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Our Wedding: May 24, 1997, St. Hilarion, France

Here we are, at the reception in La Bellanderie, our lovely home in Saint Hilarion, southwest of Paris on the old road to Chartres. The French civil service had done its duty, and it was time for the food and a slow glass of champagne.

Here is the bride-to-be leaving our home, La Bellanderie, for the ceremony, with an elegant chauffeur in the person of her uncle, Dr. Alain Berhaut.

The preparations had been very hectic and hairy. A couple of weeks before the wedding we learned that in certain circumstances the law in France considers one not to be divorced even after the divorce judgment has been pronounced.

Think about that one for a minute!

With a lot of hasty legal research in the Palais de Justice in Paris, and a bit of help from the best man, Karim Medjad, we figured out how to get around these legal impediments. Lucky that we picked a law professor as best man, wasn’t it!

The civil ceremony in the Mairie, or Village Hall, of Saint Hilarion. Denis, Marie-Hélène’s brother, is filming in the background. Needless to say, the Catholic Church had not exactly welcomed us with open arms!

But I needed to make several visits to the competent authorities to get their permission for the wedding to take place, and it took until five p.m. in Versailles on the day before the wedding to find the person with sufficient ability to figure out that we were entitled to get married and sufficient authority to convince the Maire of St. Hilarion to marry us. No fooling around with the French civil service!

Merci encore, Madame le Substitut!

You can imagine how this last minute uncertainty added a little zest to the proceedings: friends and family were arriving at local hotels, and we did not know whether to welcome them with open arms or apologize and send them on their way!

The family group in front of the Mairie, with four of the bride and groom’s five (then) children all dressed up. Charlie (not yet two years old) would have been in this photo, except that he was taking a nap at home under the watchful eye of Mrs Gonzalvez, our housekeeper.

But all is well that ends well, and the Mayor’s assistant duly married us in the Mairie of St. Hilarion.

We gathered outside the Mairie for photographs, and then drove the short distance back to La Bellanderie, where we were holding the reception.

It was a modest wedding, with the reception catered in our own rented home. We were fine with that. Money had been tight in France, which was one of the reasons that we were moving to California right after the wedding. Even with a limited budget, we were able to invite a nice group of friends and family from France and England. Marie-Hélène decided that a full white wedding gown was inconsistent with her three children, which thoughtfully kept the price of her outfit down! Her father, grand-père, and his three brothers split the cost of the catering, the largest expense of the wedding. It all fitted together, with the right brew of celebration with loved ones, on the one hand, and budget on the other.

Les enfants à la Mairie. Selon Joce, “En fait, ça fait moins mal qu’une piqure!” Jocelyne Tonnellier, the maid of honor, reassured the children: “it hurts less than an injection!”

The one worrying budgetary aspect was that, having covered the cost of the catering, the four Berhaut brothers, including the bride’s father, then offered us no wedding present, even though each of the four was a good Catholic and then comfortably off, and even though it was the bride’s first and only marriage. Poor Marie-Hélène! My mother had died almost a year previously, but she ended up contributing more to the wedding through her estate than the living Berhauts contributed! It did not interfere with the good times at the wedding, but I did notice it during the ensuing months when no present arrived. After mum died, we were unusually independent in our lives together.

Nathalie disant à Karim Medjad, le témoin de Ian, selon Joce: “T’as signé contre ton copain. Il va en prendre pour 50 ans!” Karim, my law professor best man, with Nathalie, then his girlfriend, now the mother of his children.

In case you had not noticed, this was a thoroughly modern wedding! Four of our five children attended!

But they were not at all celebratory, at least not at the ceremony. You can see a little distress on  faces in the above photo, and Joce noticed it when she wrote the comments in the above caption.

It is hard to interpret what the children were feeling, but children are so loyal to their parents. They may have simply felt uneasy at this significant step in the bride and groom’s commitment to each other. On some level, for the children, this was another step in the divorce of each set of real parents.

Joce, le témoin de Marie-Héléne, avec Alain. Joce was Marie-Héléne’s bridesmaid. She took the great photos. Alain, the father of her son, was then her boyfriend.

I didn’t see that coming, to be honest, and although I noticed some minor reserve in the children, particularly at the Mairie, didn’t really focus on it until Joce sent us her photos.

That brings up another topic, the photos. We did not arrange for a professional photographer for the wedding. Not because we didn’t want professional coverage of the event, but because in grand-père we had a retired professional photographer in the family. I for one had the impression that he would take pictures of the ceremony and the reception, just as he had taken wonderful pictures in August 1995 of Marie-Hélène with Charles in her room at the maternity clinic in Malestroit.

The kids playing during the reception. A lot of action here! Charlie was awake when we returned from the Mairie, and is standing in front. Nick, standing next to Ghislain, Joce’s son, is about to jump on the couch, which came from the Stock home in Marlow. Tom is grabbing Cedric’s stick, about which the less said the better, and Bertil is sitting next to Daphné. We can’t see the face of the girl kneeling next to Daphné. It could be Sarah or one of the Rabinovici girls.

Unfortunately, it didn’t happen here. If I had thought about it, I could probably have figured out that he wanted to enjoy himself at the wedding rather than work at it. As it was, our best photos came from Joce, the maid of honor, and Kay Tillion, my mum’s friend from England. Thank you both!

Back to the reception, where the children played, as was their wont, while we socialized with our guests.

Marie-Hélène had more family there, logically enough: it was her only marriage, and her family were pretty much all in France. Her maternal grandmother came, and at 92 took the honors for our oldest guest! Her mother’s brother, Oncle Dan,  joined his ex, the adorable Tante Lucette, and her father’s brother Oncle Alain and his family. Her godmother and her husband joined with cousins. A very festive group!

Back at the reception, surrounded by well-wishers. Joce is smiling behind us between Alain, her beau, and Mamie, Marie-Hélène’s grandmother, always full of vim. Uncle Daniel, Mamie’s son, is next to her. In red is Véronique, the bride’s charming cousin from Aix-en-Provence.

My family representatives surmounted both the fact that this was not my first marriage and that it was not occurring in England. Thank you very much! Ron and Louise brought their children Alec and Sarah all the way from their home outside Birmingham. Kay, mum’s best friend and official representative, came with her husband Charles from her home near Marlow. Veronica and Bruce Stevens and Angela, Veronica’s mother, came from a combination of Aberdeen and West Sussex. That this was a difficult combination was proved by their being delayed by car trouble and actually arriving two weeks after the wedding!

We had a wonderful day trip to Disneyland with them when they finally did arrive!

Back to the dining room at La Bellanderie where we all ate. Check out the wood paneling on the walls, and the bride’s mother’s paintings on the wood paneling! This was a beautiful dining room and a perfect place for our wedding reception.

A group of Berhauts and friends in the dining room at the reception.

This is a bride’s side of the family photo. On the right is Tante Marlène, Oncle Alain’s delightful wife, sitting next to Micheline and Guy (I think that their last name is Epaillard, but can’t be sure), friends of Marie-Hélène’s childhood family. Oncle Alain is facing the camera, and cousin Hervé is between him and Grand-père.

Our only real regret was the bride and groom’s absent parents: only one, Grand-père, was still with us for the wedding. My mother would have been so happy if she could have been there. She thought that Marie-Hélène was the cat’s miaou, and had offered us both so much during her lifetime and even after it.

The bride framed by food and flowers, as ever a very pretty picture.

Well, to be honest, upon reflection we wouldn’t have minded a real wedding night (yep, you know what that means!) or a honeymoon either! The groom sort of knew that the wedding night was not going to happen, and the bride talked longingly about Venice for years afterwards . . .

But where would we have fitted Venice in? We moved house, profession and children to Santa Cruz not five weeks later. Busy year, 1997!

It was a very special day. The inevitable little family issues evoked above (and whose wedding does not have the odd family issue floating around? Someone with too many stars in their eyes, that’s who!) played no role on the day itself. It was all about “la belle mariée!”