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October 2011 Volume 13 , Issue 10 submit to us!

by Lenore Hirsch -- Contributing Author [Email This Story]

Getting married at fifty-six is not that big a deal--it happens all the time--but getting married for the first time at fifty-six, that's another matter. The groom, who has done this before at least once, wants to keep it simple. The bride's graying head is full of girlhood fantasies which have had a lifetime to simmer.

How did we even get engaged? We have been dating for five years and living together for two. Jay is afraid I will dump him like every other girlfriend or wife he has had; marriage will just add to the mess. The proposal comes shortly after I start wearing one of my mother's diamond rings. I figure I don't need to be married to have something sparkly on my finger. That does it. Jay proclaims one day, "I'm supposed to provide the diamond ring!" and the next day he is down on his fifty-four-year-old knee. I say "yes," help him up from the floor and the planning begins.

Jay's idea is a short trip from California to Nevada, a wedding chapel or justice of the peace.

"Whoa," I say. "A lot of people have been waiting a long time for this to happen. They will come from far and wide to see me walk down the aisle. There has to be a wedding."

He grumbles through the next six months as I tackle most of the decisions on my own and plan to pay the bills myself. Our idea is a simple catered picnic somewhere locally. "But what if it rains?" someone asks.

"In September?" I reply. Then I hear all about the outdoor event that got rained out in September and start looking for a venue with a shelter. After visiting many places with lovely gardens but no shelter or parking, we find Falkirk Center, a beautifully preserved Victorian house with pretty gardens in the middle of San Rafael. Once inside, the groom, a silly grin on his face, practices walking down the aisle. Decision made.

Traditional wedding dresses have tiny waists, big skirts and bare arms, hardly a style which works for this fifty-something. I have never been petite--at my thinnest, dress shops' sample dresses would be too small for me. I hope to find a white or pastel dress in a department store, but nothing is special enough. I get over my embarrassment and become accustomed to strange looks when I walk into bridal shops and introduce myself as the bride. I try on some typical dresses, but it is hard to have an opinion about a dress with a stranger holding the back together across a four inch gap of skin. Dieting for a few months before the wedding would help, but I think, I'm going to starve myself for months to look good on one day? That's the end of that.

I finally find a dress--a three piece number in a sheer white-on-white pattern. Even though the only one in the store is a size too small, I love its delicate, elegant look and the loose fit and sheer sleeves. The designer, located on the Internet, agrees to make a dress to fit me.

Wedding caterers are accustomed to pitching their services to youngsters who care about the color of the napkins and where the floral centerpieces will go. When talking to prospective caterers on the phone, I learn to say right up front, "I'm fifty-six, so get to the bottom line." We select a local company with a low key approach to a picnic style buffet for sixty people, with just a few servers. This is quite a contrast to those who recommend a chef and event manager on site to run the same party.

Jay's Norwegian mother makes a wonderful "blattekake"--a recipe I've tried, but have never succeeded in translating from her notes. It's a layered sponge cake, filled and frosted with strawberries and whipped cream. As we enjoy our afternoon of cake tasting with a local baker, Jay asks if they can do something similar and the baker promises to make him happy.

I study the wedding announcements in the newspaper regularly, although the groom threatens to divorce me if any mention of our engagement or wedding appears there. Everyone who is my age is celebrating a wedding anniversary, not a wedding, and they all look old. I don't want to look old. Sure I'll have a joyful glow, but what about my gray hair? If it's a warm day or if I'm having hot flashes (I will not go without champagne on my wedding day) will my make-up fade away? How can I improve my look without trying (and failing) to look twenty-five?

There is so much white hair around my face, I might as well go for blonde. My hairdresser experiments with various highlights and lowlights. As a result, at great expense I achieve the look of a bleached blonde with dark roots. When I call Jay to tell him his blonde fiancée is on her way home, he puts a sign on the door: "Blondes only."

Friends suggest having my make-up "done" for the wedding. No thanks. Do I want to look like someone made up for a movie set or a photo session in the middle of the afternoon? The fear persists, however, of perspiring it off and having a sweaty gleam in all those photos. The thought alone is enough to bring on a hot flash. So I visit the local cosmetic counter and ask for "stay on" products. I come home with a package of recommended items and try the whole "look" one day for work. No one thinks it's weird and it washes off at the end of the day, so I'm set.

The big day finally arrives and all goes pretty much according to plan. Friends and family have arrived from far and wide. The ceremony includes a sing-along to one of Jay's favorite country songs, a couple of sweet poems, and many tears of joy. The little girls in attendance, glowing with envy, tell me I look like a princess. My prince has done his part too. He whisks me away to a lovely Napa Valley hotel in the country for our wedding night. And a couple of weeks later he volunteers to pay his fair share of the expenses.

So if you're over 40 and convinced you're more likely to get hit by a bolt of lightning than by a marriage proposal, don't give up hope. If he's slow to get the idea, borrow a diamond ring and see if he notices. And don't sweat the hot flashes.

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Features -- October 2011 -- Beginning Month Issue