PERRY — It’d been a long time coming for the happy couple — about nine years’ worth of love and friendship and all good things — before they’d finally get the chance to say “I do.”
But after many months of planning, scheduling and all that exciting, pre-wedding anticipation, COVID-19 entered the picture, and ground everything, abruptly, to a halt. The pandemic, at first, only delayed their long-standing plans, but as time wore on and the situation’s severity grew clearer, William “Billy” Pratt and Alison Dobinski, both of Holland, realized they’d need to come up with an alternative.
Because after all the time they’d waited to marry, they decided that prolonging their wedding any further simply wasn’t an option – even with all the havoc wrought by the novel coronavirus, they said, it was still no match for love.
And so it was that on Saturday, June 6, the couple stood, hands clasped tight, at a makeshift altar sprung up in what was once an old cow pasture.
The venue – Silver Lake Twin Drive-In’s Screen 2 – wasn’t at all where Pratt and Dobinski expected to exchange their vows.
And yet, here they were, with a gentle breeze rippling through the grass and trees, standing in the shadows of a massive drive-in movie screen, promising that they were ready for whatever came next, just so long as they had each other.
Of course, even with all the adjustments, things still hadn’t gone exactly as pictured.
When the 7 p.m. hour rolled around, instead of a rush to the altar, there was a rush to the ladies’ room, with a long line stretched even longer owing to social distancing protocols.
Then there was a procession of bridesmaids, and groomsmen, and the tossing of petals by a flower girl — only to be halted when the wedding party realized two of its most important guests, the mothers of both the bride and of the groom, were nowhere to be found.
Soon, a voice came crackling through car radios and over speakers.
“Julie…? Karen…? We’ve got a little thing going on up here, and we’d love for you to be a part of it.”
The cheers and whoops when the mothers emerged, rushing to their places beneath the massive drive-in screen, proved near-deafening, guests laughing and proudly proclaiming: “They’re going to talk about this for the next 20 years!”
But neither bride nor groom proved fazed by the mishap – with Alison smiling wide, and looking beautiful, as she assured everyone that all was well.
Soon, the speakers crackled to life again:
“All right folks, that was just a trial run – that was practice. We are going to officially start the wedding now. We appreciate your patience.”
And so came the gentle lilts of a procession song, the re-tossing of pale petals, the walk up the grassy aisle to the altar, until finally – at last – the bride and groom met to exchange their vows.
They, both of them, spoke with conviction, voices ringing out loud and clear and sure, as they echoed the prompts given by a good-natured officiant.
“I will cherish our friendship,” Alison vowed. “I will love you today, tomorrow, and forever…I will laugh with you, and cry with you…”
And at that, the socially distanced crowd burst into laughter — because, at the moment, she was doing both.
As the ceremony wore on, a few tears were shed and many smiles shared.
Though organized in a bit of a rush, at least compared to traditional standards, the wedding had all those customary bits and pieces one would expect of such an occasion.
The couple assured one another “humor and patience…lots of patience,” and, when the time came, simply could not stop kissing one another — they were just, they said afterward, so happy.
In fact, if you hadn’t gazed at the parking lot filled with cars, or the massive screen behind them, you might not have known this wedding was a “Plan B” at all.
The bride wore a flowing white gown and a veil of flowers, she was escorted up the aisle by a loving father, who was quick to mention he can’t wait for grandkids, and there were the speeches by the maid of honor and best man.
But there were a few unconventional additions — guests were caught sipping pre-wedding milkshakes, not cocktails, and shaking out handfuls of theater candy from cardboard boxes as they munched on peanut M&Ms or Sour Patch Kids and slurped on Lifesavers.
Their wedding invitations were flashed at the ticket booth, and exchanged for movie passes that proved good for popcorn and pretzels at the concession stand, which guests lugged back to their vehicles and shared among their families while sipping sodas and lounging in camp chairs.
And when the best man asked those gathered to raise their glasses for a toast, to “the sweetest girl” he knew and for his brother, too, he guessed, there were no flutes of champagne thrust high into the sky turned orange with the setting sun. Instead, soft drinks in paper cups, or can-filled koozies rose for the occasion.
Through it all, a familiar face – Silver Lake Twin Drive-In owner Rick Stefanon – milled close by, staked out on the periphery with a walkie in hand, ready to radio instructions regarding the timing of the music, or to troubleshoot with employees in case of any unexpected hiccups in the night’s events.
He was, he said, glad to be part of the historic event. Over its 54-year existence, the drive-in had seen its fair share of wedding vows exchanged ON the big screen, but never played host to vows exchanged under the big screen before lastSaturday night.
And so history was made, much to the pleasure of the new Mr. and Mrs. William Pratt, who exchanged hugs and dances with one another, and flashed smiles at the dozens of guests who had only been able to gather owing to the unique, open-air setting of a drive-in movie theater.
“Anything good to say about the drive-in, you should say,” Alison gushed on her way to the concession stand. “They’ve made this all a dream.”
With that, she and her new husband rushed off, hand in hand.
The clock was ticking, after all — and the movie would be starting soon.