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"Never say never," I thought to myself as I slid into my wedding dress in early May of '96. It wasn't that I had once supposed I would never get married. I was 25, in my prime, skinnier than I'd been in five years, and had a confident, outgoing attitude. It was the dress.

My fiancé Matthew and I had been to numerous weddings and always took time to assess the dress. We had even paged through bridal magazines, shaking our heads at the designers' apparent misogyny. Why else would they do such things to women on this most special of days?

"She looks like a meringue, she's so puffy."

"It's lingerie! No, it's a dress! No wait, it's both!"

A particularly mean stylistic flair was the bow-butt -- as if a giant butterfly had alighted on the bride's backside. "I could be wrong," said Matthew, "but I don't imagine that a lot of women are dying to wear a white dress that makes their derriere appear larger than it actually is."

I loved my dress from the moment I saw it. Champagne-colored raw silk for the A-line skirt, nubs and threads of uneven widths, a texture discernible from a distance. The tapered bodice and cap sleeves embroidered with wide-open roses, themselves dotted with tiny pearls. More pearls marched in rows down the slim train that draped off my waist and just skimmed the ground. But there was a bow at the top of the train.

I loved the dress; I decided I could live with the bow. Seeing it lying there against the dress, as if asleep, it seemed inoffensive. But when I opened the dress-bag in the basement of the church, just hours before my wedding, I discovered that the bow had been roused from its slumber. The seamstress who had altered and pressed the dress for me had puffed, poufed, and broadened the bow. "Did she stuff the bow with cotton?" I wondered. "The loops look like pillows!" For a moment, my eyes searched the room for scissors. Then I sighed and laughed to myself -- "Never say never."

After I had been fully assembled, I lined up with my gaggle of bridesmaids. Six of them, dressed in long navy A-line dresses with scoop backs. Tiny bows adorned the base of the scoops; long navy ribbons dangled from the bows. Those bows taunted me -- so small.

But when I took my place next to my father, clad in his Air Force dress blues, and prepared to process down the aisle, the bows ceased to matter. So did the beauty of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a neo-Gothic church with a soaring ceiling and gorgeous carved-marble altars. "All that is just trimmings," I said to myself. "This is about the words and my will attached to those words." The priest had reminded us: "I don't marry you. You marry each other." Unlike other sacraments, such as Confession and the Eucharist, this one didn't require priestly ordination.

I glided through the Mass without a hint of nervousness. I knew Matthew was loyal, honorable, and loving. When he had proposed, I had not answered "yes" but "of course." When the moment arrived for the exchange of vows and I spoke the words, my eyes welled up and true joy washed over me. I'm a happy person, but joy, real joy, is elusive. I've felt it only a few times -- after the birth of my children, during a few special Masses, and when I spoke my wedding vows.

We got married on a Friday night. Afterward, we rode in a rented black BMW over to the Simpson House, a historic manse full of carved wood, antique tile, and large fireplaces, modified to host events like our reception. Most of the guests had already arrived; I drifted about exchanging niceties and then ditched the train and its billowing bow.

Matthew and I spent most of the reception seated at the head table, flanked by our wedding party, sipping champagne in a haze of candlelight. Every single member of our families was there, and a good number of our starving young friends had flown in from out of town. Again, the trimmings faded into the background; seeing all those loved ones gathered together was even better than the church, the hall, the china, the band, the wonderful food and drink.

My friend Sarah Burns prepared the wedding cake as a gift. I have always loved tiramisu — a layer cake stuffed with cream and infused with espresso. Sarah made three rounds of it, swathed in cream frosting and surrounded by white roses and fresh strawberries. Extra sheets of the cake waited in the kitchen, but it was such a hit that Matthew never got more than the mouthful I fed him at the cutting.

My father brought out the Moon Sword for the occasion. He strode to the cake table, drew the sword from its sheath, held it upright before him, and announced to the assembled that it had been created by the Wilkinson Sword Company to commemorate the first moon landing. It had always hung in the living room, behind my father's chair. The Saturn 5 rocket was etched into the blade, as was the lunar lander, and the surface of the moon. Dad handed the sword to Matthew. Matthew turned to me, and together we cut a sliver from the largest round and gently fed each other nibbles of cake. The crowd not only clapped; they cheered.

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