From the Editor

By staff October 1, 2006

My son Matt and Mara Sheintal knew each other during high school, when Matt’s younger sister Kate and Mara’s younger sister Liana were good friends; but it wasn’t until they ran into each other over Thanksgiving vacation four years ago that sparks started to fly.

Slender and curvy, with big brown eyes and the world’s sunniest disposition, Mara embraces everything and everyone with bright enthusiasm. She is so adorable, and they so clearly adore each other, that when this January they decided to get married in August, I was overjoyed.

It was the marriage that excited me, not the wedding. I’ve never been big on ceremonies, and Matt’s the same—he didn’t even attend his college graduation. And though I knew that even middle-class Americans are staging over-the-top weddings these days, I couldn’t imagine pouring all that effort—and money—into such an event.

Mara completely agreed. She and Matt come from big, extended families, and she wanted to share the day with as many relatives and friends as possible, but she certainly didn’t want anything elaborate or extravagant. “I want it to be big and fun,” she said. “That’s all. I don’t care about the decorations or the flowers or the food.”

What a lovely, sensible girl, I thought, smiling at her fondly.

One month later, I opened my e-mail and watched a stream of messages from Mara flow in—messages about bridesmaids’ dresses, the merits of hydrangeas vs. roses, possible gifts for the eight groomsmen, a timeline for the make-up artist, the latest revision of the band’s playlist, and links to Internet sites featuring table favors and trinkets. Eleven e-mails in all—plus six from Mara’s mother, Kim, about the daily average. My phone rang.

“Pam, my dad says he’s never heard of anything as ridiculous as paying $6 per guest to rent fabric coverings for the chairs!” wailed Mara. “But I can’t give up my chair covers!”

And did I say, “Mara, don’t be ridiculous—a month ago, none of us had ever heard of chair covers, and probably one guest out of the whole 225 will even notice if you have them?”

No, with my hand fluttering to my heart, I said, “Oh, no, Mara, not those beautiful white spandex chair covers! They make the entire room!”

Yes, we had been gripped with wedding fever, a strange modern frenzy as intense and intoxicating as love itself, fueled by media coverage of high-profile marriages and feeding an enormous industry of services and products. Weddings aren’t just about formalizing a union any more; they’re expressions of our deepest romantic fantasies about ourselves and our lives—that we, like fairy-tale royalty, can achieve perfect love, perfect celebrations and perfect beauty. That’s a vision few can resist, from the average American couple, who now spends $25,000 on their wedding, to celebrities like Star Jones, who admits her constant chatter about her wedding plans may be one reason she got kicked off The View.

Even I, with no wedding responsibilities except for hosting the rehearsal dinner, soon succumbed to the madness. Originally I had envisioned a simple beach barbecue with a reggae band, but when I told one of our food writers I was planning to flip burgers for 135 guests, she looked at me with deep concern.  “I think you’d better talk to Phil,” she said.

Co-owner and catering chief at Michael’s On East, Phil Mancini is impresario of more than 2,000 Southwest Florida events a year. About 150 of those are weddings, including the recent marriage of an international fashion designer at the Ringling Museum, where the tables were draped in six layers of hand-beaded and embroidered linens embellished with pearls and crystals, and Cirque du Soleil performed for the 130 guests. Mancini just won an international award for that event, which probably cost more than half a million dollars; but he was just as passionate about my little party.

His excitement as we planned the menu was so contagious that I was soon exulting that this was going to be the most perfect rehearsal dinner party any bride and groom ever had. But what about the perfect invitations—and entertainment? With the help of our art director, we came up with a CD invitation, with reggae love songs inside and a cover featuring Matt and Mara; next thing I knew I had commissioned a surprise video about the couple for the party. That required Kim and me to collect hundreds of family pictures and to write biographies to inspire the script. Suddenly, I was spending hours a day on the party, neglecting my work while my office mates tiptoed around me; and I could only imagine what Kim, who was planning a week’s worth of wedding activities, must be doing.

“Are you going to do all this for my wedding?” my daughter Kate asked, as we stuffed stacks of One Love Beach Party CDs into hand-addressed envelopes. “You’re getting married at Bee Ridge Park with a Publix chicken,” I snapped—and by that point, stressed and exhausted, I was only half joking.

Things got even more hectic after I came up with the bright idea of doing “icebreaker” nametags that would explain each guest’s relationship to the bride or groom and say something clever about the person. Mara and I agreed to work on these when we went on a family vacation to Michigan a few weeks before the wedding.

And work on them we did—wherever I was, reading in the cottage, talking to my mother by the lake or getting ready to go out on the tennis court, Mara would find me, her laptop in hand, saying brightly, “Want to do some wedding work?” When we weren’t composing 135 warm and personal nametags, she wanted to plan the seating or discuss the latest in an endless series of critical decisions. Should she do back-up bouquets for the attendants, in case the flowers wilted in the August heat, and who should drive whom to arrive at just what time for the family pictures?

“What are you going to think about after the wedding?” I asked her one afternoon. “What if the rest of your life seems empty and bleak after this?

She giggled cheerily. “Did you check your messages for new RSVPs?” she replied. “And do you think I allowed enough time for my make-up? I want it to be perfect!”

No detail escaped her relentless attention; but whenever I’d start to get exasperated, her unflagging enthusiasm would revive me. And one day I realized she had pulled the entire family in. I looked out on the deck to see Kate standing in front of the happy couple, intoning over and over: “You may kiss the bride.”  Each time Matt and Mara would kiss, their faces concentrated and serious, while his young cousins would shriek, “Gross! Too wet!” or “That was a good one, Matt!”

That night, Mara decided they should practice their first dance for the reception. We didn’t have a stereo inside, but she loaded “their song” into the CD player in the car, and a bunch of us were in the living room talking when we heard the music blasting.

“You have to come see this!” my brother called, looking out of the window.

There, waltzing down the driveway, surrounded by applauding cousins, while Kate beat out the time and my sister’s dogs, barking with excitement, ran around the legs, were Mara and Matt.  Mara was laughing with delight, and Matt—who’s not a practiced dancer and hates being the center of attention—was smiling tenderly at her as he moved with confident ease. The setting sun lit up the forest behind them and glowed on the little group.

“How sweet is that?” asked my brother. “That’s what it’s all about.” Whatever happened, I realized as I watched them, the rehearsal dinner and wedding would be wonderful; and more important, the process had joined us all together and would be what we would treasure and remember. Simple, shared moments of love, family, trust and happiness—what could be more perfect than that.

Out of the Office

Fun and finds from our editors this month.

Arts editor Kay Kipling is dressing up for what may be the most glamorous (and at $1,000 a ticket, the most exclusive) night of the season—the Oct. 6 gala opener of the Ringling Museum’s splendidly restored Historic Asolo Theater. (Call 359-5700 ext. 7301 to see if tickets remain.)

On Friday nights, editorial assistant Hannah Wallace is grabbing a seat facing the window at Utamaro on upper Main, where she watches a parade of other great-looking young people passing by while she enjoys the fiery Bang Bang Shrimp roll and other creative sushi selections.

Editorial director Pam Daniel has been spending quieter—but equally mesmerizing evenings—sitting on her dock gazing at her new favorite home improvement: underwater lights from Aquatic Attractors (962-0330). “We watch shrimp and crabs swim by and snook go after hordes of silver baitfish,” she says. 

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