Both of us had been previously married. Both of us, therefore, were a little—okay a lot—anxious. So Wick and I decided to keep it simple and invite only our immediate family, and to have a bare bones wedding in the Lady Chapel at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.
Our family members were seated in the first two rows, waiting. Monsignor Weber, of Holy Trinity Church in Dallas, was at the altar, waiting. Finally, Wick said, “Shall we?” He took my arm and we walked down the very short aisle, and faced the priest for some readings from scripture and the exchange of our vows. We read an exquisite poem, “The Deer’s Cry” by St. Patrick. We kissed. And when we turned around as the priest announced, “ladies and gentlemen, Wick and Christine Allison” we were stunned to see the pews filled with some of our closest friends—who had crashed the wedding, flying in from all parts of the country to surprise us—along with dozens of unknown bystanders, mostly nosy older Irish women who just wanted to see what was going on.
It was a sublime, crisp-cold December day. We walked across the street to what was then the Helmsley Palace. We ordered extra champagne for the crashers, and we all toasted and reveled in the joy of surprise, the blood-rush of seeing the faces of everyone we loved in one room. Just knowing that we were members of this powerful tribe combined with the effects of two glasses of champagne assuaged our nerves.
But Wick and I are not social. Our plan, from the beginning, was to ditch our beloved family and friends. Outside the hotel a limousine was waiting to transport us to JFK so we could fly directly to Rome. On the flight, we sipped more champagne and, as planned, we used the time to address envelopes for our wedding announcements, which were ready for stuffing: “Buon Giorno from Roma!” We used a simple Gill Sans font in forest night green, printed on a beautiful pale cream stock. The paprika, as Diana Vreeland would say, would be a gorgeous Roman stamp. Once we got settled in Rome, we went to the poste e Telecomunicazioni to select our stamps and mail our announcements, and whatever anxieties we had went with them. The wedding was over. Now it was just Wick and me again, which was something we did well.
The Catholic rites and announcements tradition would carry through the years. When each of our four daughters was born, they were baptized at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and we used the same pale cream card stock and Gill Sans font to announce their births. Thirty-five years of marriage later, or on our darkest days, better described as 35-years-of-not-being-divorced, I can say that our traditions such as the identical announcement cards meant more than I knew at the time we created them. Constancy is fragile. And in the end, that is what marriage is about. No matter how you arrange it, no matter how you make it work, every tradition, every holiday, every family joke, and a transcendent unity of purpose keeps that vow, that insane and radical commitment, alive. At least that has been our mad formula. That, and our daughters and, I believe, God. It was a short walk up the aisle. But for me it has been the longest, most trying—and most beautiful—journey of my life.