by Janet Gilmore
The winter solstice, coming this weekend, means the days will be getting longer. I don’t mind winter, but I really mind the sun setting at 4:30 in the afternoon.
The solstice is also our wedding anniversary (Dec. 21, 1985, to be exact). Yes, we got married on the longest night of the year in 1985. Let the snickerers titter if they will; our wedding night was much more of an adventure than any newlyweds would expect from a wedding night that does not take place in a whitewater raft. Here is why:
Earlier that day at my parents’ house, we had stepped before Judge Michael Liss, who was to marry us. He was one of the judges in Montgomery County who had a regular job during the day. He was a hairdresser. He began, “It’s good to see some older folks here today because youth and agility combined with age and ability are the nucleus of any successful endeavor.”
I looked at Hugh, my almost-husband, and he looked at me.
We managed not to laugh.
The judge continued, “Janet and Hugh, you must never keep your eye on the ‘i’ in the word ‘united’ because if you concentrate too much on the ‘i’ in ‘united,’ then ‘united’ could become ‘untied.’”
Then I thought he said, “You must always keep your eye on the ‘we’ in ‘wedding.’ If you remove the ‘we’ from ‘wedding,’ it becomes ‘…dding.’”
“…Dding?” I whispered to Hugh, who stared straight ahead, his upper lip twitching.
Judge Liss said much more; we agreed with everything; he proclaimed us husband and wife, and our families burst into applause.
By happenstance, our wedding day was the shortest day and longest night of the year. And the coldest.
I wanted to do something special, so I booked the bridal suite at the Bellevue Stratford Hotel in center city for our wedding night. I booked the entire package: champagne, newspapers delivered to the room, flowers, free parking. None of them materialized.
When we arrived, we were told that the bridal suite was occupied, but they had a nice large room for us. Fine. Up we went; I hung some Christmas lights I’d brought with me around the room. I looked at my new husband with desperate love and desire. We began to undress. We stopped. There was no heat in the room.
Hugh called the front desk. “There’s no heat in our room,” he said. “This IS my wedding night, and I WOULD like to take my overcoat off. Can you send someone up to turn the heat on?”
“Of course, sir, right away.”
We got into bed with our coats still on, waiting for the bellboy to arrive. I stayed under the covers for 20 minutes, making small talk with my new husband, when the bellboy knocked on the door. He fiddled with some knob on the wall, said the heat would come on soon, smirked and left.
We lay around waiting for the heat, but there wasn’t any. “Let’s go get something to eat while the room is warming up. It should be nice and warm when we get back.”
We walked to the Astral Plane restaurant on Lombard Street near the Bellevue. It was a cool place — meant to simulate eating under a falling parachute, I think. At least there was an open parachute hanging from the ceiling. Whatever. “We just got married!” we bragged to the maitre d’. “May we have a table near the back of the restaurant?”
“No,” he said. “That’s reserved.”
“Uh, okay, may we have a table?”
“Yes, I think we can seat you.”
We looked around the empty room. A heavily bearded man in a long spangled black evening dress sat alone at a nearby table. He was the only other customer.
After dinner, we walked back to our hotel room. We had some heat. Enough heat.
But a loud clanging woke us at about 4 a.m. “What’s that?”
“Sounds like a fire alarm.”
We called down to the front desk. There was no answer.
We felt the bottom of the door and it was cool, so we opened the door a crack and looked out. There was a young blonde girl, a sloshed Rapunzel, in a long white dress weaving down the hallway, her shoes in one hand and an open bottle of champagne in the other.
“Is there a fire?”
“Oh, I don’t think so…” she slurred.
“Do you hear the fire alarm?”
“Oh, that? That’s nothing,” she said.
We closed the door. We called the front desk again. Still no answer.
“Are we going to believe her or get the hell out of here?”
We got dressed, left our room, found the fire escape, which was on the outside of the building, and ran a quick cold 14 stories down to the ground floor.
The lobby looked like the Titanic on its unfortunate last night. Women in long gowns and jewels with bathrobes thrown over them, men in silk pajamas with fur coats casually worn over, all clutching small, expensive things to their chests. People were milling around, in no rush to evacuate the building, greeting their friends after a long soirée.
What was going on?
Hugh and I had never heard of the Assembly Ball before that night, but we learned that it’s a Philadelphia tradition. Many old families with streets named for them were in the lobby of my honeymoon. No wonder the Bellevue was so crowded.
We eavesdropped as well as we could in our tired, frozen state and found out some merry prankster had set off the fire extinguishers, which triggered enough dust to set off the fire alarm. If there was a sprinkler system, it didn’t go off that night.
We sat in the lobby, ordered drinks and people-watched for an hour or so, then went back upstairs to sleep. The next day we drove home to begin married life with a Christmas tree in the trunk, hope in our hearts and dark circles under our eyes. People assumed (tee-hee) that we newly-weds had been up all night.
They were right.