This Bride had two dreams for her wedding: to hold the ceremony in the backyard of her childhood home and to wear her mother’s wedding dress. And while the carefully preserved gown fit her like a glove, rain threatened the other dream. At the last second, the weather looked like it would clear, so the sweet Bride decided to delay the ceremony – which ended up being her best decision! She quietly waited in her parent’s bedroom for the sun to reappear, and for the first time in months, she was able to sit and soak in all that was happening that day. Ashley Baber Weddings and Legendary Events are the duo who pulled off this outdoor wedding just minutes after the rain, and we’ve got the pretty photos by Virgil Bunao Photography to share with you here.
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From the Bride… William and I had our wedding in my parents’ backyard, which had always been a dream of mine growing up. It is a magical backyard: eight acres of beautiful valley filled with green grass, big trees, fragrant honeysuckle, merry creeks, and dragonfly ponds. So the morning of my wedding day, I woke up in my childhood bedroom. It felt right. The walls that had seen so much of my life story so far were now sending me off into a new chapter.
Two lovely young women from Aura Hair & Makeup arrived bright and early to do up the ladies. William and I decided just to have our siblings in our bridal party, so my future mother-in-law, Rose, my future sister-in-law Jordan, my mother, and I gathered in the kitchen for beautification. I also asked my dearest friend, Meghan, who has been my surrogate sister since middle school, to come and hang out with us. She brought her brand new baby girl, Elizabeth, with her, and everyone took turns cooing over the baby when they weren’t in one of the hot seats. There were some very happy moments of exchanging gifts, working on last-minute homemade crafts with my little brother, Tanner, hugging beloved grandparents as they arrived, and watching the final preparations under the tent outside. At some point, the boys arrived, and I hid on the kitchen floor behind the island while they headed down to the basement for their own preparations. Don’t worry; it is a very sexy basement, with a pool table and ping pong table to keep them occupied. But I loved the idea of William and I getting ready for our big day in the same house. Once it came time to change, I dressed in my parents’ master bedroom while William donned his suit directly below in my dad’s office. The nearness was such a fun tease.
In addition to getting married in my parents’ backyard, my second childhood wedding dream was wearing my mother’s dress. I grew up looking at pictures of my mom in her bridal gown and thinking she was (and is) the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Well – would you believe it? – that dream came true as well. We took the dress out of the sealed box, where it had been residing under my parents’ bed for over 30 years, and it fit perfectly. Perfectly! All we did was add an inch or so of lace to the hem because I am taller than my sweet mama. And I wore flats, which I would have done anyway because of the whole backyard wedding thing. (And the I-hate-heels thing.) So it was a very special moment when my mom helped me into the same dress that she had worn on the day she married my father. I also wore a pearl necklace from my paternal grandfather who passed away in 2013, a sapphire ring from my maternal great-grandmother, and a pearl bracelet that William sent up to me from the basement that very day. I felt quite literally wrapped up in love and family. Also, I will add this nifty suggestion from my mom for any Brides or Grooms reading: Find a perfume or cologne that you love but which you wouldn’t wear every day. Only wear it the week of the wedding and on your honeymoon. Then, if you ever wear it again in the future for an anniversary or special occasion, that scent will immediately take you back, since your sense of smell is the one most closely tied to memory! I chose Jo Malone’s Peony and Blush Suede, and that scent now magically conjures some of my happiest memories.
Once we were all dressed, it came time for the father-daughter first look. We had a tradition in my family that my little brother and I always sat and waited at the top of the stairs on Christmas morning until my parents gave us official permission to come down. At various intervals, we called out, “Is it okay to come down yet?” until they replied “Alright!” with camcorder in-hand. It seemed fitting to sneak upstairs in all my bridal glory and call out, “Is it okay to come down, Daddy?” He followed tradition and replied, in a chipper voice, “Alright!” I descended that stairwell and felt so much love and appreciation for my family waiting below that I thought I would burst. My paternal grandfather, who is normally a tough teddy bear, probably lost it the most. I was doubly glad to be wearing my mother’s dress, knowing how much it meant to the man who bought it the first time around.
The weather predicted rain, and the sky sure looked ominous, so I resigned myself to the “Rain Plan” and quickly moved on. After months of worrying about the weather, it suddenly wasn’t important now that I was hours away from marrying William. That was all I cared about. I just wanted to get married. Pictures were a bit of an improvisation because the rain started coming down and coming down sideways. But Virgil Bunao and his photography team worked wonders. I am forever grateful to have had Virgil by my side throughout the day. It was imperative to me that I feel comfortable, relaxed, and myself with our chosen photographer, because in some ways, that is the person you see the most on your wedding day. When I met Virgil, I immediately fell in love with him. And when he journeyed to New York to shoot our engagement photos, William did, too. Virgil filled our day with laughter, joy, fun, and calm, and he let us be one hundred percent us, one hundred percent Hanley-and-William. And he took some gorgeous, unparalleled photos while he was at it.
Once guests began arriving, I went back into my parents’ bedroom to hide. Originally, the guests were supposed to head straight down to the ceremony site – a bridal path lined with enormous oak trees that formed a natural cathedral– but because of the rain, they all ended up in our living room and kitchen. I could hear the chatter grow and swell as more and more people arrived. Then my dad came in and said something unexpected and a little miraculous: “Hanley, I think this rain will pass if we delay. Do you want to get married down on the path if possible?” I hesitated for just a second and then gave him a fervent yes. So we delayed! And I entered into one of my favorite memories of the day. I got to sit quietly in my parents’ bay window, all ready to go, and just wait. It was the first time in days, maybe weeks, that I had sat still and basked in the moment. I could hear all those voices in the living room, the voices of people I loved, who had come just to support us, to witness for us. William and I are both actors, and it felt a little bit like what we call “half hour,” when the audience is taking their seats and you are getting ready to go on. I was in a real-life dressing room, sitting through a real-life half hour, waiting to go on for the most real-life of performances. And somewhere nearby, William was waiting, too. I cherish that moment so deeply. The moment before. And sure enough, the rain stopped.
The incredible team of Ashley Baber Weddings and Legendary Events, who between the two companies did everything from planning to tenting to catering to portable restroom-ing, rushed down to the ceremony site and dried off all of the seats, pulled tarps off of seating areas, got the outdoor bar ready, set out the lawn games, and basically did their best to hide the fact that we had just endured several hours of torrential downpour. Slowly the living room got quieter as guests made their way outside. I could hear our two dear friends, Trevor and Andrew, playing guitar and singing through a setlist that William and I picked out together down on the path. I watched from the bay window as our co-officiants, William’s best friend, Quin, and a beloved minister from my childhood, Reverend Wolf, headed down. Soon, only my father and I were left. After a moment of panic when we realized I had left William’s ring in my bedroom and my poor dad had to race back into the house to get it, we headed down. I hid behind a lace parasol that my mother bought for me since there was no way to disguise our approach. Once we arrived, I handed off the parasol and hid behind my father instead. The music changed, and the ceremony began.
William didn’t want us to see each other before the ceremony so that he could get an undiluted emotional wallop as I walked down the aisle to “Sweet Thing” by Van Morrison. I clung to my dad’s arm, shaking all over with the importance of the moment, and tried to take in all the faces as I walked by. But the face I was most excited to see was waiting at the end of the aisle, beaming at me. William and I wrote our ceremony script together, a mixture of traditional liturgy and our own ideas, a balance of the secular and the sacred. The best example of this: When Revered Wolf said the traditional “If anyone here can show just cause why these two people should not be married, speak now or forever hold your peace,” Quin countered with “Conversely, if anyone here can show just cause why these two people absolutely SHOULD be married, please reach below your chairs and do not keep your peace at all, but make a joyful noise in support of their union!” And guess what? We had taped kazoos to the bottoms of all the chairs. It gave us a wonderful chance to really look back at our guests and soak up the sight of them, feeling their positivity and blessings pouring over us. William and I also said both traditional vows and our own vows that we wrote independently so as to surprise each other. Holding William’s hands, staring into his beloved, beautiful eyeballs, making promises to each other, and feeling the loving presence of our guests, our witnesses, our village… That was my favorite moment out of the entire day. I LOVED our ceremony.
Unbeknownst to our guests, the Big Fun Brass Band from New Orleans snuck up behind them during the ceremony, and as soon as we kissed and were announced husband and wife, they struck up a rendition of Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, more popularly known as “If I Had Words,” as our recessional. Once William and I reached the end of the aisle, I picked up my parasol, the trumpets really blared, and we danced our way up to the house in a good, old-fashioned, NOLA-style Second Line Parade! We had bought white umbrellas for the guests as their party favor to protect them from rain or sun (or both, as it happened), so everyone grabbed one as they left their seats and we paraded to the reception. Along the 5-minute route, we had a drinks stand and passed appetizers, because eventually William and I stopped, turned around, and made the Second Line Parade into a Receiving Line so that we could greet all of our guests. This way, everyone had sustenance while they waited. We took our photos while the guests enjoyed a very Hanley-and-Willliam-esque cocktail hour. There was a Bacon and Biscuit Wagon (two of our favorite things) with multiple kinds of bacon, biscuits, and spreads. In addition to the regular open bar options, we offered two delicious craft beers specially-made for us by our friend Matt Curling, who will soon be opening up his own brewery called Variant Brewing in Roswell, GA. William’s beer was a Centennial-style IPA and mine was a raspberry gose. There was beer pong, corn hole, etc. and all with the fabulous brass band music bouncing along in the background. Thankfully, my childhood friend and professional videographer, Chandler Mays, of Bright Elephant Productions, beautifully captured the whole day, so I have a sense of the fun that was had while we were elsewhere.
William and I took a moment to ourselves so that I could change into a reception dress – a fabulous, lightweight gown by Modern Trousseau with pockets that looked like the playful baby sister of my mom’s dress – and so that we could just be alone for a second to revel in our newly-married state. Then we made our grand entrance into the big tent and ran straight onto the dance floor. We commissioned the brass band to compose a version of “Clair de Lune” as William and I both love that song, and it turned out to be a great, jazzy, danceable rendition and a very unique first dance song. Then we bid a grateful farewell to the wildly-talented Big Fun Brass Band, and the truly show-stopping Atlanta Showstoppers took over for dinner and dancing.
The two things I hear the most from our guests about our wedding are: 1) I loved your vows, and 2) THAT BAND, THOUGH. The Atlanta Showstoppers are the best wedding band on the planet. They can play anything and everything and sound like the original band while they do it, and they are as kind and lovely as can be as human beings. I barely got to speak to anyone because we were all so busy dancing like maniacs. My favorite mishap: William danced so hard that he literally ripped his pants open, from belt buckle to crotch, and he had to borrow a pair of my little brother’s khakis for the rest of the night! Thank goodness the wedding was in the backyard!
If it isn’t apparent already, William and I really wanted our wedding day to be filled with our personalities, and I think the way we exited the wedding is one of the best examples of that. We had discussed a fun, old car, but that was a little more expensive than it was worth, so William came up with a brilliant Plan B. We are both runners, so what if we literally ran out of the wedding? I loved it, and we decided to go whole hog. We created a hand-painted “Start” banner; we made “race bibs,” mine with the number 64 and his with the number 16, for our wedding date, 6/4/16; he wore a “Just” sign on his back and I wore “Married” on mine; we tied penny-filled PBR beer cans attached to strings to our waists and they dragged along the ground behind us; we replaced our wedding shoes with running shoes; and we wore headlamps on our foreheads to light our way into the dark. Our guests lined up with sparklers, creating a kind of runway for us, with the start line at the end, and with a big huzzah, and maybe a bit too much speed, we ran off into the night and into our lives as a married couple! In a kind of perfect circle from the beginning of the festivities when I could hear our guests in the living room, we could hear people cheering in the distance behind us as we jogged through an otherwise quiet and still evening. We traveled a full mile together, and it was actually magical to have another chance to soak in the moment, to revel in what we had just done, to honor the fact that we were now an official team, and though we had our village behind us, our marriage was now ours. The wedding was just the beginning.
I cannot thank my parents, our families, our friends, or our vendors enough for that day. While things went awry and some balls were dropped and it rained off and on the whole day, none of that matters. It is forgotten in the glow of all the things that went absolutely right, often in ways I could never have predicted or planned. That would be my last piece of advice to any Brides or Grooms: lay the foundation and then let the day happen. Live it. It really is just the beginning! Many blessings to you!
Photography: Virgil Bunao Photography | Cinematography: Bright Elephant Films | Event Planning: Ashley Baber Weddings | Floral Design: Legendary Events | Wedding Dress: RL Couture Bridal Design & Alterations | Catering: Legendary Events | Hair + Makeup: Aura Hair | Officiant: Reverend John Wolfe | Officiant: Quin Gordon | Ceremony Musicians: Trevor Vaughn and Andrew Pastides | Ceremony and Reception: Bride's Parents Home | Cocktail Hour Musicians: Big Fun Brass Band | Decor: Legendary Events | Photo Booth: ShutterBooth | Reception Band: Atlanta Showstoppers