Comic novelist Ad Hudler's Christmastime Wedding certainly was ... uhhh ... turbulent!
When my family sits down to recall Christmases past, it's hard to top the drama of the Christmas of 1989, when my wife and I got married on the coldest day in Florida history, a day as freakish and improbable as a snowman coming to life with the aid of a magic hat.
Some background: Carol and I had won an island-weekend-getaway package at a fund-raiser auction. Since we both lived in Fort Myers, Florida, we decided to use it when we got married on Christmas weekend because our parents would be in town for the holidays, escaping the cold North.
On the morning of December 23, our small entourage set out for Useppa Island ... I, my future in-laws, and the Christmas presents in a rental boat, and Carol and the others on a ferry.
Now ... cue the theme song from Gilligan's Island: "...Juuuuust sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip ..."
The day most was un-Florida-like: gray skies, choppy water, vigorous and brisk winds.
"This is great," I yelled over the motor, to my in-laws. "We're the only ones out here."
Well, it didn't take long to discover why. I, Mr. Novice Boater, had not bothered to check the weather report that day. Little did I know, the Coast Guard had issued a small-craft advisory.
Very soon, our voyage felt like a stomach-wrenching carnival ride, waves pushing the bow up two to five feet at a time, then letting it fall back down with a slap. Other, larger waves came crashing down directly upon us. We started taking on water. The howling wind blew some of the Christmas presents overboard as if they were paper cups. I stole a glance of my future in-laws, dressed in their Sunday best. Wanda's beauty-parlor hairdo was now plastered upon her scalp. Both of them had abandoned their umbrellas, letting them blow overboard, so they could hold onto the railing with two hands. Wayne yelled to me, through the wind, "I sure as hell hope you're better at navigating a marriage!"
I decided to hug the eastern shore of Sanibel Island, looking for protection from the wind, and this seemed to work for awhile ...until the boat suddenly jerked to a stop, jettisoning my in-laws from their seats, onto the wet floor. I had run us onto a sandbar. Like a beached whale, we could not move.
I tried to radio the Coast Guard, but got no response. However, Sea Tow, Inc. was trolling the airwaves for a catch that day, and I quickly became educated in the economics of saving stranded boaters who have no options.
No way, I said. Way too expensive.
Suit yourself, replied Sea Tow, Inc.
And then I felt my father-in-law's grip upon my shoulder. "Pay him whatever he wants," he said. "We have no say in this matter, son."
They arrived about 30 minutes later and dislodged us from the tropical equivalent of a snow bank. I, however, was too rattled to drive the rest of the way in this storm, so I agreed to pay them to tow us to my wedding.
My dad met us at the dock. Evidently, everyone was atwitter. We had been, after all, missing in action for three hours. The Coast Guard had told them they'd received no distress calls. (Note to self: Write my senator and ask that Coast Guard officers better coordinate their bathroom breaks.)
Dad handed Sea Tow, Inc. his American Express card. "Charge it," he said. "This boy has a wedding to go to." (Total towing bill: $426)
He ushered me into the lodge where I changed into my tux in the bar's bathroom. When I emerged he handed me a shot of whiskey and said, "Drink this."
With no power on the island, we were married by candlelight. And because we were marooned, all our friends had to share our condo on our wedding night. It soon became evident that my tumultuous day was not over yet.
The two of us retired early, but my wife's single, female California friends went back to the bar and managed to befriend the only other guests on the island that night: two wealthy college boys here on their parents' membership. They brought these young men back with them to the condo around 3 a.m. One of them vomited on the couch, another in the kitchen sink. At one point, we heard two of our visitors engage in loud, uninhibited sex. I giggled in the dark with my wife, trying to keep my anger on a leash, and I was fine ... until someone tried to light up the fireplace without opening the flue, filling the condo with black smoke.
I jumped out of bed in my underwear, burst into the living room and yelled, "Anyone who was not part of my wedding party will leave right now!"
I watched the silhouettes of two young men silently grope around in the dark for their clothes. On the way out, one of them whispered, "groom without a heart."
We awoke late the next morning to a knocking on the front door. It was the dockmaster with my now-rattled Manhattanite friend, who naively thought she still could meet her boat shuttle at 5 a.m. that morning, though, of course, no smart boaters would be out there. She had wandered the island for an hour, lost in the dark (power failure so no lights), yelling for help, stepping on and squishing the countless dead lizards that had perished in the freeze.
My marriage, however, would not be a fatality of that night – we're still together, having weathered sundry storms over the years. And though my wife still pesters me about returning to Useppa for a visit, I just can't seem to muster up the courage.
Ad Hudler's newest book, "Man of the House," was named "Required Reading" last week by The New York Post. He blogs daily at AdHudler.com