Saying "I do" was the easy part.
There used to be this redwood church, A-frame, about halfway between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz on Highway 17: some rough-hewn pews, but no altar, no icons, just a plain pulpit and, behind it, this huge picture window looking out on the Santa Cruz Mountains.
"That's where I'd love it to be," I told my fiancée, Rebekah. "Just family, close friends, and that evergreen expanse blessing us all."
We were getting married September 9, 1967 -- a fitting end to the Summer of Love, I often shouted to the world. I was 23, Rebekah 19. She seemed to like the idea of a simple, rustic ceremony. Her mother Sherrie, however, had other plans.
Pop quiz: which movie wedding would you prefer: The Deer Hunter's festive sprawl or The Sound of Music's august formality, with Gothic ceiling shots and the bride's train half the length of Europe? If not the redwood chapel, give me the staggering blur. Instead, Rebekah and I ended up doing Julie Andrews and Captain Von Trapp.
What we didn't know at the time -- no one did -- not even her husband: Sherrie had terminal lung cancer. She wanted a big society-page affair -- and only she would know it was her last farewell.
At first I balked. A DeMille epic? NO WAY!
But deeper down, I didn't care. Exchange vows before half of California? Fine. Be glad to. After a long and stumbling search, I'd finally found Her and would put up with whatever.
By the time the Big Day came around, in fact, Becky and I'd been apart for at least a week. I missed her so bad they could've held the damn ceremony in the Roman Coliseum with lions and tigers and Spartacus on steroids, and I'd have fought through them all to be with her again.
I don't remember what people wore. The ushers, in "monkey suits," talked about Carl Yastrzemski's triple-crown season for the Red Sox; bridesmaids (in pink, I think...yellow?) spoke of honeymoons and hope chests.
By then I'd become convinced that weddings aren't for the bride and groom. They're for the parents, guests, and, most of all, the photographer. The whole thing's a photo shoot: cut the cake, give the toast, throw the garter, run the rice gauntlet.
So I resolved to stay in Portrait Mode and do our parents proud and hope to convince doubters that my bride wasn't making the dumbest mistake of her life.
The ceremony took place at the First Unitarian Church, a sleek glassy structure on a Berkeley ridge with a panoramic view of San Francisco Bay. A cast of thousands attended, or so it seemed.
Don't believe me? The reception line was so long they finally had to cut it short because the photographer was getting antsy.
Sherrie beamed like the sun on that clear September afternoon. Looking back — and I'm glad it happened this way — this was her show, except for one moment.
The most radiant sun, that day, came down the aisle on her father's arm. About halfway to the altar, we gave each other a look that could banish shadows. It almost knocked me flat — not out of fear or marital trepidation. Out of relief! It hadn't been a dream after all. Here she comes. It's all true. Ocular proof!
I was so happy I almost forgot my place. I wanted to bolt from the altar, run up the aisle, give her a big, spinning hug, and say, "Isn't this GREAT?"
Come on, an impulse urged, just a quick time-out to let her know, amid all the solemn pageantry and handkerchiefs blooming from purses like spring flowers — amid this whole baroque Wedding Thing — that I loved her.
Couples these days argue about commitment in relationships. You hear them on cell phones haggling minute fluctuations in their emotional stock market, as if they'd much rather keep score about who stands where than co-exist.
Back then, the question never entered my mind. No negative did. And what I felt was neither confidence nor wide-eyed romantic sugar-plum yummy naïveté. It was a pure choice, metaphysical certitude, true love.
And, as it turned out, a love too true to last.