It began, as most weddings do, with an engagement. While many of the friends in our group have been through weddings in the last three years with our own children, our friends Rita and Ray had not—so we were all overjoyed when their daughter, Calli, became engaged to Brandon, a young man we had grown to love.
Brandon and Calli got engaged July 4, 2015, and immediately knew they wanted a fall wedding, so they opted for fall 2016, giving themselves plenty of time to plan the wedding of their dreams. Calli grew up in Georgia, near Marietta; Brandon grew up in New Jersey; and the two of them now live in Nashville, which is where they met. After much deliberation as to where the wedding should take place, they settled on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, a long-time favorite family vacation spot for Brandon’s family. The date was set for October 8, 2016.
A little side note about the bride: Calli is a detail-oriented person. What this means, is that she took charge and spent more than a year planning every facet of the wedding down to the smallest detail. In the weeks before the wedding, I worked with her to design some of the printed materials, like the programs and reception thank you cards, and a thank you card for the hospitality bags. Calli was particular about the font, the size of the font, and the color of the ink—all of which I appreciated and loved since I have a desktop publishing background—those little details are near and dear to my heart. She even partially designed her wedding dress, taking the original dress and adding modifications and changing the bodice and back to create a stunning gown that was completely her vision.
The groom is fastidious about details also—in particular, food-related details. He is a fabulous cook and he sat with the chef and tasted and tweaked until he came up with a menu that he was proud to share with their wedding guests.
The couple chose a wedding planner in Hilton Head, who turned out to be more of a God-send than they could ever have imagined. Together, and with the help of their parents, they finalized the myriad details that go into wedding planning. Christine and Bob, Brandon’s mom and dad, invited all of the wedding guests to the rehearsal dinner on Friday evening since everyone was traveling from out of town. Chris spent hours baking cakes and decorating beautiful sugar cookies to serve as desserts at the rehearsal dinner.
The wedding would take place outside, overlooking a deep water marina underneath huge oak trees filled with swaying Spanish moss. The reception would be in a large room with floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the green golf course vistas, with the beautiful sunset in the background. It was as picturesque a setting as you could find.
Old Southern folklore says that if you bury a full bottle of bourbon upside down exactly one month before your wedding that it won't rain on your wedding day and you'll have beautiful, sunny skies. On Labor Day weekend, Rita and Ray and Calli and Brandon spent the weekend in Hilton Head, checking out the last details—and burying the bourbon.
If you've ever planned an outdoor wedding, you know that about SIX WEEKS out, you start checking the weather forecast every day! You just can't help yourself. So, as the day of the wedding drew near and we all finalized our travel plans, we kept an eye on the eastern Caribbean Sea, where a little tropical storm named Matthew was brewing.
And well, you probably think you can guess how this story is going to end.
But you would be wrong. Because this is not a story about a hurricane. This is not even a story about a wedding. This is a story about faith, family, and friendship. And this story has a happy ending.
As Tropical Storm Matthew intensified to Hurricane Matthew, and then to the strongest hurricane on record in the Atlantic, we traveled to Hilton Head for a wedding, knowing full well that it probably wasn’t going to happen there.
David and I had rented a house on the island for the week so we could have family vacation and then all attend the wedding. We arrived Tuesday, with Malorie, Gavin, and baby Luke planning to arrive Tuesday night. By the time we got there, however, it was clear that we wouldn’t be staying. And as we sat down at a restaurant on the beach for a late lunch, the governor of South Carolina announced evacuations starting on Wednesday.
Our girlfriends Donna, Tracy, Molly and I had been texting back and forth throughout the day, along with Rita, guessing the path of the hurricane, wondering what to do, hoping and praying for the best. I texted them all to say we were evacuating and then they began getting notices of their hotels or rental homes canceling. David and I went back to the house, loaded up the one suitcase we had unloaded, and headed toward our daughter’s home in Augusta, which was only two hours away.
Rita and Ray, Brandon and Calli, and Chris and Bob sat down together in Hilton Head, talking and trying to figure things out. For a while, they continued to toss around different options: maybe move the wedding to Sunday…go a few miles further inland…but then Calli received a call from the Hilton Head licensing office where they had a previously scheduled appointment the following day: “I’m sorry, but we’re evacuating. We’re closing until next week. You can’t get a marriage license.”
“But we’re getting married on Saturday!”
“No ma’am, not here. Not legally, anyway.”
How could a year’s worth of plans be completely thwarted by an uncontrollable weather event? They had always had a Plan B for rain, a tent outside the clubhouse for the ceremony and the reception inside. But a hurricane...there was no plan for this.
They sat around the room in stunned disbelief. There were tears. Lots of tears. Even from Ray, our tough-guy friend who David says reminds him of John Wayne. He stood there watching his little girl’s dream crumble and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it.
Meanwhile, as our friends slowly transitioned from denial to disbelief to acceptance, their friends back home were going into action. There was a wedding to move and three days to do it.
We started making lists of venues and caterers—we didn’t know where the wedding would be, but by God, there was going to be a wedding! Rita had mentioned moving the wedding to Augusta, and by the time David and I drove two and a half hours to get to Augusta, Mal and Gavin had already locked down a lovely venue there and I had another one on backup. Molly had about four venues in Atlanta locked down for either Saturday or Sunday. Our friend Joan, who had been out of the country and returned on Tuesday, texted me as soon as she got in and said, What can I do? Other friends were texting or calling each of us, What's going on with the wedding? What can I do to help? We were all sending emails and making calls. And saying lots of prayers!
Around 10 p.m. Tuesday evening, we got notification from Rita that Calli and Brandon had decided to have the wedding at our church and the reception in Rita and Ray’s backyard. Since all the vendors had to evacuate anyway, they had all agreed to head to Atlanta. The florist would bring the flowers. The band was coming, as was the photographer and videographer. So now we had a plan. It wasn’t the dream. It wasn’t optimum. There was no marina, no beautiful green golf course, no sunset view—just a large backyard with a pool, gazebo—and Ray's large workshop. But it was a plan and we’d figure it out. We got this, we told our girlfriend.
The next morning, Wednesday, as the two families prepared to leave Hilton Head, more tears were shed. It wasn’t what they had planned for the week. But they had faith that somehow, it was going to be okay.
Alli, the wedding planner, left early that morning headed to Atlanta. Before she left, she told them not to worry. She’d make all the calls and get everything handled.
You’re going to have some help, Rita told her.
Oh no, it’s fine, I can handle it, Alli said.
You don’t understand. There are friends back home who are not going to take no for an answer. You’re going to have some help.
And so we got on the phone with Alli and offered our help—whatever she needed, we would take care of. She gave us a list, we divvied up tasks, and we got to work.
The drive for them on Wednesday took more than seven hours. And by the time our friends got to Atlanta, we had the bridal luncheon re-scheduled, the rehearsal dinner re-booked, a new wedding cake ordered, a get-away car rented, big port-a-potties rented, a string quartet booked for the ceremony, a location to store the flowers, borrowed projector and sound equipment for the rehearsal, borrowed keyboard for music during cocktail hour, various homes opened for a handful of guests, a golf outing booked for all the guys on Friday and our friends' refrigerator was stocked for the unexpected guests who would be staying at their house for several days.
And then there was a twist.
As Rita was driving along—they were all in separate cars because they had taken so much stuff to Hilton Head—she decided to call the Marietta Conference Center, the site of previous gorgeous wedding receptions we had all attended. She left a message for the gentleman in charge of reservations.
He called her back a couple of hours later, and here’s where the story takes another turn. Just that morning, THAT MORNING, another party had requested to move their event from one of the rooms at the Conference Center to a different, smaller room.
And so there was a room available.
With floor-to-ceiling windows.
Overlooking the green vistas of the golf course with Kennesaw Mountain in the background.
Where the sun would set.
Oh...and there’s a perennial garden surrounded by tall cypress trees and flowers…would that be acceptable for the ceremony?
Y’all…can I just tell you that our girl had the most beautiful wedding you can imagine? It was everything she and Brandon had dreamed of with the single exception of the address.
Let's take a journey through a special wedding weekend...
On Friday, the girls enjoyed a traditional bridal luncheon, hosted by the bride's grandmother, at a beautiful location in Marietta—which had been quickly booked just two days before—but you would never have known!
Mrs. Louise, Calli's grandmother, had written out special place setting tags for everyone, just a few of the special touches that made it from Hilton Head to Marietta. Calli was especially happy that her grandparents were able to travel for the wedding and staying in the Conference Center was so convenient for them.
We took a couple of hours to enjoy salads and mimosas, and then everyone got back to work. There was still a lot to do!
Friday evening, after the wedding rehearsal, the groom's parents hosted a special rehearsal dinner at a local restaurant, with some family and friends even trickling in late from their hastily rebooked flights or drives.
While the venue was smaller than intended originally, and unfortunately the wonderful desserts from the groom's mom couldn't be taken into the restaurant, it was a perfect cap to the hectic week and a beautiful setting to prepare everyone for the next day's events.
Remember that bottle of bourbon that was buried in Hilton Head? You may take the glass-half-empty stance and say that there was a lot of rain, an actual hurricane, at the original venue site—or, as Rita's cousin Steph suggested, take the glass-is-full stance because in Marietta...Saturday dawned with the sun peeking from behind the clouds and turned into the most glorious fall day imaginable. The sun shone here all day, the slight breeze just enough to ensure the day was pleasant. As guests arrived and were directed to the perennial garden, the wedding party began the walk down from the conference center.
A string quartet, found just two days earlier, played the special music that Calli and Brandon had selected months before while the grandmothers, then the mothers were escorted down the aisle.
Brandon stepped to the front of the garden with his best man, his 91-year-old grandfather, Thaddeus.
And when the bride and her father began walking down the aisle, the biggest, happiest smile on her face, well, let's just say there was a LOT of sniffling coming from the crowd.
The matron-of-honor, Jessica, captioned an Instagram photo: A Hurricane Twist with a Storybook Ending.
From the ceremony, guests were led over to the main building, where we enjoyed a cocktail hour overlooking the golf course, which has a beautiful view of Kennesaw Mountain.
It was amazing, surreal, unbelievable. Alli was amazing. She pulled so many things together with the Conference Center that would have normally taken months to plan. And she did it all while knowing her own home in Hilton Head had already been damaged by the storm. If you need a wedding planner, she’s your girl.
The band was incredible. And each member of the band played and sang their hearts out, not knowing what was happening with their own homes in Charleston and Hilton Head.
The wedding cake was almost identical to the photo from Calli, which we had provided to a local baker.
The flowers were gorgeous, thanks to the Hilton Head florist and our own friend Molly, who should take on a career as a floral designer.
And the wedding guests cannot go unmentioned. Most of the guests were from out of town, many from New Jersey since that's where both Brandon's family and Rita's large Italian family are from. (You can read about Rita's family here.)
So many people had to cancel and re-book airline flights and scramble to find hotel rooms in a city quickly teeming with evacuees, or change driving direction mid-stream—but would you believe only 12 people were unable to make it?
It was a crazy, chaotic three days, with multiple people running hither and yon, determined to pull it off. Between Alli, Calli, Rita, and Christine—and with some help from us girlfriends and the guys—they managed an extraordinary feat. If you didn’t know that this wedding had been taken apart, moved, and put back together in three days, you would never have known. Every single aspect of the celebration was as near perfect as it could be, turning the weekend into one of the most heartwarming events we have ever attended.
We've heard a lot in the last couple of weeks about our remarkable Southern hospitality, especially given that the majority of wedding guests came from the Northeast. I don't know about that, because anytime I've visited a Northern city I have been treated with the utmost graciousness and have always been made to feel welcome. But I'd like to think that we do have something special here. And I know for sure that our group of friends is a rare and extraordinary gift.
Doing life together. For better or worse. That's what we do.
A message from the bride and groom:
We want to take this opportunity to again express our thanks to everyone: our parents, especially, for all that they did to make the wedding of our dreams take place; the friends who stepped in and helped; and our guests, who traveled from far away despite the many travel difficulties incurred. We love and appreciate each of you more than you will ever know. We would also especially like to thank all of our wedding vendors, who are listed below. We highly recommend each of them!
Editor’s Note: The families were contacted by local news media after the wedding because it's such a crazy story. But nobody was comfortable with putting this out there in that manner under the circumstances. I asked, and the families agreed that as a personal friend, I could write their story—but to be honest, we all struggled with writing about a wedding, given that people have lost their lives and their homes as a result of Hurricane Matthew. In the end, we decided that even in the midst of tragedy—maybe especially in the midst of tragedy—happy, heartwarming stories need to live and be shared. I hope that you enjoy this illustration of the power of friendship and family navigating through an event that was near and dear to our hearts.
Hilton Atlanta/Marietta Hotel & Conference Center
Sparks & Hearts Event Services - Alli Meany
Emerald Empire Band
Amy Arrington Photography
Francis West Studios
The Flower Shop Bluffton - Lauri Leber
Prestige Luxury Cars
The Moore Agency
Ann Potter Baking
Bunny and Bear Paper