When the South Carolina governor issued official evacuation orders due to Hurricane Matthew, Calli and Brandon knew their Hilton Head wedding plans had taken a serious turn. But as fate would have it, an entirely new wedding day was in store for them in Atlanta...and everything fell right into place. I'm talking a venue with a last-minute cancellation plus vendors AND guests all willing to pack up and make the drive. Read below for Calli's amazing telling of the story, and see how their wedding came together in 2 days with photographs by Amy Arrington.
The story began after a dreamy proposal on July 4th, 2015. Where would we get married? Would we have it in Nashville, where we lived, where our relationship started, where we bought our first home? Would we have it in Atlanta where I was originally from and where my family still lives? After much deliberation and a few weeks of visiting venues, we retreated to my fiancé's family vacation home in Hilton Head Island, SC. With fall being our favorite season we opted for October. The wedding would take place on October 8th, 2016. I had visited Hilton Head as a child and always loved it. My fiancé spent most of his summers there. Since the two of us had dated, Hilton Head had become our spot...it just felt perfect.
Wednesday, September 28th, 2016 I lay in bed watching Good Morning America knowing I need to get up and ready for work. Ginger Z comes on with a special weather alert. A hurricane is brewing in the tropics and could potentially impact the United States in the next week or so. It could either move towards the gulf or it could move straight up the Atlantic coast, as of now they just don’t know. I felt a pit growing in my stomach. My fiancé came out of the bathroom to catch the end of it and then looked at me. He assured me it would be fine as did everyone else. Hurricanes never hit Hilton Head they all told me.
We were set to leave for the wedding the following Tuesday, October 4th. By the time October 4th came around there was very much a hurricane heading towards the United States. They had named the hurricane Matthew and it was not only a hurricane but a category 4 hurricane. We had a rain plan. We had rented tents to go along the golf course. The only event outside was the ceremony and cocktail hour. We would have those events in the tents and then the remainder of the night would continue as planned. We had a rain plan but we did not have a hurricane plan.
As I walked down the stairs at my parents’ house in Atlanta on the morning of October 4th I could hear my parents and fiancé talking. As I entered the kitchen they asked me to sit down and we talked about what I had been trying to avoid—the event that you have put your heart and soul into for the last fifteen months may not happen. I sat there and stared at them emotionless. I had nothing to give back. My Dad explained that we would continue on as planned until we couldn’t go any farther. I decided to lay my head down and just try not to think about it.
As I woke about an hour later I looked at my phone. I had a few missed calls from my wedding planner and then the text message. The text message was probably one of the hardest texts she had ever had to write. She informed me the Governor of South Carolina was about to declare a State of Emergency and issuing an evacuation for Hilton Head Island effective tomorrow morning, October 5th. No one would be able to enter the island after tomorrow morning and there was no date for the evacuation to be lifted. I immediately called her. I could hear it in her voice--it wasn’t a good feeling. We were 30 minutes outside of Hilton Head. She was in Charleston and asked me to go to our house in Hilton Head and she would meet me there later that evening.
I spent the next thirty minutes calling close friends and wedding party. I broke the news to them and they were devastated. I explained we didn’t know what we were going to do but if they had flights or house rentals they should probably cancel them while they can get their money back.
The phone calls kept coming in. The Governor had changed her evacuation order and it was now mandatory. Hotels, businesses, restaurants, offices, private clubs – all were to evacuate and close their doors effective immediately. One by one my vendors called me. I explained I understood and didn’t know what we were going to do but I would let them know. The hotels where we had rooms blocks closed. The country club closed. The event rental company closed. The list goes on. My parents began asking me what we would like to do. It was hard to process the fact that this was not happening.
The New Game Plan
My mom suggested Atlanta where they lived. I shrugged. I wasn’t ready to make a decision but I didn’t have time to wait because we had 200 people waiting by the phone for the decision. My fiancé and I talked and decided Atlanta would work —we couldn’t reschedule for a later date. I don’t think we could emotionally handle doing it all over. I started to call my vendors back. I started with my wedding planner. She said she was in. I thought she was joking but realized she wasn’t when she packed up her Denali and hit the road with all of our wedding stuff shortly after we spoke. She was on the way to Atlanta to start planning wedding two. My florist—same thing. She packed up her van with as many flowers as it could hold and she hit the road to Atlanta. My band—same thing. My photographer—same thing. My videographer—same thing. All we needed was a venue, food, rentals, string quartet and a lot of help.
The help came quickly. My parents have a core group of friends that consists of about 10 couples. They have been my family growing up. We do life together. They had all gathered at one house and were waiting to take orders. I told them all that I could think of that we needed and they began. One was in charge and she would be the person working with my wedding planner. I called my wedding planner and explained she had ten women waiting on her when she arrived and they were hers until Saturday. I don’t think she realized what she was getting into but I am sure it quickly became apparent that they were there to do anything she needed. They found vases for flowers, an identical getaway car, a bakery that was willing to bake my original wedding cake, a string quartet, rose petals, hair, makeup—the list goes on. All we needed was a venue, rentals and food.
We never unpacked the car. We slept overnight because we were just too tired to drive back—well I should say we tried to sleep. I met my mom in the living room at 2am staring at her phone as I was doing the same lying in bed. When we left that morning we were escorted off the island by the National Guard. Businesses were boarding windows; the beaches were cleared and prepared for a disaster. The five-hour drive would take us about nine hours. An hour outside of Atlanta my mom called and asked us to pull over at the next exit and get out of the car. I thought to myself I think she has lost it.
We did what she asked and we pulled over. She explained to us along the drive something had told her to call a venue close to our house in Marietta, so she did. Two of our close family friends had been married there in the past. It was an old country club. It had ceremony locations, a golf course and many event spaces for a reception. They had a cancellation this morning for an event that was planned to take place this Saturday, October 8th. We looked at each other. She explained they thought she was pranking them when she told them our story. When they realized she was not they quickly leapt into action and said they had never planned a wedding in two days but if we came tonight and finalized everything they would do it!
The Wedding Day!
The wedding went off without a hitch. My girlfriends found the best hair and makeup people in town and they both weirdly were available. One even mentioned it was the only Saturday she wasn’t booked the whole year. We lost five guests total –everyone else came. The weather was beautiful. I married the man of my dreams. It was the best day ever.
I am not sharing my story in hopes that you may feel bad for us. I had numerous news stations contact us and ask us to share our story – I kindly declined. I am sharing my story for a few reasons. The Sunday before our wedding we sat in church. We were ending a series called “Wild and Free.” Our guest speaker was a man by the name of Gavin Adams. Gavin talked about using our limiting moments in unlimited ways. Turning our limiting moments into refining and defining moments.
Most people say after your wedding is over you can go into a depression-like state. Something you have planned for so long is over in the blink of an eye. Mine was a different feeling. Something I planned for so long never happened and would never happen. It was a feeling that is hard to describe. One part of me was ecstatic that I could now call the man of my dreams my husband. Another part of me avoided the wedding at all cost. I wouldn’t watch my wedding videos, I wouldn’t look at pictures, I wouldn’t talk about it unless someone talked to me directly about it. I avoided it as much as I could.
Then I thought about the message in church. Members of our family who were not speaking are now speaking because of our situation. People who normally don’t get along sat at the same table because of our situation. My Grandmother who was recently diagnosed with cancer was able to make it because of our situation. Our limiting moment was used in unlimited ways. When things don’t go quite as planned on your wedding day try to step back and remember this story and know that it will all be ok.