Chatelaine

Weddings From Hell
by Kate Zimmerman for Chatelaine Magazine

With all the stuff that can go wrong, it’s a wonder that anyone ever ties the knot

The wedding was flawless. The bride wore a fluffy white confection that made her seem like she’d been spun out of sugar. For a change, none of the bridesmaids looked as disgruntled and ready to throw a punch as a guest on Jerry Springer. The groom might have stepped off the pages of GQ’s Tuxedos edition. The minister was not drunk, the flowers weren’t spray-painted. No one threw up. It was a perfect wedding. The kind no one remembers.

Not like the society wedding “Megan” (not her real name, for reasons which will quickly become apparent) attended with her boyfriend, “Roy.” The Calgary event was an extraordinarily elegant and costly affair, with an oyster tent, a humidor tent, a band flown in from Toronto and free-flowing champagne and martinis for the 400 or so guests. The booze got Roy in a particularly good mood, which Megan only noticed after he had stripped down to his boxer shorts on the dance floor. He piked an elderly guest’s hat to complete his ensemble, then shook his booty, but good. This amused and titillated only a few of the guests. “It wasn’t like he was Fabio,” says Megan.

But the fun had just begun for Roy. When the bride dropped by Megan and Roy’s table to tell the guests they could help themselves to the lavish rose centrepieces after the reception, Roy took that as an invitation to eat the flowers. Later still, several guests were admiring the cake, which Megan says “was so fancy, it had its own tent.” Roy, whose friends had told him that the bottom three layers were made of Styrofoam, decided “it would be funnier if it were upside down.” He up-ended the $1,500 cake with the predictable result that the icing fell off and the cake was crushed. So much for serving it on the couple’s 10th anniversary.

Now, not every wedding has a guest like Roy, who later told Megan that stripping at wedding receptions was a “tradition” among his group of friends. (Sadly, his buddy the groom was not aware of it. And oddly, Megan is still -- somewhat apologetically -- dating Roy, although they have moved way out of town.) But matrimonial gatherings are so fraught with screw-ups that it’s a wonder most honeymoons aren’t spent in psychiatric wards.

“I bet you almost every couple has something funny to tell,” says Greg Caseley, who with his wife Kathy owns Caseley’s Bridal Boutique on Prince Edward Island. “Everything’s so formal and you think everything should go off perfect but there’s always something a little funny that goes on.

“I think it’s great. If there’s not any fun in (the wedding), what’s their life going to be like?”

In other words, a few days before the nuptials it’s best for the couple -- and their families -- to resign themselves to a screw-up or two. Despite all efforts, they are probably going to occur, so everyone might as well relax, have fun ... and look forward to the stories that will follow them for the rest of their life together. (Maybe they will even appear in the pages of a national magazine!)

One memorable wedding Megan attended, for instance, took place many years ago in northern Alberta. The scene could only be described as “hillbilly.” At one point the cake fell off the stage due to vibrations caused by the vigorous polka-ing of the guests. The high point came when the mother of the bride and the mother of the groom got in a fist-fight.

Who knows what sparked that conflagration? At weddings, minor oversights often result in major snits that provide all kinds of exciting “buzz” for the reception. In one instance, there was the stepmother who was mortally offended at being the only member of the wedding party who had to pin on her own corsage. At a Winnipeg reception, the bride and groom were shocked to learn that the caterers intended to take their tablecloths away right after dinner, leaving the formally-dressed guests slouched over plywood tables.

These are the kinds of unpredictable details that escape the attention of the couple and their families during plenary sessions. (Gaffes happen at the spur-of-the-moment weddings, too. At Jody MacPherson’s elopement in Jasper, Alberta, she vividly remembers her anxious husband, Mike Burt, pledging love to his “awfully married wife.”) Gerry Forbes, a Calgary deejay whose wedding to Shelley Trodden took place on a local television station’s morning show, notes that on the air, his mother called Shelley by his first wife’s name. Since Ma and Wife No. 1 hadn’t gotten along especially well, the slip did not seem auspicious.

Another Albertan attended the wedding of a bride and groom who were both from a warring country that was infamous for its ethnic clashes. When it came time for the toasts, the bride’s relatives decided to lead the guests in rousing renditions of racist songs from the homeland, while the happy couple looked on in horror.

These kinds of wedding moments, which the bride and groom would love to forget, are all the more hellish when they’re captured on video. Ross Squires, owner of Memories Forever Videographers in St. John, Newfoundland, says one bridegroom, when he was told during the ceremony to kiss the bride, smooched her while simultaneously cupping her breasts. The groom later denied having done so and had to be shown the video to prove he had. Squires says he asked the man why. “‘What, you couldn’t wait?’ ‘No, b’y,’ he says. ‘Force of habit.’”

Even the most mundane foul-ups become the stuff of legend if they take place on what’s supposed to be the most perfect day of a couple’s life. This is because it, unlike any other, is planned down to the minute. So much effort is spent on esoterica (like making sure the traditional confetti is replaced with eco-friendly wild birdseed) that the obvious gets overlooked. P.E.I.’s Greg Caseley says he has seen all the clichéd blunders, including  forgotten rings and late bridegrooms. He also remembers the local couple who wafted out of the church, ready to make the classic photogenic getaway, only to discover that the best man had locked the keys in the car.

Certainly there are several things you actually need for a wedding. Lobster canapes are expendable, but you need the car ... or some kind of transportation. You need the couple. You need the official to nudge a few vows out of the tongue-tied pair. And you need the dress.

The wedding dress tends to be the most expensive and impractical item a woman will ever own ... and photographs of her in it are sure to come back and haunt her. No wonder The Dress becomes the focal point for plenty of angst. Back in 1980, Susan MacNeil’s maid of honour made MacNeil a gorgeous ivory satin wedding suit. A few days before the Toronto wedding, the maid of honour took the suit to a dry-cleaner to have it professionally pressed. Big mistake. When Susan decided to try the dress on over her wedding underwear the Wednesday before the Friday ceremony, she discovered that the cleaners had “pulled the bias of the fabric so it was lopsided. It really looked ridiculous.”

The cleaners denied any culpability and refused to compensate Susan for her ruined outfit. The maid of honour made a wholehearted attempt to salvage the suit, working at it with her sewing machine for hours, but every stitch that was pulled left an unsightly puncture. Finally, she and the bride gave up. Susan and her fiancé Ron spent the day before the wedding in a mad hunt for an off-the-rack dress, hat and undergarments. “‘I’m getting married tomorrow ... in my blue jeans!’” said the panicking bride.

Eventually they found an ivory lace dress with an ugly appliqué that Susan had to pick off. In the end, she thinks she looked pretty good. “Thank God it was only a city hall wedding (with eight guests rather than 80),” she says, “but it’s still your wedding -- you want to look nice.”

In addition to striving for physical perfection in themselves, brides often fix on a particular aspect of the wedding to “do” to the nines. For Valentina Pollon, it was the cake. Pollon, who is from Ottawa, lives in the Cayman Islands, but she had her wedding in October, 1997 at the elegant Chateau Montebello in Quebec. From a local baker, she ordered a cake she had found in a Martha Stewart wedding book. It was one of those creations that Martha says you just can’t live without, says Pollon. “It was a four-tiered square cake, very understated, with matte icing. It looked like a pile of boxes stacked on top of each other. It was very, very elegant.”

On the day of the wedding, a friend picked up the $450 cake and brought it to the Chateau. But when it was unveiled, during the reception, it looked like a gigantic, cheap, single-layer birthday cake. The turquoise piping hadn’t set so it had run into the white icing, and on top of this abomination were two large doves with a “big lace halo” around them. “The chef said in all his years he’d never seen anything so ugly,” says Pollon. “I wanted Martha Stewart and I definitely got Wayne Newton.”

Martha’s faultless touch would have been a dream-come-true for one Moncton bride as well. According to Brenda MacAuley of the New Brunswick bridal shop Lloyd’s of Moncton, this particular woman (let’s call her “Nancy”) was hit with a series of mishaps around the time of her wedding. A month before the occasion, her father discovered that he’d been transferred to Toronto. He listed his house and it sold immediately; unfortunately, moving day was the day Nancy was tying the knot. Arrangements had to be made to leave enough furniture in the living room for the picture-taking.

Then, the priest Nancy had chosen had a heart attack and couldn’t perform the service. His replacement refused to allow the requested communion during the ceremony. To top it all off, Nancy tripped and sprained her collateral ligament as she walked down the aisle at the rehearsal. (MacAuley can’t remember whether this was before or after she was rear-ended in a car accident.) But undeterred, Nancy had her knee strapped; she limped into the church and got hitched. “If you told someone all that they wouldn’t believe you,” says MacAuley, who knew the bride’s father.

Equally unlikely is the tale of Karen Clearwater’s Winnipeg marriage to Glen Davies. In retrospect, Clearwater Davies says, she might have expected things to go wrong. “I’m the klutziest person in the world.”

First off, there were a few organizational flubs, such as: the failure to hand out programs in the church -- the guests had no idea what was happening throughout the ceremony; and the 11th-hour appointment of the bride’s sister-in-law, a pianist, to play the processional songs on the organ. The bride also forgot to take her “throw-away bouquet” from the church, so the minister had to grab it and run down the street to give it to her new relatives to deliver. Other blunders included the halter-topped bridesmaids’ dresses, which gave everyone a peep show when the women sat down, and the fact that the caterers hadn’t provided mix or ice for the reception so someone had to make a run to the store.

Then, there was the fact that Clearwater Davies, unused to walking in a gown, stepped on the crinoline of her dress as she mounted the steps to the altar and ripped a big chunk out of it.

Next, it was time for the pictures. En route to the photo op, the wedding party picked up food at a McDonald’s “drive-thru” to calm their grumbling stomachs. Once they arrived at The Ruins in St. Norbert, the bride decided to take off her long white gloves in order to eat her cheeseburger. It was only then that she remembered that she had slipped her engagement ring over her gloved finger. The ring had flown through the air and disappeared into the grass. “We had 40 or 50 family members in their evening wear (crawling) in the grass looking for the ring,” she says. As the bride began to cry, someone set off to find a metal detector. Luckily, the groom found the errant jewelry across the field and was able to cheer up his new wife by proposing to her all over again.

It was pretty hot during the picture-taking, Clearwater Davies recalls. And the wedding party was not alone. Seagulls were flying overhead and just as one of the guests idly wondered aloud about the possibility of a bird letting loose, one of them did -- right on the bride.

“That was the icing on the cake, so to speak,” says Clearwater Davies, who received the bird’s sacrament right in the middle of her train. “We all lost it and we were all rolling around in the gravel. I had to dust my maid of honour off after.”

She laughs about it now -- as does her sister-in-law, Pam Bewza. “The bride smelled like bird droppings all night,” says Bewza. “And she must have hugged everybody in the place at least twice.”

Needless to say, though, it was an unforgettable wedding.

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