SHEILA MERLE READS AT SPRING STORIES FROM BROOKLYN AND BEYOND SHOWCASE
April 29, 2021
This is the story of the wedding of my late husband, Michael, and me back in 1982. We met at the end of ’79 at Esalen Institute on the Big Sur coast of California. One of the first humanistic psychology workshop locations in the U.S. Here was a relatively straight medical doctor from UCSF meeting a post-hippie new age alternative health teacher. Where else could we have met? He was visiting an ex-patient, Gregory Bateson, a famous philosopher psychologist, whom Esalen invited to live thereafter medical treatment had done all it could for his cancer. And I was delivering a massage table to Gregory’s wife who had studied Prager movement education with me. Michael and I were pretty much together from the day we met. So at the time of our marriage, we had known each other two and a half years.
After one year together, we bought a house in Mill Valley, a charming community in Marin County. After another year, we were in the hot tub with his kids. When he proposed, they were 10 and 12, he got down on one knee in the water and had his MIT ring, which was a napkin ring. I had always said, “I would never get married.” I didn’t see the point. But when he got down on his knee and said, “Would you marry me?” I thought, “Hm, I’ve never tried that before.” So I said, “Yes.” His kids thought we were joking. It took them a while before they believed that it really happened. Several months after that, we had the ceremony at our house. We found a non-denominational person who held a certificate like I do to be able to marry people. And we developed our ceremony with him. I wanted to have a small group for our wedding and then a larger group for the reception, which apparently is done. But they’re usually in two different places.
This was all at our house. Michael was not sure about this, but with an hour of separation between the two events, he agreed. I had the dress my mother got married in, which was my grandmother’s friend’s wedding dress from the 1890s. We had it worked on by a person from the costume department of the de Young Museum in San Francisco, who moonlighted and fixed it for me. I had a smallish waist, but she still had to let out that 16-inch waist, a few inches to fit me. It was a gorgeous Jacquard cream silk satin with puff long sleeves and tiny hand-covered buttons at the wrist. It had a slight bustle shape which I let hang down no bustle from beneath it which is what they use to have them I don’t know why stick out their bum, six or eight inches behind them. And it had a very small train.
Katie and Andy Michael’s kids were in it. Michael rented the same tails for himself and his son and Katie had a beautiful dress. Fringe [inaudible 00:03:41.799]. Friends pitched in for the ceremony. And we had a close group of friends, maybe 12 to 15. One couple, we had just met, offered to do all the flowers and they’re still friends of mine 40 years later. Other friends worked on the food. And so the day of the ceremony came and friends were helping me to get dressed. I got a teddy. I think you call it with a one piecy thing with snaps at the bottom. And I had a garter belt. So I had a garter to throw. It was underwear I never used after that, but it really made me feel special. I did my hair with rollers, but I forgot to look at the back of my head in the mirror. So in the ceremony, the back of my hair still had the roller lines, not the rollers themselves thank goodness. But the roller lines, I only discovered this later from the photos of the wedding and was embarrassed for a decade or so, but age helps these things. The ceremony was lovely. I was told like all things emotional. I don’t remember much, many of the specifics it’s on videotape somewhere, but how will I ever watch a videotape? When that ended, I changed into my reception dress, which it turned out Michael didn’t even like on me, but I also thank goodness didn’t know that till later. We were waiting for the reception, and his boss arrived early. That was a very awkward moment because his boss was nonplussed that there were already people there and that the ceremony had already happened. Still, we had a lovely reception in the backyard.
It was on the hall very simple the whole day. And I really liked being able to celebrate the ceremony with closer friends and then have the party be a larger group that we didn’t necessarily know as well. Our neighbor opened the first bottle of champagne out in the backyard and nearly took my mother’s eye out with the cork. So we had several disconcerting events happen that day, but on the hall, I remember our wedding is such a sweet mixture of things that went right, and things that went wrong, but didn’t really matter. Being able to wear that beautiful dress and Michael and his… Well, I think it was called a morning suit, It’s not really tails. It had a gray vest or something… Anyway, to marry my love, to be surrounded by a group of friends that were our chosen family with the ceremony accompanied by Shota, a patient of Michaels and a professional piano player who also played True Love for our wedding dance. And my mother played some of the music on the piano before and after. She was a wonderful piano player that could pick up almost anything by ear. And even later in life, when her osteoarthritis had almost displaced her finger joints, she continued to play up until she died at 83.
So it remains a charming mixture of the day. And I don’t regret at all choosing to get married. We stayed together until 2004 when he passed away from a congenital disease. So we had 25 years together, 22 of them married. His second marriage, my one and only, and definitely worth it.