Last weekend I attended a family wedding. It was one of the biggest affairs I'd ever seen, with a huge outdoor tent, a full dinner and cocktails on the lawn of a grand plantation house. It was very Southern.
When Phil and I got married, there were no guests, no staff, no spectators. It was just the two of us and the magistrate in Myrtle Beach, S.C. It was very Southern, too, in a very different way.
Some 50 years earlier, Phil's then-teenage parents had eloped to South Carolina, where there were fewer restrictions to getting a marriage license. We thought it was a romantic notion, elopement. Besides, we were new teachers without a lot of cash for a formal wedding.
We visited my mom to announce our engagement. With the solemnity appropriate for such situations, we sat her down to break the news.
"Uh, mom," I hesitated. I looked at my new fiancé. "Phil has something he wants to tell you."
Phil was caught off guard but managed to smile and say what I couldn't work up the courage to announce. Mom was surprised, too; we had been dating only a few weeks. But when you meet your match, you just know.
We didn't tell Mom, of course, that we were planning to elope.
Three weeks later, Phil and I drove down to South Carolina and got the marriage license during spring break. Two days after that, we hopped back in his truck and made our way down U.S. 17 toward Myrtle Beach.
Along the way, we collected the things we needed to outfit ourselves for nuptials, or at least to make a decent photo afterward.
We stopped at a thrift store, where they had exactly one bridal gown, which just happened to be my size. Phil found a lovely second-hand shirt and jacket.
We went to the mall in Wilmington for shoes. Our wedding bands came from two pawn shops in Myrtle Beach: one a glitzy, neon-studded eyesore of a store, the other a tiny shop open just a few hours a week.
At the second pawn shop, the owner, a sweet old lady, insisted that we pose for photos in her plantation-style wicker chairs.
By late afternoon, we had gathered almost everything we needed, except flowers. On our way to the magistrate's office, we saw a roadside sign offering sweet potatoes for sale. We knocked on the door.
"We would like to buy some sweet potatoes," we said, "Could we also cut a few of your azaleas?" The lovely white flowers were just in bloom, perfect for a bouquet.
We had something borrowed and, with our clothes, something new and several things old. I don't think we ever got anything blue.
We took photos in the parking lot. Instead of cocktails on the lawn, we had cheap champagne over dinner.
Instead of a honeymoon, we drove back to North Carolina and went back to work the next day.
On the way home, we called my mom.
"Hi!" Phil said cheerfully when she picked up.
"Erica has something she wants to tell you," he quickly added, then tossed the phone into my lap.
See? I knew we were a good match.