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An Unorthodox Beginning

A lot of people ask us, “Switzerland? Why Switzerland?” when we tell them we have finally figured out where we will get married next year. The short answer is: we want to follow in the footsteps of the O.B.T. (Original Budget Travelers) and dreamers, my parents. But for the slightly more lengthy and comprehensive reason, read on…

I close my eyes and imagine the scene: they’re sitting at a table in a pitch-black room, the only light is flickering from a random assortment of melting/ed candles on top of a table. They’re sitting on opposite sides, but they’re on the edges of their chairs, hand in hand, leaning in. Her long, bleached blonde hair is stacked on top of her head, and there’s a hint of a smile on her lips as she responds:

“Get married? When? I’m leaving for Europe this summer…” (You could tell she wasn’t opposed to the idea, just sort of testing him and his level of commitment. Would he wait for her?)

His green eyes lit up as the gears behind them started turning, mind racing. “Then I’ll come with you…”

I don’t know if they were really sitting down at a table, whispering by the light of a few mismatched candles, or if those were even the words they said, but in my head that’s how I imagine it: romantic and theatrical, as if this was all happening up on a stage somewhere. But what I do know for sure is that:

1) My dad asked my mom to marry him after a few short dates

2) My mom was going to Europe

3) My dad did not want to let her go

So, it was settled: they would go to Europe together and get married over there.

Growing up in rural southern towns, my dad from Georgia and my mom from Tennessee, neither one of them were able to travel very far while they were young. I think the furthest my dad got was Jacksonville, FL, to visit his dad. My mom graduated high school and hauled ass to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Then in 1972, destiny brought them together in Atlanta.

I know the story like it was my own, and as a kid I constantly asked them to tell me about the night they met, always ready to jump on any detail I hadn’t caught before. They met at a party. My mom, Miss Popular, showed up with a date, while my dad hung out with his childhood buddy, Reid. My mom’s date was anxious to leave and go somewhere else, but my mom wasn’t having it.

“If you leave,” she said playfully, “you have to at least introduce me to the best looking guy here.”Pure genius. Either she was testing him to see how much he liked her, or she was using him as her wingman to meet someone else. I’m sure his mind was completely blown with that request. Anyway, he obliged. So she scanned the room, passing over all the chumps until she saw someone who caught her attention: my dad. She pointed nonchalantly over to him so her date could see, and she waited for him to approach.

Meanwhile, my dad and his friend were discussing which one of them my mom had been looking at. So to settle the question once and for all, my dad suggested they split up. He would walk upstairs and his friend would stay. Upstairs, out of the corner of his eye, he saw her–she had followed him. So her date led her over to him to introduce her. And what an awkward introduction that must have been: “Hey, so, this is my date, Linda. She basically thinks you’re better looking than me and would rather stay here with you then leave with me.” And the rest is history.

The stories they tell me about Europe are epic. They went all over: England, France, Spain, Morroco, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Austria, the Netherlands, and of course, Switzerland. They made some friends (and an enemy my dad made on a train to Sicily) along the way and had some unforgettable moments, some beautiful, and some terrifying. One time in Amsterdam they got caught in a horrible thunderstorm in the middle of a park. Lightning hitting trees, branches crashing down, they tried to seek shelter underneath a bridge, but there was no room. They had to resort to lying flat on their faces in the middle of the park, hoping that any bolts of lightning would pass over them and strike something taller. Another time my dad got off the train, thinking my mom was right behind him, only to find that she hadn’t been able to get off in time, getting pushed out of the way. They were separated in a foreign place, my dad stuck on the train platform with a few bucks and my mom on her way to a different city, terrfied and waving sadly out of the window at my stupefied father. But like all trips, the beautiful always outweighs the ugly.

July 10th, 1972. Zermatt, Switzerland– the wedding day

Their wedding was intimate and simple, conducted by a Justice of the Peace (or whatever the equivalent is in Switzerland). They wrote their own vows, and they were wearing white blouses/dress shirts my grandmother had embroidered for them. My dad picked a huge bouquet of wildflowers on his way to the court. My mom’s college roommate, Andrea, was the only one from the States who could make it. The other people supporting them were international travelers they had met in the hostel, a ragtag group of young people like them. And that was it. There wasn’t a DJ, or a florist, or a caterer. There wasn’t a first dance, or a bouquet toss, or a cake to cut. There were just two kids in love, following their hearts and not worrying about doing things the traditional way. This is what Victor and I want, as well, and that’s why we are getting married in Switzerland.

All of these beautiful memories and stories and not a single photo. Yes, you read that correctly–no pictures. All of their film was ruined when they came back into the States and went through airport security—immediately erasing all of the evidence of this trip of a lifetime. So growing up, when they told me about getting married in Switzerland and backpacking through Europe, I’m not sure I believed them. I wanted to believe… but there was nothing to prove any of this, nothing to give me a glimpse of the reality they were trying to describe. Then one day last year as I was emptying out a closet at my parent’s house, something caught my eye. Some gold fabric, an elephant… As I opened it up, my heart started beating faster and faster—could it be?

“Mom!” I yelled down the hallway. “What’s this?”

“Oh, that’s our tapestry we got in Morocco. We traded a pair of binoculars for it. Or was it a pair of jeans? We traded something for it…” As she traced the pattern with her fingers you could almost feel the memories welling up inside of her.“We had this hung up in our first house, in our trailer,” she said.

This was the coolest thing I had ever seen. At the time I had my eye on a few different tapestries at Urban Outfitters, wanting to bring a splash of color to the apartment Victor and I had just moved into–but they were too new, too manufactured. This was a little piece of history, the best memento I could imagine, authentic and original. Finally, I had something that helped me better envision that backpacking trip my parents had told me about for so many years. Now it was real..

“Mom, can I…” I stopped. Maybe this was too much to ask. Maybe she wanted to hang it up now that she had found it again. But she read my mind–“Of course! We’ll go out and find a pretty rod to hang it from.”

This tapestry is a time machine, allowing me to travel back and forth between the past, present, and future. I look at it, getting lost in its pattern and imagine my parents bartering for it in Morocco. Then I jump to the future and imagine the trip we are going to take to Europe, and our wedding in Switzerland. I imagine us in those same shirts my parents wore, holding hands at the foot of the Alps, the breeze ruffling our hair and rustling the wildflowers. I see my parents there, celebrating not only our marriage, but their 44th anniversary together. I see Victor’s parents, smiling at us as we say our vows, wondering what kind of crazy hippie family their son has married into. And there behind them is our very own ragtag group of friends we’ve made along the way on our various journeys around the world. Maybe one day we will live to see our children do the same thing: proclaiming their love for each other and christening their marriage with the adventure of a lifetime. Look out, Switzerland, here we come!

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