This was a very special adventure for me. After being friends with Pauline for 21 years and after being FRIENDS with her for 7 years, things got even more serious. On a sunny Thanksgiving Day in the year 2000, I asked her to take a walk with me to the nearby Noguchi Gardens, Isamu Noguchi's famous California Scenario, a one acre minimalist sculpture garden that represents the scenes of California, one of my favorite places for meditation. On that day inside the Noguchi artwork I asked her to be my wife and she said yes. As for planning, I knew that wedding plans always take care of themselves.
In June we left for England, Pauline’s native country, where we had chosen to get married. The wedding was all set to take place on 17 August at Flitwick Manor in the village of Flitwick, Bedfordshire, England. Flitwick, pronounced "Flit' Tick" by the locals and "Fli' ick" by some dialects is Pauline's hometown and she still maintains a home there. The manor had been converted into an up rate hotel long ago. Except for a hundred acres or so the original manor property was now the site of the homes and town with Pauline's home sitting on what would have been a part of the manor, about a mile away. A twelfth century church was situated on a small hill adjacent to the manor and served as a venue for weddings as well as for services of blessing for civil weddings that were held in the manor.
Because of my divorce status and not having the same influence that Henry the Eighth used when he married Anne Boleyn, I could not be married in the church. The work-around for that is a civil wedding and a service of blessing in the church, the latter including everything except the "I do" part. This would be followed by a Wedding Breakfast in the afternoon and an evening garden party at the homes of Pauline and her sister (Their gardens connect at the bottom.). Everyone prayed for good weather.
We spent the first two months having various "honeymoons" in and around England, Paris, and in Hungary (separate WWT adventures). Between honeymoons we worked on our Flitwick home, which was in the middle of a major remodeling operation that Pauline had referred to as the "Great Millennium Project". This also gave me a chance to become acclimated to living in England, where we plan to at least spend the summers.
Our plans called for me to spend the wedding eve alone in the manor, while Pauline stayed in her own home. On the wedding day I was to abandon the room before the wedding to allow her and her bridesmaids to dress, so that I would see her only when she entered the wedding room. On the afternoon before the wedding I had returned from London with several visiting family members and joined up with two more in Flitwick.
By now, several things were going awry with the wedding. The suits due to be picked up in Bedford were dirty and had to be hastily dry cleaned, cravats were missing, the flowers in the church were a problem, and Pauline was becoming a nervous wreck. To complicate matters the local village maintenance crews chose this day to dump fertilizer on the green ways and the entire village smelled like cowshit. My Belgian friend had called to say he may not make it, and my three German friends, who had arrived earlier at the manor, insisted on conducting a German ritual, known as "Polterabend" (noisy evening) on the wedding eve. In Germany, friends and neighbors show up at the home of the bride and smash dishes on the driveway to scare away all bad spirits. We agreed to fit this into an already tight schedule for the evening.
But first I treated all of my family members to a pub dinner at the Cross Keys pub in nearby Pulloxhill. The pub owner is a friend of the family and he graciously added to our party and at one point even took my son and me into the basement to watch him tap a new cask of beer.
On the way home we stopped at the manor and picked up the Germans. What began as three Germans smashing their dishes on the drive grew into about 20 people who quickly evolved from spectators into participants filling the drive with smashed dishes. (It apparently worked, since we have not seen any bad spirits there since.) Then the bride and groom must work together to clean all this up to show their commitment. Strangely enough not a single neighbor came to see what all the commotion was about. It all ended in good spirits and I joined the Germans, for my last drink as a free man, at the manor where we would all stay the night.
On the wedding eve I slid into bed around midnight. The room was chilled by one of the few air conditioning systems I have seen in England. I did not feel sleepy at all, but the cool air felt good. Just as I was dozing, and my brain had reached a dream state, I remembered the tale of the manor ghost, a young woman who had been seen wandering the halls by several residents. I was in the exact state of mind to sense something in the room and a cold chill ran down my spine. Was something in the room? I could not bring myself to look up for a long while until finally, I switched on the light and looked. My imagination was getting the best of me. Eventually morning came and I was all too happy to put on the morning suit, which by now had been cleaned and pressed.
Everything on the wedding day was perfect. The sun shone, Pauline was beautiful, everyone was happy, the food was elegant, people praised the hotel service, the service of blessing was beautiful, and tears flowed.
Immediately before the wedding coffee and tea was served to the arriving crowd in an elegant sitting room of the manor. At 11:30 we were all assembled in another room set up especially for the occasion where the room, which would seat 50, was filled to capacity. As Pauline entered to the sound of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, camera flashes exploded and the smile on her face filled the room with an even brighter glow. I found myself smiling so hard I almost strained my face. Questioned by a local registrar we answered everything to her satisfaction, no one objected and she pronounced us man and wife. We swapped rings as a symbol of our commitments to each other and began immediately living happily ever after.
Everyone then walked into a beautiful outdoor sunshine and headed up a stone path to the old church. This church has a recorded history with all vicars beginning with the 1200s known. (It is known to have existed long before 1200 but the records of that are no longer around.) Like many other European churches scaffolding surrounded its tower in a never-ending attempt to keep it together without really changing anything.
This time Pauline and I entered a filled church, again to a crowd of flashing lights, and proceeded to the front where the Vicar would do his thing. At this point we were already married and were just making sure that God knew about it. Relatives participated with readings and everyone sang hymns (which I was hearing for the first time, but which they all seemed to know). Eventually, the Vicar placed our ring hands together and wrapped them with a cloth and beckoned God to bless them.
As we walked from the church altar, with sound of church bells ringing, I almost exploded with happiness. I could sense a similar emotion in the entire crowd. The setting of the English manor was unbelievably appropriate. Guests strolled on the lawn, drank wine, played croquet, and took pictures. I could not resist telling Pauline that everything had worked itself out perfectly. She understood what I meant......I think. I realized for the first time that our choice of venue had been absolutely perfect. We had considered three locations, all which seemed good, but now I realized how perfect this one was. No other place could have represented what this one did, especially to the locals who came to help us celebrate in their special place.
We had hired a local professional photographer to be the official photographer, though endless cameras and at least two videos were running constantly. The professional put on a great show himself and did a great job of keeping all the amateurs at bay without insulting anyone (well maybe a little). At one point he attempted to get my best man, Cecil, to smile and Cecil responded by saying "I am smiling; this is it".
We had an unbelievably elegant meal in the manor, with several dishes Pauline and I had picked because they sounded interesting. They were. A soufflé for dessert impressed everyone, especially in a sort of magic way all 50 appeared almost simultaneously and steaming hot in every case. Speeches and toasts came off like clockwork. This was a comedian’s dream. All one had to do is suggest he expected a laugh and the crowed roared with joy. No one even seemed bored. In typical fashion, the Germans joined in with their own (unscheduled) speeches. This at first terrified a few stiff British attendees who were expecting a more disciplined affair, but it set the stage for a more relaxed participation by others. By the time they had finished all were enjoying the spontaneity and delightful comments and we may well have changed how the British will do wedding receptions forever. Even my own kids rose impromptu and said nicer things about me than I had heard from them in my entire lifetime. They also joined in to take credit for advising me to go for Pauline as a stepmother. One of my sons even threatened to start calling her "Mummy".
The perfectness continued on into the evening with the garden party out performing everyone's greatest expectations. The weather, which had been varying from winter like cold to steamy heat with rain mixed in almost every day, was just as we would have ordered. Someone up there really had heard our prayers. Pauline had been burning candles in churches all over England. This almost made a believer out of me.
On the wedding night we returned to the manor. We had reserved the Garden Room, a large room that had a separate sitting room that opened into a large beautiful garden. We managed to avoid the crowd of people waiting for us in the hotel lobby by going into the room from the outside through this garden. Nevertheless, as we pulled back the covers, someone had managed to access the room long enough to fill the bed with angel confetti. We were relieved to find this, the only prank, somewhat delightful. I did not think of the ghost one time during the night.
I will summarize my wedding night simply by saying I shall never forget it. We rose for an early morning breakfast in the Manor dining room.