I believe in marriage. When it is good it is very, very good. The day I married Charley remains in my memory one of the happiest days of my life. Walking down that aisle, surrounded by guests seated in the lovely wooden pews. and with every third pew bedecked with a beautiful white rose, and a baby’s breath floral arrangement. The flowers hung on a wrought iron stand– a tall, narrow base– so that they could be easily visible. As I looked down the long aisle at the white runner that had been rolled out for me and saw the gorgeous flowers at the other end of the church, I thought to myself, “I must remember this moment.”
I looked at my beautiful bridesmaids and at the handsome groomsmen and the Minister, Dr. Latch, whom I loved. My heart beat fast and nearly leapt out of my breast.
My father gripped my elbow briefly and I settled my arm on his. He walked me down the long aisle, slowly, to the music of “Here Comes the Bride,” in the most traditional of weddings. My white satin shoes with very high heels made no sound on the white runner. I wanted to shout, “Hurray!” but of course I did not. It was a triumphal march for me because now it really happened. It had been my dream for so long that it was hard for me to realize the fact that I was about to be Mrs. Charles T. Matheson.
As we stood together at the altar, I trembled. When I made my vows, I felt excited at hearing the word, “obey,”’ not the slightest bit resistant. Charley kissed me, and we turned to face the crowd, smiling. Tears filled my eyes, but these happy tears did not fall. As we walked (rather quickly) back down the aisle, euphoria engulfed me. Seriously, one of the highlights of my life, my wedding memory stays with me.
I remember it still. It was the happiest day of my life up to that point. Still a happy memory!
On June 23, 1961, Everyone left the house and went to the church, which was only a few blocks from our house. Then my father and I were driven to the church in a limousine. We got out of the car with some difficulty due to my extended train and VERY long veil. We walked up the flagstone walk to the church, up a few gentle stairs, and then inside, where all my bridesmaids were gathered in a small paneled hall near the front door.
My parents were party givers extraordinaire. It was easy for them. My debut had been only a year before. My father had been U.S. Chief of Protocol for four years, ending, a few months before my nuptials. He and my mother used their guest lists for my wedding and simply added whomever Charley and I wanted. We were not serving dinner. There was a generous buffet but no seated dining except for a few older people who found a place to sit.
I had been going to Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. since I could remember. It is a huge church, nearly cathedral- size and lovely, with stained glass windows and Gothic detail. And, it has a VERY long aisle. I LOVED walking down that aisle on the arm of my father. Charley, my husband-to-be, was waiting for me at the end of that long walk. We had the traditional wedding march because, at 19 years old, I was completely into “tradition” for weddings.
It was a large wedding party. I had nine attendants in all: three were redheads, three were blonds, and three were dark-haired. I thought that was very cool at the time.
My father knew about this wonderful seamstress and designer named Anne Lowe. She was in New York working out of The Adam Room at Saks Fifth Avenue at that time. She was extraordinarily talented and made the most beautiful debutante dresses, evening dresses of all types, and wedding dresses, and also dresses for bridesmaids.
We engaged her to design and make my dress, which was complicated. I wanted to use what we could of my grandmother’s wedding dress from 1917. Anne Lowe incorporated some of the gorgeous lace and pearl tassels into a more modern dress design. And, of course, I wore my grandmother’s Cathedral length veil.
Dede, my sister, was the maid of honor. Her dress was pale lavender. Her dress was special because she was honored. We all stood in the hall cloakroom area near the front door of the church. The three who are missing from the picture are Torrey and Lida Matheson, two of Charley’s sisters, and Anne Sweeterman. My bridesmaids’ dresses were blue, sheer Swiss fabric embroidered with lavender flowers and sashed with lavender. They were so much prettier than most bridesmaids’ dresses. They were also double the price. My father paid for all of them and gave them to the girls as a gift.
There was a white carpet that was rolled down the aisle for the wedding party to walk upon. Gradually, the girls all walked down the aisle one at a time very slowly. The groomsmen were already there with the minister and Charley. Charley’s best man was his brother Malcolm. At last, my father and I walked very slowly down the extensive length between the pews to the altar.
I knew how easy it is to forget some important events in our lives. I had already forgotten the details of many meetings with famous people such as the Queen of England or the Shah of Iran, but I wanted to remember this magic moment completely. Consciously, I reminded myself to imprint this in my memory so that I could replay it, perhaps forever. And it worked. I can almost tell you whom I SMILED AT as we walked.
I remember my shoes pointed-toed with a cutout design on them. They were high-heeled white satin as they peeked from under my dress as we walked. I wore white satin pumps because the shoes that I ordered in Egypt, while on a round-the-world trip with my parents did not come in time.
I really have not yet described my dress. It weighed a lot and was very tight at the waist. It was beautifully made inside and out, with inner seams lined with lace. A built-in ‘waist-cincher’ had to be hooked to close the dress. There were tiny buttons all up and down the back. I could not get into the dress by myself but was helped by my mother.
It was cut in such a way that the overskirt split in the middle showed different materials, like 18th-century court ladies. Under the flounces of that overskirt, hung two beautiful tassels made of silver beads and pearls. They were part of my grandmother’s dress She was very modern for her time, though, and her dress was only ballerina length, (Which I thought was horribly ugly.) It was made of several different types of lace. And Anne Lowe cut it up and used the lace imaginatively. She made my sleeves from that lace. Some pieces were fashioned into the insert at the top of the back of the dress. Others in front to keep the bodice modest. She had pleated material across the top of the sleeves and in a V at the bodice. The pearl border along the edges of the split front was from my grandmother’s dress. And the lace of the inner skirt also. Under all of the outer layer was a tiered underskirt which was tufted in rows about 6 inches wide horizontally around this. Along each row was a narrow blue velvet ribbon with a tiny bow in front. None of this was visible to anyone else, (but I knew it was there). It was meant to be “something blue” for good luck. Dede lent me a small gold and pearl wishbone pin to be the “something borrowed.” I wore it inside the dress, not in view. The dress itself was “something old and something new.” And I wore a sixpence in my shoe!
My veil was unusual, delicate, and feminine, with the pearl design on the headpiece and a border of seed pearls all along its length.
While in New York for the final fitting of my dress, we had Bachrach Studios take formal wedding photos of me wearing it. They were supposed to be the best, so naturally, my father arranged for me to be photographed by them.
Because we planned the wedding so fast, there was a huge rush to fit everything in. Several people gave me bridal showers and teas. I was taken to look at china, silver, linens, and household items. We ordered 3 or 4 sets of monogrammed towels and several sets of monogrammed sheets. From the Stationary store, we ordered monogrammed stationery, letter-sized, folded cards, and simple cards in colors that felt right to me. It was fun designing these. We ordered calling cards that had my new name as a wife and some that said, Mr. and Mrs. Charles T. Matheson. And, of course, there were fittings for dresses and trips to the stores for more pretty underwear and stockings and shoes, plus several nightgowns and robes. It is all a blur to me now. So many parties, so much to do, and when the wedding invitations went out, presents started to flow in. So many presents.
Nearly a thousand people were invited to my wedding. Mostly all friends of my parents, diplomatic corps, military and political people, not to mention the most illustrious people in Washington DC and they sent presents. The opulence and bounty were unimaginable to me. But I got so bored opening yet another silver bowl that I thought I would scream. Silver was a traditional gift in the 1960s and was reasonably priced. Someone sent me a round wooden serving tray with coasters painted to look like orange slices. It was my favorite present because it was NOT silver. All these presents were displayed on tables in the recreation room in the basement of Underoak. The tables were set up all along the three walls of the room. White table clothes covered the tables, and the presents were displayed with the cards that came with them. So anyone who was privileged to come to see the gifts could also see exactly from whom each was given. My father was pleased with the number and value of the gifts. I was delighted with the presents but dreaded all those thank you notes. All of these presents needed to be acknowledged with a handwritten note. It was a horrid chore for me, and I enlisted the help of some of my bridesmaids. If not for them, many people would have remained UN-thanked.
Approaching the altar, my heart was thumping in my chest, as I enjoyed the moment. This memory runs like a movie in my mind if I wish to recall it. I could see Charley smiling at me and looking very pleased with himself. My father handed me off, and I kissed him on the cheek before he took his seat in the first pew next to my mother.
It was a double ring ceremony because I wanted to make it take longer than some of the very short weddings we had attended. It was so important to me that the more time it took, the better I liked it. Dede had taken my bouquet so that my hands would be free. We did not have ring bearers because my mother said they might steal the show. She was always very conscious of what might detract from the center of attention; ME. She wanted to make sure people did not fail to notice the bride. It was also important to me to be noticed. I had been saying that Charley and I were in love and going to be married for almost three years. Many people said things like, “that is just puppy love.” or “you are too young; “You will meet many more people before you are ready.” I wanted to show these doubters that I was, in fact, serious.
Now I realize that those comments simply solidified my desire to be his wife. I am a true contrarian, you know.
The entire wedding was sort of an “I told you so!” moment for me.
After our traditional vows, where I promised to Love, Honor, and Obey my husband, we practically ran down the aisle to get out of the church and on our way to the reception at my house. I was proud of our house and wanted people to see it. I loved the fact that we could have a large wedding reception there. Having a wedding at a club did not interest me. I loved my home, and I wanted the personal touch of having our guests there.
At the reception, we stood in a receiving line near the rose garden. This part of the yard was near the pool at Underoak. We shook hands for what seemed like hours. I guess it was only about one hour, though. That part did get old. Then we danced our first dance to the small orchestra whose leader Sydney, knew our family well. He played at most of our parties. I danced with Charley and then my father and Charley danced with my mother then his parents were honored. Finally, everyone was dancing on the hard concrete patio next to the pool. We did not have a dance floor. Behind us was a large tent striped green and white in another part of the yard. (At that time, I am not sure I had ever seen a white tent.) The wedding cake was there. We finally went into the tent and cut the cake. We each fed the other a bite, and then I remember eating ONE strawberry. That is the only food I had at the reception. I may have had a part of a glass of champagne, but I am not even certain of that. We went upstairs (to separate rooms) and changed into our “going away” clothes. My suit was a blue silk shantung with a fitted skirt and matching high-heel pumps. I wore a hat with a veil and white gloves.
I stood on the balcony of my old bedroom and threw my bouquet to the crowd of single girls below. Then I took off the pretty blue garter which I was wearing above my knee and threw it to the groomsmen. After that, we rushed downstairs and out the front door, where we were pelted with rice by the happy guests. We got into my father’s Bentley and breathed a sigh of relief as the chauffeur drove us away. We had a police escort which caused quite a stir in the press after we left. But we never found out about that until after we returned from our honeymoon.
The wedding had been at 4:30 pm. We left the reception by about 6:30 pm. We could not wait to get to the motel where we spent our wedding night! We were in such a hurry Charley forgot to take the marriage license and his driver’s license out of his morning coat. We had to call his brother to return to my parent’s house, pick it up and bring it to us. We got carry-out fried chicken which we ate in our room. We were starving!