When my long-suffering wife and I were getting married, we had little money between us, no financial support from either family, and we lived in Los Angeles County where everything was expensive. Here’s my best recollection of how we went about it – granted, a good many years ago.
Venue. We used a backyard. To find one, we had to hold our wedding in Ontario, California, which was a long drive from Los Angeles. But one of my brothers-in-law to-be had a house there and use of it was free. It had a wedge-shaped backyard with a shaded patio that accommodated our three dozen or so guests plus the wedding party with little trouble.
Gown. For her wedding dress, my betrothed tapped the network of the church she was attending and found someone willing to make one for her with a few installment payments. (My wife is a South American native and was attending a Spanish-language Presbyterian church in Gardena.) Looking at the dress now, we can see it’s not finely made. The seams are uneven, and the stitching isn’t the best; but it was only worn once, almost no one examined it up close, and it got the job done.
Catering. This was a bigger problem, as most of the options we found were far too expensive. But we finally located a deli in Ontario that agreed to assemble three platters of finger food, plus condiments and paper goods, for $275. Before the wedding ceremony began, our caterer arrived and set the platters out. Then, after the wedding, our guests helped themselves.
Cake. The same deli also sourced a wedding cake for us. It was paid for ($90) by a member of the wedding party in lieu of a wedding gift.
Tables and Chairs. We borrowed folding chairs and tables from my wife’s church. My brother-in-law with the house had a pickup truck. We loaded them up in Gardena and drove them to Ontario the day before the wedding. I believe the caterer provided paper tablecloths.
Music. The music for the wedding ceremony was a vinyl album of classical pop guitar that my wife had picked out. We played it on her brother’s stereo with the speakers relocated to the back patio, aimed at the yard. We couldn’t hear it very well during the service (we didn’t play the traditional wedding march, but I don’t recall the song), but it didn’t matter; we were focused on other things.
Flowers. For flowers to decorate the backyard, we turned to a gentleman who belonged to my wife’s church and owned a flower shop. He gave us a substantial discount – with the understanding that one of his daughters (who my wife knew slightly) would be a member of the wedding party.
Pastor. My father, a pastor and history professor, officiated at the ceremony. In my faith and culture tradition, pastors don’t “charge” for services at weddings and funerals, but it‘s customary for the groom or family member to slip some cash to the pastor surreptitiously. I had been told firmly, however, that doing so on this occasion would not be welcome.
Photographer. One of the young adults from her church claimed to have photographic skills. That was an exaggeration, we learned. The pictures he took (I loaned him my 35mm camera as he didn’t have a decent one of his own) were blurry and left major parts of the ceremony unrecorded. There were quite a few photos of the flower man’s daughter, though. I’ve since gathered what photographs I was able to find in a wedding album.
Reception. Because of the catering arrangement, we didn’t have a formal reception. Everything was in one place, and people just grazed at the tables for a while after the wedding and an impromptu reception line on the patio.
Clothing. She and I had splurged a week or so before the wedding on matching costumes. We had blue and white striped shirts – like Polo shirts, but with snaps instead of buttons. The outfits also included white painter’s pants (a thing back then), and matching blue and white Nikes. We changed into them before leaving the house to begin our honeymoon.
Honeymoon Part 1. I had a great landlord. I lived in a tiny guest house in Inglewood. Looking back, it was a scary neighborhood: Inglewood Avenue, two blocks north of Century Boulevard. But I was inured to it and the occasional police helicopter flights overhead. After the wedding, she moved in with me and we continued living there for two more years until sometime after our daughter was born. As a wedding gift, our landlord forgave us a month’s rent ($285) and gave us a card with $100. That funded our honeymoon. I don’t know how we would have done so otherwise.
Honeymoon Part 2. From Ontario, we got into my ’68 VW Karmann Ghia (which my kid brother had festooned with crepe paper). We said our goodbyes and drove away. But once we were around a corner out of sight, I stopped and pulled the paper decorations off the car. We continued to our Ramada Inn on hotel circle in San Diego. For about three days, we visited the Zoo, SeaWorld, and walked around Old Town. It was fun, and the time was about getting to know each other. A proper “destination” may have been more of a distraction.
Regrets? Our failure to hire a proper photographer is our sole regret. Over 36+ years of marriage, memories fade and relationships are lost to time and relocation. We’re sorry we don’t have a better store of memories – something that good photography would have provided.
While weddings, receptions, and honeymoons are opportunities for consumer spending run wild, there are inexpensive alternatives, especially when necessity drives creativity.