As a freshman in college, I signed up for a course titled, History of Women. It was interesting if only because I was quite an anomaly in the course constructed of mainly women pursuing a degree in Women’s Studies. I was not only the rare, married, full-time college student, but a “veteran” with four years of service behind me. This was in fall 2001, so after September 11 occurred there was an even greater interest in my experience in the military.
However, I wasn’t so interested in the plight of the armed servicewoman; instead, I was intrigued by the incredible variety of societies and their wedding traditions. Each tradition spoke so closely to the role of women within the culture and I couldn’t help but wonder about my wedding. One day we began a small study of Bedouin women in Egypt. They are largely a nomadic people and I was taken by their story. A Bedouin woman’s life is so demanding, so difficult (truly not one I would ever choose), but ultimately she is valued more highly than in many similar cultures. How better is this evidenced then through their three days of wedding feasts…one night for the groom, one night for the bride and the last night culminating in a feast in the desert night, under a bright moon. The families come together and honor the bride. Women of her tribe wear special clothes to catch the moonlight as they dance to honor her and her new life. I could almost imagine the swirls of light and thought about my own wedding, thrown together in a nomadic moment.
Perhaps it’s because Tom and I were engaged in Egypt. We were there for a small joint military exercise the summer of 1999 and decided we just wanted to live together, what better way than by getting married? In our defense, there were few options available to us since as lower enlisted soldiers we were not entitled to housing money unless we were married. Throw in the love factor and we were set on getting married.
Egypt is a beautiful country, especially out in the middle of the desert somewhere between Alexandria and Cairo. Something about the radiant sand and ancient light inspired wistful aspirations and it wasn’t long before Tom and I found ourselves dreaming of our future.
It wasn’t a large dream, just full of time together and a chance to claim something of this world that was larger than our beat-up used cars. We decided we would have cats (Tony and Cleo for Anthony and Cleopatra…see, there must have been something in the air!), but wait on children. Tom got down on his knee in a dusty dining facility tent and asked me to marry him (he asked me again a week later at the foot of the Great Pyramid, but that tent memory will always live strong). We planned into the future, but forgot to plan the key bit…our wedding. In fact as our time in Egypt drew to a close I became more and more nervous about how our far-flung families would come together.
Not once did a wistful dream of a white dress and the perfect flowers cross my mind. I never dreamed of my wedding as a child, but rather of the life I would have after the fact. Tom was much the same, the getting on with our life part was far more important than the actual union. The day after our return to the United States we each called our families and asked them to make it to Georgia in three weeks. Looking back, it was a bit selfish, but we truly wanted to fit our wedding into the little four-day weekend we had over Veteran’s Day (how appropriate).
Of course our families did come together. It took a bit, but I will always remember that day we all stood in the living room of our first apartment. We had no furniture except a bed (ahem, well really, what else DO you need when you’re first starting out!), so everyone stood in a circle and looked at each other. My parents had just met Tom about 20 minutes ago (I fortunately met my in-laws the day prior…when they took us shopping for our bed, their wedding present to us!) and we had to be at city hall in one hour. My sister took me into the bathroom and did something beautiful to my short hair with curling iron while I got dressed in my blue wedding outfit.
Here we go!
My family waiting for the ceremony.
Our friends met us at city hall, having received their invitation through an announcement at PT (physical training) two days ago. We went into the little room and our families and friends gathered, cried and cheered as we were married. Our wedding dinner followed at Ruby Tuesdays (one of the few restaurants in town) and concluded with an impromptu reception at our friend’s apartment. He even had cake (from the refrigerator case at the Piggly Wiggly) and red carnations as our flowers. We did a hat dance and my mother-in-law waved her scarf in the air for her new daughter-in-law from a small town in Arizona. With this small gesture she welcomed me into her family and the traditions I had yet to learn.
“You may kiss the bride” kiss and waiting to sign the marriage certificate…
Two years later, as I read about the Bedouin women and their moonlit wedding feast, I thought back to that November night and wondered what my wedding truly said about my role in my families.
I was definitely loved. Both families set aside their lives to hastily attend my wedding. My mother finished a quilt she had been making for my barracks room…a wide border stitched on to stretch it into a queen size quilt. The words “For my lovely daughter, on the occasion of her wedding.” inscribed on the back. My sister lovingly prepared me for my wedding, while my new sister-in-law thought of my wedding night with a special, beautiful gift.
I was respected. My parents accepted my decision and welcomed Tom, even managing to smile and produce tears for my new life. My in-laws immediately welcomed me and cared for me like a daughter. While Tom was kind and patient with my family and always amazed me with his mellowness. No one questioned our decision and we were both seen as intelligent adults, who were set in a path. No matter the outcome, we were supported.
I was beautiful, everything was beautiful. I certainly didn’t have the expensive dress, the decorated church, the perfect menu, the stacks of wedding gifts, the photographer or the wedding dance with my father, though I did have an amazing wedding. It was full of family and friends who truly wanted to celebrate with me. And the genuine smile on my lips, my absolute glow (helped by those hours in the Egyptian sun, I’m sure), and the dress and ring I paid for myself were better adornments than most of the weddings I see on TV.
Do I feel like I missed out? Sometimes. A big part of me can’t WAIT for my girls’ weddings. Overall, I have an incredible story, hilarious photos (taken by my in-laws) and a marriage that is still going strong after 11 years. I wouldn’t change a thing…never, ever.
Beautiful (if you ignore the junky stuff to the right of the photo…)