the guests able to attend on short notice, but also the spring-like weather– almost as if the heavens smiled upon us for knowing what really matters.

After just returning from our honeymoon, my advice would be don't wait to be together– life is short; seize the moment! If you are truly in love and blessed with an entire lifetime with your spouse, you'll still feel it won't be long enough.


Courtney Caprio and Jeff McInnis

August 16, 2004

Ceremony at UVA Gardens; reception at Keswick Hall

On the big day, forget all the mundane details that you've spent months fretting over. Instead, revel in meaningful details, the memories that truly last forever. Literally stop and smell the bouquet you're holding. Laugh with your family and friends who surround you with their supporting presence. Walk slowly and joyfully down the aisle, relish the floating feeling and finally seeing your one true love at the end, awaiting you.

Concentrate on the meaning behind the ceremony's words, and take them to heart. Last but not least, sneak away alone with your new husband to celebrate before the party begins... then celebrate with your guests all night long!


Melissa and Chaon Garland

September 11, 2004

Ceremony and reception at High Meadows Inn

All brides want their wedding to be memorable. It doesn't take fancy tables or special gifts to do it. Rather, a wedding is memorable for guests if they feel involved. Their involvement makes them feel special, honored, and "partners" in your marriage. We deliberately involved as many people as we could. Here are some of the things we did:

*An uncle coordinated the family get-together party before the event.

*A close family friend was our celebrant.

* Each of our parents gave a personal speech during the ceremony.

*Each member of the bridal party offered a few words of congratulations during the ceremony.

*An aunt was the wedding coordinator.

*Another aunt helped with hair and make-up for the wedding party.

*A brother-in-law was our master of ceremonies at the reception.

Not only did delegating these tasks take much of the planning off my plate, but when the weekend was over, everyone felt that they had really played an important role in our special event.

We also recommend mixing the seating at the rehearsal dinner. It allowed everyone to get to know each other and made the wedding evening even more personal. It was magical! And very memorable for us and our guests.


Kim Szurovy and Sean Fogarty

May 22, 2004

Ceremony and reception at Brown's Mountain

It had always been my dream to get married at a beautiful Southern mansion. My husband and I were in law school when we met, and we wanted to get married in Charlottesville. We fell in love with the Clifton Inn, a historic inn with ties to Thomas Jefferson, and booked it for our wedding about 18 months before the big day. About six months before our wedding, the Clifton Inn experienced a tragic fire, but we at first thought the Inn could be ready by May. Then about four months before the wedding, we discovered that the Inn was damaged more than initially anticipated and that the Inn would not be ready in time for our wedding. We were distraught, and I was certain we would not be able to find a place as beautiful as the Inn for our wedding.

My husband and several of our friends saw how upset I was, and had the idea to have our wedding at Brown's Mountain, a big white mansion atop the highest point in Charlottesville, looking down on Monticello. At first I was skeptical, because while gorgeous, the house was then occupied by several of our male law-school friends and it hosted raucous, law school-wide parties at least five times a year and was not in the best shape. By the wedding day, though, thanks to J.F. Legault and his staff, the house and surrounding grounds were transformed into the most beautiful setting I could have imagined, and our wedding was perfect. So, my advice? No matter what snags you hit along the way, just have faith that everything will be perfect on the big day.