November 21st was our 7th wedding anniversary. I call it our Italian fairytale because hubby and I eloped to Florence, Italy, and that’s exactly what it felt like. A complete fairytale. The mayor of Florence wed us in a gilded room with huge chandeliers and red carpeting like something out of a Medici household. He told us that forevermore Firenze would be, “our city.” It still feels that way even though we haven’t been back. That’s for the 10th.
Our wedding day was magical, floaty, almost dreamlike. I’ll never forget it. We eloped because at the time, there was a lot going on in our lives and neither one of us could fathom planning anything bigger than a trip to the store. It was a weird elopement though, because we told our families and friends beforehand. I even got to tell my mother before she died of esophageal cancer. That was cool. She was the first one we told. I held her hand and said, “Guess where we’re getting married Momma?” She replied, “Paris!” her eyes wide. Not Paris, but pretty close. Her eyes got even wider and she said, “I always knew you’d do something like that,” her voice a dreamy whisper because of the pain meds and her eyes bright. Not said in a judgmental way, but in an envious, proud way like her daughter was finally taking flight.
As I said, we were wed by the Mayor, who was draped in a ceremonial green sash, in the Palazzo Vecchio, basically Florence’s city hall. But what a hall! It in fact used to house the Medicis and so the sculpture, draperies, furniture, everything was opulent Renaissance stuff. We walked in, our mouths dropping open, briefly forgetting what we were there for. Stumbling through some of the ceremony as most young marrieds do. Crying at our vows. Feeling relief after. I remember walking out and seeing a young American couple waiting to marry. She was in a dark green gown, nervously clutching yellow tulips. “It’s easy,” I breezed, “like falling off a log.” What I didn’t tell her is I had woken up with huge hives that morning and thrown up twice before the ceremony. Yeah, easy.
What I remember most is walking around after the wedding with our Italian photographer. As we strolled through Florence, the photographer snapped our picture at different famous places in the city. In the Piazza della Signoria in front of the lions. In front of the Duomo. On the Ponte Vecchio, pointing at a gold bauble in the jeweler’s window. Hubby had on a sharp black suit purchased and fitted for the occasion. My dress was long and ivory, almost Grecian, and I remember feeling like I was floating along the cobblestone streets. I kept grabbing at the hem because I didn’t want it to get dirty. I had bought the dress of my dreams with Mom’s inheritance (and her blessing), the most expensive piece of clothing I had ever owned. I had paid extra to have it fitted. I’ve never had anything fitted before or since. Such luxuries are for richer people than me. But not on this day.
The photographer kept scolding at me to let go of the hem. But I didn’t want the dirt of Florence’s streets to be an everlasting smudge on my ivory silk charmeuse. I was incensed later when the laundry couldn’t remove it. It was my father who finally showed me the dirt was a gift from Firenze. “Why would you remove the streets of Florence from your dress? It’s a wedding day memento!” I thought they were just stubborn stains. But I realized he’s right. When I look at the brown hem now, I don’t see filth. I see our magical first walk together as husband and wife.
Because as we walked, dozens of people called out, “Aguri!” Italian for “Best wishes!” A Japanese couple wanted to take our picture. A guy stopped my husband and in Italian congratulated him on his beautiful wife. An Italian couple who had been married for 28 years came over to congratulate us and tell us it was their anniversary. A total sign of good luck.
I remember feeling on display, like I was a doll. Everyone was looking at us as we walked. Like we were celebrities. Smiling, waving, offering warm wishes to total strangers. The weather had been so cold that week, but today the air was warmer, and sunny. I barely needed the wrap around my shoulders. It was like the weather had improved itself just for us. Walking the cobblestone streets around the Duomo later that evening, when it was in the 30’s, we huddled in our winter coats, watching our breath. Meditating on our day. But that day we were warm.
I had been upset that morning because I didn’t have family around to help. All my ladies in waiting were missing. Those women called upon to help the bride in her time of need. None of them were present. My mother had died that March and my Nana had been gone almost three years. My sister, aunts, and my Muddy were all back in the States, either too old to fly or too scared because of 9/11. This meant I was on my own and it made me sad. My lovely soon-to-be-husband did the best he could (he definitely saw this bride before her wedding) but he’s a guy. At this life moment, a woman needs her ladies.
But while walking through the streets with my new handsome husband, a small group of white-haired old ladies began to follow us. They were short, stout, dressed in their Sunday best. They looked as if they had just jumped from a WWII-era photograph, all fat ankles and big, sturdy black Oxford shoes. They followed us through the streets, calling out, “Aguri!” every so often and clapping their hands. Here are my ladies. Here they are.
A chill went up my neck kind of like when you’re in meditation and for just a moment you’re at one with what’s around you. The message was crystal clear. This was no coincidence. Here were all the ladies who had gone before me, visiting once again, at our wedding to help out and be present. My mother, my Nana, my Aunt Bertie, my stepmom Brenda, who had died that Sunday even though we didn’t know it yet. They were at our wedding. We felt it. And again, it felt like a good sign. A positive sign. We had waited so long for a positive sign. That whole year had seen us bear the brunt of so much pain and change. We had eloped to finally have a moment of happiness together. With and for each other. Here was a sign that we had done the right thing. It was a moment I’ve never forgotten. All my ladies were there.