Martha! Martha! Martha!

How the world’s wedding expert nearly ruined mine.

By Brooke Williams
Illustration by Sue Smith

Like millions of brides across the country, I turned to Martha Stewart when it was time to plan my special day. I was armed with her 112-page wedding planner, and my goal was to throw one of those simple, understated weddings that take a year and a glue gun to pull off.

Organization is not my forte, so the idea of planning a wedding for 150 people in Boothbay Harbor at the height of the summer tourist season was a daunting task. Five minutes after she claimed she was going to wear beige and keep her mouth shut, my mother-in-law Louise started ambushing my wedding plans with the subtlety and tact of an invading army.

When she threatened her son Chris with big trouble if we didn’t get married in the Catholic church, he kicked the coffee table across the room and screamed as if he was five, not thirty-five: “I don’t even want to do this anymore.”

I didn’t know what to do until, suddenly, amidst the wreckage of the overturned coffee table, Martha Stewart smiled up at me again from the cover of her Keepsake Wedding Planner. Like a hostess encouraging me to come in from the cold and sit by a warm fire, Martha coaxed me to open her planner once more and see how effortless my wedding could be, if I just followed her simple rules.

With a series of checklists, timelines, and re-sealable pouches for fabric swatches, Martha broke the arduous process into manageable monthly tasks that addressed every possible detail before I ever could. Not only did Martha advise how far in advance I should order my cake, she also cautioned me to confirm with my baker that my desired frosting would stand up to the relative humidity in my geographical region.

Never pushy, Martha seemed to understand me, constantly reminding me it was my day that I needed to personalize and then immortalize using acid-free keepsake albums.

She even gave me hints on how to manage my mother-in-law, advocating the use of stock responses such as, “That’s a good idea, but I have decided to do it another way.” Or, “Thanks for your suggestion. I will think about it and get back to you.”

I decided to follow Martha’s advice to involve my mother-in-law in small tasks that would make her feel included without letting her take over. So I asked Louise to pick out the crackers for the reception. Two days later, 7,200 assorted table water crackers were delivered to our house — enough for my guests to have 48.5 apiece, along with a note that said she would still like to discuss her concerns with the caterer I’d chosen.

Clearly, Martha had never met my mother-in-law, who was not about to be kept at bay.

But with Martha at my side, I started crossing things off my to-do list. Six months before the wedding, I had my innkeeper on speed dial, was auditioning organists, and had completed two practice hairdos with Jeff, my stylist.

Finally, I had time to kick back and focus on the details that Martha said would make the day memorable, like using my new glue gun to fashion napkin rings out of mussel shells gathered from the cove where Chris proposed to me.

But just when I thought everything was coming together, I went head-to-head with the master herself and learned the hard way what it took a team of federal prosecutors two years to prove: Martha Stewart doesn’t play by the rules, even when she writes them herself.

“Something has come up,” was the only explanation my hairstylist Jeff offered on my answering machine when he canceled the wedding day appointment I had made months ago.

“I am going to try to work you in at 7 a.m.,” he said, with no remorse for standing up a woman on the most important hair day of her life.

Seven a.m.? By the time I walked down the aisle, I was going to look rumpled, not radiant and virginal like all the glowing brides in Martha’s magazine. I might as well have my four-year-old flower girl do my hair.

I would have told Jeff what he could do with his 7 a.m. appointment if I wasn’t so terrified of ending up in the chair at the area’s only other salon.

Instinctively, I grabbed Martha’s planner for advice, comfort, anything — but after rereading every page, I found no solace. I had followed all of Martha’s golden rules: confirmation, contracts, and constant communication. How could this happen?

I called my florist to vent and got my answer.

“Some bigwig is getting married in town the same weekend as you,” she confided. Paranoia swept over me like a Swiffer mop on a dirty kitchen floor. Fearing the worst, I made Chris leave work and drive down to Boothbay Harbor to do damage control.

One by one, we visited the caterer, the florist, and the photographer until we were confident that Jeff was the only rat in the pile. On the way out of town, we stopped by the church.

During the summer, weddings run like salmon at Our Lady Queen of Peace, a white clapboard chapel perched majestically over the yacht-filled harbor. With its windswept lawn and solemn steeple towering above town, it’s a picture-perfect New England church. When we booked the date a year in advance, just like Martha advised, Father Parent informed us we were lucky to get the last available Saturday in August.

Father Parent presided over all the wedding ceremonies at Our Lady Queen of Peace with the showmanship and vanity of a one-man Siegfried and Roy show. He adhered to a philosophy of quantity rather than quality, and he prided himself on the sheer volume of couples he married back-to-back each summer. It wasn’t necessary to even be Catholic. All you needed to do was hand him the check (right before the ceremony, not after).

Calvados also worked, as Louise discovered the summer before when she cajoled Father Parent into marrying Chris’ sister and Mehmet Ali, an agnostic Turkish man who had never set foot in this country, let alone a Catholic church, until his wedding day.

I had to hand it to Louise: She was tough. When an earthquake and then a hurricane threatened to call off her daughter’s nuptials, Louise refused to bow down, even to Mother Nature. She put her congressman on speed dial and left bottles of apple brandy at Father Parent’s back door until she was assured Mehmet Ali would get into the country, out of the church’s mandatory premarital counseling, and to the altar on time.

“Who are you again?” Father Parent asked us when we knocked on the rectory door. “Oh, yes, your mother,” he said with a shudder, when it finally dawned on him.

After consulting his schedule, Father Parent assured us that everything was in order.

“Just make sure you are ready to go down the aisle at 11 a.m. sharp because there is another ceremony immediately following yours,” he said.

“Father, you must be mistaken. Our ceremony is at 2 p.m.,” Chris said.

“Oh no, you are mistaken. Martha Stewart’s editor is getting married at 2 p.m.,” he cooed, his voice breathy with excitement like a child anticipating Santa Claus’ arrival.

Expletives shot out of my mouth before I remembered I was in the house of the Lord. Of all people, Martha Stewart’s editor knew you couldn’t just waltz into a church and make a last-minute wedding reservation. Heck, I had my hair appointment booked a year in advance. But where had that left me?

Even after I produced the confirmation letter Martha told me to always have on hand, the starstruck priest would not back down.

“Maybe you can find her and sort things out,” he said. “She was just here.”

I never even wanted to get married in a church, and now I had to compete with the matriarch of weddings herself to defend my place at the altar. I was as ill-prepared for the fight as a graying Sylvester Stallone defending himself against Mr. T in Rocky III.

As I walked back through town, Boothbay Harbor was suddenly gaga over the news that had spread like cheap margarine on a dinner roll. In every conversation I overheard, someone was speculating whether Martha would be overseeing her editor’s wedding arrangements, which restaurants Martha and her editor would eat at, and whether any shopkeepers would be featured in her magazine as a result.

Most annoying was the town’s naive assumption that this editor was Martha’s closest confidant, never considering she could be one of an army of editorial assistants that didn’t even get to use the same bathroom as Martha.

While I crumpled in defeat like a soiled cocktail napkin, Chris suited up and got ready to rumble. Driving around town with a wild look in his eye, he scanned every passing car and pedestrian to find and confront this nameless, faceless woman.

“This is ridiculous,” I said. “We don’t even know what she looks like.”

“Bingo,” he said, spotting a black SUV with Connecticut plates. Chris nearly grazed its back bumper as he screeched to a halt. “For sure, Martha Stewart’s editor is from Connecticut,” he said, switching off the ignition to wait.

An hour later, Martha Stewart’s editor was still at large, so Chris did what all desperate men do in crisis situations: He called his mommy.

“You tell Father Parent that I already sent out the invitations,” Louise said, without a moment’s hesitation.
“Are you telling me to lie to a priest?” Chris asked incredulously.

“You’re going to be serving waffles and orange juice at your 11 a.m. reception if you don’t tell him exactly what I just told you,” Louise snapped back.

Father Parent looked at us in disbelief when we returned to the rectory.

“Who sends their invitations out this early?” he protested. “That’s crazy. It’s only February.”

“Do you want me to call my mother?” Chris asked, holding out his cell phone. “She happens to be in town.”

“No, no, that won’t be necessary,” said Father Parent, pushing the phone away as if Satan himself was on the line.

Victory is sweet indeed. I heard through the grapevine that Martha Stewart’s editor was looking at the Methodist church, which wasn’t nearly as pretty as Our Lady Queen of Peace. My stylist Jeff came crawling back to me, too. I never asked, but I got the feeling the editor dumped him.

It was also nice to have Louise on my side for a change. And in the end, I had to admit that the traditional church ceremony was one of the highlights of my wedding day — second only to watching the fireworks display Martha Stewart’s editor had given herself. As red, white, and blue bursts lit up the sky over Boothbay Harbor, I realized with glee that from our hilltop reception my guests had the better view.

Brooke Williams is a freelance writer living in Thomaston. This is her second article for Down East.