About a year ago my eldest grandson, Erik, called from Houston to tell me that he had proposed to Sara, his tall, beautiful blonde girlfriend of several years.
They’d decided to have a June 2011 wedding in New Orleans. Tulane University is Erik’s alma mater, and Sara loves New Orleans, too.
Our family had almost 12 months to get ready, and I’m convinced that it must’ve taken the bride-to-be, her mother, Erik’s parents, and our whole family and long-time friends that long to make wedding plans, airline and hotel reservations and to shop for new suits and just the right clothes for the ceremony and a post-wedding reception the evening afterward.
We chose gifts for the pair from the bride’s registry and counted the days left before each of us flew or drove down to the Crescent City.
I’ve loved New Orleans ever since I took an Elderhostel trip there before Hurricane Katrina. At first, though, I wondered if it could possibly be an ideal place to get married — outdoors in Jackson Square during the tourist season and in hot, humid weather.
Sara and her mother worked with a wedding planner. The prospective bride and groom made several trips to New Orleans to confer with the planner and the clergyman who would be performing the ceremony.
I packed and unpacked my suitcase several times before I finally closed it and left for BWI Airport. The flight is less than three hours from Baltimore to New Orleans.
I met my son and his wife at our destination, and we shared a taxi ride to our “boutique hotel” in the French Quarter.
That afternoon there was a family meet-and-greet party by the saline pool in the palm-shaded courtyard and a big informal dinner later at the Gumbo Shop nearby.
Thunderstorms were predicted for the wedding day, but blue skies appeared shortly before the ceremony began at five o’clock in the afternoon in Jackson Square.
Chairs for the bride’s and groom’s families were set up on either side of the central path from the fountain to the entrance gate. Tourists respectfully stayed outside as onlookers.
The front of the Cathedral of St. Louis, the King of France, was a perfect backdrop at the end of the square.
Those of us in the wedding party lined up behind the fountain to make our entrances. A brass band waited on the sidelines for the ceremony to end and to be ready to lead the “second line” wedding parade after the couple exchanged their vows.
Erik and his brother, Alex, took their places — of course, the handsomest young men I’ve ever seen; then Sara’s sister, Stacy, as bridesmaid entered in a lovely pale pink strapless gown with a full, ballerina length skirt. She carried a bouquet of the most delicate pink roses — almost, but not quite in full bloom.
Last came Sara, who was an absolute vision in her white strapless, tea length gown that had tiny rhinestone designs scattered over the skirt that sparkled in the sunlight. Her hair fell in a cascade of wavelets in the back. She covered it with a shoulder-length veil, and she carried the same kind of pale pink bouquet as her sister.
This occasion was a milestone in our family’s lives — the first of the youngest generation to marry.
When the newlyweds kissed each other, everyone clapped, including the onlookers beyond the gates. Someone handed us white handkerchiefs with “S and E” stamped on them — props to wave as we all marched to “Here Comes the Bride” in ragtime and with a New Orleans police escort leading the way to Bourbon Street and back to Jackson Square.
I must confess that it was a blessed relief to cross Chartres and St. Ann Streets and enter the air-conditioned restaurant where the wedding dinner was held.
For me, “contemporary Creole,” as this fare was described, is one of my favorite cuisines. In lieu of a traditional wedding cake, Sara had chosen a croquembouche — a typically French festive dessert — a tall cone of petite cream puffs that held a place of honor in the banquet room.
Later, the kitchen staff dismantled it and made individual servings of three cream puffs lightly covered with a caramel sauce.
A Dixieland combo set everyone’s toes tapping until couples got up and danced. I’ve never attended a more picturesque or happier wedding.
Erik’s parents and the bride’s mother hosted a post-wedding reception the following evening in the courtyard of a hotel also in the French Quarter.
It was the first time I’d tasted the legendary Bananas Foster (sliced bananas topped with vanilla ice cream and a sauce prepared at tableside — brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, dark rum and banana liqueur). Three spoonfuls made me a fan.
For the past two days I hadn’t needed a tissue to wipe my eyes until Alex, the best man, gave a toast, and talked about his brother — his wishes for Sara’s and Erik’s happiness.
New Orleans proved to be an ideal venue for a wedding as carefully planned as Erik and Sara’s was.
The French Quarter is so compact, so walkable, so endlessly intriguing with its black lace-like wrought-iron balconies, historic buildings, semi-tropical flora, such tasty food, so rich with jazz and Dixieland music.
I love the indomitable spirit of New Orleans that is symbolized in the countless fleur de lis on flags and signs throughout the city.
Laissez les bon temps roulez, indeed! (Let the good times roll!)