Annie and I were married at 11am on Saturday, October 21, 2006 at the Historic Chapel of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Gaithersburg, Md. The weather was perfect: bright, clear, and brisk. My grandparents, the groomsmen, and I greeted guests until about 10 minutes till. Then, Msgr. Paul, my best man Ray, and I assembled in the rectory while my nerves went haywire. Msgr. Paul then took our hands and said a prayer. Before I knew it, we were walking around the altar; Ray and I took our places.
After a couple of gathering songs that I wasn’t really paying attention to, the organ then belted out Wagner’s wedding march, and the bridesmaids and groomsmen started walking down the aisle. As Annie stood at the doorway of the chapel, the sunlight hit her white dress and temporarily made her glow. I will never forget her smile as she walked arm and arm with her father. He escorted my bride to the sanctuary steps and lifted her veil. We took our seats and tried not to reveal our nervous enthusiasm. When the actual marriage sacrament began, we both became more relaxed. Msgr. Paul helped, too, with his whispered comments to us like: “I’m gonna take care of you both..” and “Don’t worry about a thing…”
During the nuptial blessing, I remember thinking, “Gee, they’re making all this fuss just for us. Everyone is here for us. We were blessed to have not only St. Rose’s pastor, Paul Dudziak, but their finest cantor, Alice Henning and their former director of music, Nancy Novelly. The former has a beautiful, effortless soprano; the latter is a virtuoso at the piano and organ. Their presence really helped; it was much better than having “just anyone” in those roles.
We walked down the aisle together and were followed by the wedding party. One of my groomsmen had the fortunate experience of escorting not one but two bridesmaids. After a brief rendezvous around a fountain in the church garden, we went back into the church for an extended photo session. What we didn’t know until later was that, while the session was taking place, most of our wedding guests were congregating outside the church, apparently waiting for us to come out and say hello.
Our photographer, J. Stuart Harris, had a way of being commanding and authoritative without being bossy. He was definitely in control (and organized) and squeezed some fine pictures out of us in record time. All the while, our faithful videographer, Dean Dykema, documented everything while preserving our spontaneity. When the church photo session was over, we headed outdoors to take advantage of the fall colors (see second photo).
After the outdoor session, we all drove over to my parents’, who were hosting a luncheon for a few dozen guests. We made our appearance, grabbed a few roast beef stuffed tortilla wraps, and then headed back to the townhouse to prepare for the Thai wedding ceremony and reception, held at New Fortune restaurant in Gaithersburg. We arrived there a few hours early to set up the tables and the Phakhuane tree for the Phiti Bai Sri Su Kwan (Holy Threads) ceremony (see third photo).
The ceremony is just a small part of a traditional Thai wedding. Another part would have been a parade from the groom’s house to the bride’s house. That would have meant a seven mile walk up Georgia Avenue in traffic. Oh, and I would have had to yodel a lot. That would have not been good.
Annie and I came up with this text for a postcard we sent out with the invitations:
The Phakhuane (pron. PA-kwon) is a conical-shaped floral arrangement that is the central focus of the Bai Sri Su Kwan ceremony. It is traditionally prepared by respected elders who have had long and happy marriages. At the base of the Phakhuane is food that represents fertility, such as rice, eggs, fruit, et cetera. Flowers are placed throughout the Phakhuane as decoration; in between them are the Holy Threads. At the very top sits a burning candle.
When everyone is seated, we bow down to our parents. This is a time to reflect upon the good and the bad, the past, present, and future. We bow down to thank them for everything they’ve done for us and to ask for their forgiveness for any wrongdoing that we’ve done. It’s also a time for our parents to give us their blessing. The wedding officiator will take the holy threads and place them between our hands as we pray. We will be seated on the floor in front of the Phakhuane opposite from the officiator and surrounded by friends and family.
We will all sit in a prayer position during the ceremony while the officiator chants his blessings and advice for us. He will then ask everyone to call to the spirits (or kwan) to come. Since weddings are big transitions, this is traditionally done to ask the kwan of the bride and groom to come together. Afterward, the guests take the holy threads from the Phakhuane and tie them around our wrists. This is a chance for the guests to give us their blessings and advice for a happy marriage. Please join us to “Thai the Knot!”
The ceremony lasted about an hour; it seemed that nearly everyone in attendance knelt down with us and tied holy threads around our wrists. We were pleasantly surprised at the turnout. Following the ceremony was dinner and dancing. We didn’t get to eat but a few bites of food, as we went around to all the tables for photographs. The food looked really good, though. We were too wound up to notice that we were hungry.
Barry Lyons was our master of ceremonies and DJ for the evening. He can be considered a “freelance” DJ, as he has a fine day job as well. Barry was a must-have for the reception — in fact, we changed our wedding date to accommodate Barry’s schedule! It was well worth it. He gets a lot of gigs through word of mouth, and for good reason. He can get a dance floor jumping and is a master at getting the crowds to participate. Even with the language barrier with some of Annie’s guests, he got them to do strange, American traditions like the Hokey-Pokey, the Chicken Dance, and the YMCA.
Annie and I were seriously on autopilot by then, and smiled at anything that remotely looked like a camera. We danced for hours and the crowd started thinning out at around 11:30 or so.