The Most Important Hour of My Life – On An Insignificant Day

Dearest Rachel –

I feel like I should apologize for the poor quality of this video. But the tape is, after all, twenty-nine years old, and it hasn’t been played in maybe ten, fifteen years; it can’t be expected to hold up all that well for all that time, especially on such an outdated and decaying technology as VHS tape.

But there’s so much to comment on as I go through it; I wish it looked so much better than it does.

As I recall, there was nothing particularly special about this day. We didn’t choose it for any auspicious reason, we simply timed it so that we could correspond with the most convenient time for me to take a vacation without disrupting my work schedule too much. It also had to be sufficiently far from the end of the previous school year to verify that you’ve gotten out, since there was a period in which you were riding the ragged edge of disaster, where it wasn’t entirely certain you’d have the credits to graduate on time.

So the upshot of this was, September 12th wasn’t a particularly significant day – until we decided to say “I do” on that day. And the hour’s worth of footage here chronicles the most important hour of our lives.

As you can tell, it starts off before the wedding. We’d done the rehearsal the night before, so this wasn’t a dress rehearsal per se; just the opportunity to take some formal pictures before the actual ceremony when everybody would show up.

Everybody looks so young. Even dad, as he walks along at about 2:30, waving at the camera. It’s alarming to realize that I am, give or take a year, the same age as he was at that point.

I remembered that you had put a hole through your dress before the wedding; I didn’t realize we’d gotten that moment on tape when you discovered the problem (3:15).

It’s amazing, too, to realize that we haven’t been back to the chapel since that day, at least as far as I can remember. We really didn’t bother with the IWU campus at all once we graduated. No Homecomings, no alumni days… we’d put our time in there, and we were done with the place, frankly.

I think I remember you saying how you would’ve preferred Ellen to be your maid of honor, and she was your oldest and dearest friend. But Elizabeth was a good friend as well, having been your roommate for several years, and a kindred spirit in not wanting to grow up (although since then, she’s taking on a lot of responsibilities that even grown-ups could not have). But at the same time, she loved pomp and circumstance almost as much as Ellen despised them (For all I know, this may have been the last time that Ellen was actually an a dress), so Elizabeth was the natural choice for the role.

I know that Mike Estwick (4:00) wasn’t in the wedding party; from the fact that he was there nearly from the beginning of the tape suggests that he must’ve been invited at least. I know we both bemoaned the fact that we didn’t keep in touch with him the way we probably should have.

(4:45) Dad was always saying things like that to Mom: “You know, you make a really good-looking groom’s mother, you know that?” It was always the opinion ‘tell her you love her, and tell her often.’ I hope I lived up to his example.

(5:24) Last minute rehearsal for my solo; I may not have ever had a leading part in choir, but I was going to sing this to you this day. It’s another one of those times when I think your parents sold me short; they didn’t think I’d be able to get through it without breaking down. From my current perspective, I can understand their concern, but back then I was young and stupid, and didn’t know what I couldn’t do.

(6:00) Ralph Coburn was absolutely thrilled to be working on such an organ is the one that was in the Evelyn Chapel. He clearly had such fun playing it.

Not sure what happened with the cut at about 8:00; obviously, the cameraman moved from viewing the sanctuary from the balcony to the green room downstairs – especially since we were taking all of the formal photographs – but why that small gap is there, I have no idea.

(9:30) Al and Andi (or ‘andi and I,’ as they later billed themselves when they formed their professional musical act) performed some of ‘our’ songs as part of the prelude, as did Heidi on the piano (10:00). My goodness, but the audio has suffered over all these years.

(12:10) I think I was the one who sent you “One Hand, One Heart” during our mix tape courtship. The line “only death will part us now” was most likely meant to be foreshadowing in the original West Side Story, but there’s a poignant little sting in it even now for myself.

Interestingly, I remember that Andy and Al warned us about the wedding night – the warning was simply “Don’t.” Apparently, their comment was borne out of unfortunate experience. Their logic was we would be tired, from the ceremony, the reception and the travel home (all the way from Bloomington to Arlington Heights), not to mention the fact that we had a flight to catch the next morning. We would be too rushed to truly make a special night for each other. They advised us to hold off until we got down to Florida. We would have more time for each other then. Based on their advice, we didn’t even try that night, and I think we made the right decision. Although from where I am today, I still don’t feel like we had enough of that kind of time together.

(15:42) I had hoped to use Rimsky-Korsakov’s Procession of the Nobles for the processional, but I believe that Ralph Coburn wasn’t able to find an arrangement of it for the organ (remember, this was in the days before the Internet). He did manage to arrange the promenade from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition to serve that purpose, however. Which probably worked out better, as far as being something that was uniquely ours – remember how I would look for you in a crowd by whistling a few notes of that piece, to which you would whistle back as a countersign? I still remember giving blood on campus once, and upon feeling uncomfortably light-headed, whistled a minor-key variant of the tune, to which both you and Elizabeth came running to check on me – you could tell from the sound that I was in distress, and you responded. You knew me so well even then.

(16:00) I can’t remember if Jo made her own dress, but I believe you told me she wove the material herself, in any event. It was, after all, her specialty in terms of what she taught at the university, so it only stood to reason.

(18:36) I guess some traditions can’t be dispensed with, such as Lohengrin. I’m going to assume that was your choice, as I would probably have leaned towards Pachelbel’s Canon. But technically, this is not the groom’s day, but rather the bride’s, right?

(19:25) As I recall, Pastor Jerry Seabaugh hadn’t been at First Baptist of Macomb for very long at this point. At least, he wasn’t the pastor you grew up with. But he was your own pastor, and he was the one who counseled us beforehand (which is at least another story entirely, for yet another time), and so he was the one to officiate for us.

(20:20) I know that I’ve mentioned it so many times before, but it never ceases to amaze me that your folks thought that we might be “entering into this lightly.” If I wasn’t so amused by their low expectations (and, now that I think about it, relieved at how easy it was to meet and exceed them) I would be so offended.

And speaking of being amused, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the fact that you were ready to say “I will” even before Pastor Seabaugh was done with his question and instruction to do so (21:20). Pity that the congregation couldn’t see it.

(22:04) In keeping with your love of hymns, and my own Swedish heritage, we did wind up playing a very nasty trick (albeit unintentionally) on our wedding party with “How Great Thou Art.” We knew all four verses by heart, but the others were left with mouthing ‘watermelon-watermelon’ throughout. I think I recall your parents telling us how impressed some of their relatives were that we knew all those verses by heart. I think at the time, we were surprised that they didn’t know it. I mean, didn’t everyone?

(27:32) I think we commented on this at the time we first saw this video together way back when, but it’s a shame – and even more so now – that the camera is staged and angled such that we can’t see your face, and your reactions.

I can barely hear your voice; but I know I could hear you then, and that was what mattered.

(30:00) I’m glad we didn’t need Pastor Seabaugh’s prompting with our vows. I’m thinking we must have written our own, in any event, we knew what we were to say to each other. We did need his prompting on the passage from Ruth, but the nods toward the opposite sides of the congregation (31:15) was our special touch, and I think everyone understood what it meant, by the small chuckle it generated.

(31:31) It’s a bit of a twist of the knife the pastor see about addresses God as “Creator and Preserver of life,” but I can’t argue that He did look with favor upon us. Even ‘when we hurt each other’ that one time, we did learn so much grace from that incident, didn’t we?

(33:27) Again, I regret not being able to see your reaction. I dare say I got through it much better than your dad thought I would, although I think there was a fly I had to wave away, which kept things from going off without a hitch. I have to admit that the line ‘just as sure as seasons were made for change, our lifetimes were made for years’ always struck me as nonsensical, but otherwise, I meant everything I sang. And I’d like to think that I kept my end of the bargain.

I still wish we could’ve been together as long as your mom and dad. I think you told me how he didn’t manage to hold it together while I sang – which would explain why he didn’t think I would be able to (37:33).

(37:55) I think of the concept of the unity candle as being a fairly new tradition at the time. I believe I managed to find it in the crawlspace a week or two ago.

It’s hard to tell from the audio, but I’m fairly certain I said “thank you” to Pastor Seabaugh when he finally gave me permission to kiss you. I’d like to think ours was suitably enthusiastic; the congregation seemed to think so. I know it was longer than most such kisses, but one has to do the moment justice, after all.

(40:10) I’d be hard-pressed at this point to identify members of my own family in the reception line, let alone those of the Brunner clan.

I did know what I was saying at 41:26: “Take a good long look into the future, there,” I admonished everyone. We look at old photographs and videos and wonder what we were thinking back in the day. All too rarely are we, in that moment, conscious of those who will look upon us in those future days.

Admittedly, I didn’t expect to be seeing myself while seated alone.

Maybe Jenn understood best when the spotlight was upon her: “I hate video cameras.” (41:50). At least she, and the rest of the wedding party, had the good sense to takeoff those uncomfortable shoes, even if it did look somewhat silly. Although, I think Dave’s discomfort has nothing to do with his shoes, but rather knowing how to react to video cameras himself (42:43).

Was that shaving cream all over my old beat-up Benz (42:51)? I’m pretty sure it didn’t stay on there forever but it sure looks painted on in the video. The boys must’ve had fun putting that together. Maybe it’s why Dave looked so uncomfortable.

I don’t know if I should comment upon it or not, but it is interesting to see my cousin Brian, long before he became our Pastor Brian, still encouraging people to smile – in this case, little cousin Brandon (44:25).

For the most part, you can’t make out much of the chatter in the reception line, which may or may not be a pity; was there anything more than the traditional congratulations? Even if there was, what can be taken and treasured from what was said?

Bill created and assembled the poster for the reception; Jan and I found it in the utility room back in March (47:40).

I remember you being adamant about not smashing the cake into each others face as was the growing trend those days (49:57). I agree, it’s a good way to ruin a rented tuxedo. And of course, the best way to mess up a marriage is to start off by doing something the wife doesn’t want. So I was a gentle as I could be. I did get a chance to pose as Samurai Cake Cutter for one of the formal (and I use that term lightly) wedding photographs (51:16).

(51:30) Our first dance together as man and wife. Of course, it was all from that scene in Say Anything – Do you remember when I visited you at home coming after graduating, painting myself up like Sharez Jek from ‘Caves of Androzani’ (not unlike the split-face mime face I’d worn the first time I remembered meeting you), and holding my boombox over my head in Jon Cusack’s iconic pose? I can still see your mouthing the words as Peter Gabriel sings.

I still wish I could kiss you like that again.

(55:28) The lighting is terrible for your throw to the girls. I can’t remember who was fighting for it, but little Kimberly beat the older girls out. I’m sure I could look it up, but I don’t know if the traditional fortune held. I know for a fact that the garter didn’t mean anything, as James (56:30) still isn’t married, to the best of my knowledge. Worse yet, the poor guy ripped his trousers reaching for it; and while backing into the wall might conceal it in most cases, the fact that the wall was mirrored did not help his cause in the slightest.

(59:14) Another of Bill’s art pieces; I don’t think we ever managed to find this one.

And I should’ve cut off the recording at this point, as it ends here. I inadvertently left about five minutes of static and white noise. Maybe it can represent the abrupt end to it all.

And that sums up the day, twenty-nine years ago. The day when everything changed for the both of us until this year. I had hope for many more anniversaries to come, and had no reason to suspect there wouldn’t be any more. But we had a good run of it, didn’t we?

This is Ellen’s gift to us, taken from a letter I’d written to you, long before this blog was ever a thing – before we were man and wife. These weren’t our vows, but they might as well have been mine. Which means, I guess, but I still have ‘until time is no longer.’

Published by randy@letters-to-rachel.memorial

I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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