Laura Durham

Letter from Laura

This diary will be updated with the latest and greatest behind-the-scenes stories of my life as a wedding planner. Don't be too surprised if you see some of these details on the pages of a future Annabelle Archer Mystery. Truth is always stranger than fiction!

August 19, 2005

I've discovered that being eight months pregnant when you're coordinating someone's wedding does not inspire confidence. It doesn't help that it's June in D.C. and about a thousand degrees and I'm waddling around in a black dress. This is the one time when the rule about the little black dress always being appropriate isn't true. I am baking, but unfortunately this black dress is about the only thing left in my closet that both fits and is appropriate for a wedding. Even though the invitation doesn't say "Black Tie," I'm pretty sure my super comfortable black jersey maternity pants wouldn't fly.

My assistant, Christine, is at the reception site taking care of all the set-up while I coordinate the ceremony. I figured that traipsing up and down the marble stairs of a huge museum is easier for a 20-something, non-pregnant person than it will be for me. She is setting up escort cards and making sure the band loads in without incident while I am at St. Sophia's Greek Orthodox Church with the bridal party for pre-portraits.

The groomsmen are a helpful bunch and do exactly what I ask them to do (I think they're scared to tick off a pregnant woman!) and the groom's mother is as sweet as pie, offering to help me get the church set up. She probably thinks I'm going to keel over any second as I waddle around the altar setting up candles. The groom is pretty calm and is even calmer when an errant groomsman finally shows up.

The bride and bridesmaids arrive and we hurry them into the bridal room. They are a low-maintenance bunch so I leave them to check on everything else. The first buses are unloading and the groomsmen are whisking guests down the aisle in silence. Silence? Why isn't the organist playing? I run up to the balcony and discover that the organist isn't even there. And come to think of it, where is the priest? Both are coming from another church and are reportedly together. Twenty minutes before the start of the ceremony we have no priest and no organist. I begin to worry. Although the priest was at the rehearsal the night before, he's pretty old and I just hope his memory isn't fading. He also looks remarkably like a Hobbit, but that is neither here nor there. The father of the bride asks me about the priest and I assure him that he's on his way. I live and die by the motto that you never let people see you panic. I plaster a smile on my face and go outside the church to panic in peace.

On top of the fact that I might have to play the organ (which I can't do) then pose as a priest for this wedding to happen, I'm informed that my last shuttle bus is running late. Perfect. I take a deep breath and call the transportation dispatcher. I refrain from letting my hormones go wild and screeching like a howler monkey and I calmly ask for an ETA for the last shuttle. The dispatcher promises me that the bus is only moments away. Where have I heard this before? Oh, yeah. When I said the exact same thing to the bride's father only minutes ago.

Before I can get myself all whipped up about bus drivers who don't pay attention to the departure schedules I give them, I see the priest and organist go into the church. I hurry in after them. I only have five minutes to go over the cues with the organist, talk to the priest and get the bridal party lined up for the processional. I pop my head in to the bride's room and give her a sunny "almost time!" I catch the priest before he goes to change into his robes and confirm that he brought the bible to put on the lectern for the readings (he wanted to bring his own). Then I run up the two flights of stairs to talk to the organist. She is pretty young but has an eighty-year-old assistant. I explain as quickly as I can that I will come up to give them the cue for the seating of the mother then they should go into the bridesmaid's processional right after that. I ask the elderly assistant if she can count bridesmaids for the organist so I won't have to run up the stairs again and she gives me a blank look. She doesn't understand a word I'm saying. I'm not sure if it's a language barrier or a hearing aid barrier but I'm running out of time so I finally tell the organist that I'll give her a cue for each song.

I run down the stairs and get everyone in line for the processional while trying not to appear too out of breath. I go back upstairs and wave for the organist to start (the old lady isn't even looking in my direction) then amble back down and send the mother of the groom down the aisle. Once she's halfway down, I get the bridesmaids in order and pant my way up the stairs to give the cue for the second song. I have time to catch my breath a bit while I send the six bridesmaids down the aisle. Once the maid of honor has started down, I get the bride and her father in place and manage to pull myself up the stairs by the railing to cue the final song. I notice that the little old lady has actually nodded off in the pew next to the organ. If I had time I would throw something at her, but there's no rest for the weary. I consider throwing a leg over the banister and sliding down but can't figure out how to work around my belly.

I send the bride and her father down the aisle then collapse on the bench in the bridal room. I flip through a program that the bridesmaids left behind and realize that the readings are coming up and I never saw the priest put the bible on the lectern. I have a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and I'm pretty sure it isn't early labor. I slip in the back of the church and sidle up the side aisle until I can see the lectern. No bible. Crap. I look in the back of the pews and realize that there are only hymnals. Not a bible as far as the eye can see. Double crap. I waddle briskly out of the sanctuary and look around the foyer. Nothing. How can a church not have bibles? Now I'm really starting to sweat and it isn't because of the twenty extra pounds I'm carrying.

I remember seeing some classrooms downstairs so I move as fast as my swollen ankles will carry me and start rifling through the rooms. I finally find a bible and flip to the reading. I know it's bad to write in books and even worse to deface a bible, but I take a pencil and highlight the verses ever so lightly. I promise myself that I'll erase it later. I try to take the stairs two at a time on the way up but my center of gravity is completely off and I end up nearly doing the splits. I sneak back into the sanctuary and up the side of the aisle. The readers are just about to head to the lectern and I pass them the bible just as they walk up. I go back out to the foyer and sink onto the nearest chair. As far as I'm concerned, I just earned my entire fee right there. I wonder if the bride would notice if I went home early.

November 2004

It's a Saturday morning in the fall, so I'm preparing for a wedding. I have my wedding timelines printed out and my emergency kit sitting by the door. I try to eat something, but I always get butterflies in my stomach before weddings. You'd think after running nearly three hundred of them I wouldn't get nervous, but I always do.

When I arrive at The Willard Hotel, we're missing four hundred gold teaspoons. I make an emergency call to the rental company and they rush them over. First crisis solved. The wind is picking up in the courtyard so we can't put the linens on the tables without them blowing away. We hold off on setting up the courtyard, much to the florist's irritation. She has a bee in her bonnet about setting up the cocktail table flowers and proceeds to chase me around the hotel for the next few hours asking me when she can set them up. I assign my assistant, Christine, to distract her so I won't be forced to bludgeon the Nervous Nelly to death.

I go up to the bridal suite. The bride looks beautiful and is so tiny I'm afraid she might blow away with the linens. Her mother keeps getting teary and ruining her makeup. The Father of the Bride asks me to hold his speech until he needs it along with all the tip envelopes. My jacket pockets are bulging with papers, and I feel a bit like a mob boss carrying so much cash.

All the guests arrive at the Crystal Room for the ceremony in a mad rush and the groomsmen get them seated in a matter of minutes. These guys are so efficient that I may hire them for all my weddings. I tie fake rings to the ring bearer pillows, give the flower girl her basket of leaves to throw (everything, and I do mean everything, in the wedding has an autumn leaf theme), the processional music starts and they're off.

As soon as I get the bride down the aisle, I run check on the courtyard for the cocktail hour. The linens are set up, the wind has died down and the heaters are cranking. We're in business. I rush down to the ballroom. The tables have giant fall trees coming up from the centers and I feel like I'm walking into a forest. We've lit each tree from above so the leaves glow red and orange. This wedding is high on the drama scale. I leave Christine to work on the reception set up and dash back upstairs to check on the ceremony. I get there just as I hear the breaking of the glass, which signifies the end of the Jewish ceremony. I throw open the doors and greet the bridal party as they come back down the aisle. They are all smiles. The hard part is over for them!

They go off to take photos, and I hurry back down to the ballroom to make the final checks on set up. I must have walked a mile in this hotel already! Leaf-shaped escort cards are arranged in precise rows on a table outside the ballroom, celadon green menu cards are tucked into the napkins, swags of autumn leaves are tied to the back of the bride's and groom's chairs, and candles nestled inside tiny pumpkins surround the centerpieces. It looks breathtaking. My feet are killing me.

Guests start coming down for dinner, but they don't seem to want to sit down. It seems like the cocktail party has just moved to the ballroom foyer. After considerable coaxing, the guests move inside and we announce the bride and groom into the room. While they do their first dance, Christine and I start the process of tying green organza bows around two hundred clear cake boxes. Each guest will leave with a small replica of the wedding cake and a split of champagne in gold bags monogrammed with the bride's and groom's initials.

It takes us almost two hours to tie all the bows and stuff them in bags with the champagne. We arrange the gold bags on the table outside the ballroom, then go into the vendor room and put our feet up. I would take my shoes off, but I'm sure I'd never get them back on again. We grumble a little because we haven't eaten and the band has devoured all the vendor sandwiches, leaving only a few crusts of bread and some wilted lettuce. Not that we're craving club sandwiches, but at this point any food would suffice. The hotel catering director appears with pasta and sorbet. He is our hero!

When the event finally ends at almost one in the morning, I have my parking ticket validated and in my pocket so I can leave as soon as the client steps into the elevator to go to their room. After we all exchange hugs and promises to keep in touch (never happens), they go to their suites and I hobble to the parking garage. I make a mental note to buy gel insoles for my shoes first thing on Monday. If I can walk by then.

Annabelle Archer's Killer Tips for the Perfect Wedding:

For a stylish and cost-effective wedding, consider throwing a champagne-and-dessert reception, a garden brunch, or a chic cocktail party.

Buy two pairs of wedding shoes—or a half-size larger to wear after you've been standing for hours. Scuff the bottoms of both pairs.

Have your florist make an extra boutonniere for the groom. After hugging people for hours, the original one will be crushed and wilted.

To prevent any wedding day surprises, bring your headpiece and veil to the trial run with your hairstylist.

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All content ©2005-09 by Laura Durham.

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