Weddings typically take months of planning — all of the little details that come together to create one memorable event that sends a couple into their new life together. But what happens when the pandemic threatens all of that planning? While many couples are postponing their ceremonies indefinitely, others have opted to move forward with a quarantine wedding, even if it means their big day looks dramatically different than what they’d planned.

We spoke with four brides from across the South, who moved forward with their weddings despite the pandemic. And though their special days were quite different from what they envisioned, in the end, they achieved the same goal: to be married. Meet Mrs. Ann Walker Greenlee Huttchson of Nashville, Tennessee; Mrs. Eliza Holzbach of Richmond, Virginia; Mrs. Beth Clymer of Alexandria, Virginia; and Mrs. Julianne Robinson of Savannah, Georgia.

Outdoor wedding in Richmond, Virginia, during quarantine

The quarantine didn’t keep Grant and Eliza Holzbach from saying “I do.” Image: Meghan McSweeney Photography

What did your initial wedding plans entail?

Ann Walker: We were going to get married on March 20, (which we did, so that worked out well!) at Woodmont Christian in Nashville, which is the church I grew up going to. I knew that was where I wanted to get married and that I was going to walk down the aisle to the song “Highland Cathedral,” played on a bagpipe and the organ. These were things I’ve known for years — even before Daniel proposed. Our reception was going to be at The Reserve at Fat Bottom Brewery in The Nations. We were going sort of non-traditional and not serving dinner, just doing heavy appetizers and a dessert table as well as wine and beer. And we were just going to have this great party with a DJ and dance with all of our friends. My dad has a 1988 red Toyota Land Cruiser that Daniel loves, so that was going to be our getaway car.

Eliza: Originally, we were going to get married at Cannon Chapel, which is the chapel at the University of Richmond, and then have a reception with about 500 people at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. I think we had four iterations of our wedding once Corona started. It’s changed so quickly that every day we were reevaluating the situation and coming up with a Plan B, Plan C and Plan D.

Beth: We were going to get married on April 10, which was Good Friday, with a very small wedding — just about 25 people. The wedding ceremony and reception were going to be at Miel in Nashville, and invitations had already been sent. We had our photographer, the dress, everything!

Julianne: Initially, we were going to have this black tie-optional, big event. There was going to be an open bar, live band, cocktail hour out on the river, and a huge bridal party — we both had eight people. Obviously, none of that happened!

Dr. & Mrs. Robinson strolling during their quarantine wedding

Presenting Dr. and Mrs. Robinson of Savannah, Georgia. Image: Ashly McCoy

How many guests did you initially expect, and how many did you wind up with?

Ann Walker: I think our final count was 215. We over-invited, and everyone decided to come! We went from 215 to 15 people, including us.

Eliza: With just our families, I think it was 12. My mother-in-law live-streamed the whole thing. My bridesmaids are mostly from Richmond, Virginia. A lot of them are living in New York, but their parents still live in Richmond, so they’d already gotten to town because New York was evacuating. So, a lot of my friends and all of my bridesmaids were able to watch on the live stream.

Beth: The latest count we heard was 175 people logged into Zoom to watch it live stream. We went from 25 guests to 175!

Julianne: We invited 350 people, and it was probably about 12 people in the end.

Ann Walker and Daniel listening to toasts

A toast to the new Mr. and Mrs. Huttchson of Nashville, Tennessee. Image: Ann Walker Greenlee Huttchson

At what point did it start sinking in you were going to have to postpone or amend your plans? How did you decide to move forward?

Ann Walker: It was Thursday, April 12 — a week before our wedding. That afternoon, my parents called me — they were on speakerphone together, and my dad said, “I think we need to talk about changing plans.” I burst into tears. I was like, “This cannot be happening. I’ve been stressed for months, and it has consumed my whole life for months.” A week later would’ve been our rehearsal dinner. Daniel and I talked and realized that, unfortunately, that was going to be the reality. God forbid somebody at our wedding got sick. I very much went to the worst-case scenario, and I couldn’t live with myself if one of my great uncles was there and something happened because we selfishly decided to go on with our wedding. That Thursday, we decided (over many tears) we were going to postpone everything, but we knew we still wanted to get married.

Eliza: We had such a short period of time. If we had months, I could see being in the mindset of postponing. But for us, that was our wedding day. Come hell or high water, we wanted to get married. We got married on March 21, which was the first weekend it wasn’t really feasible to do much. So, we had to dismantle everything pretty quickly. At one point, we almost considered getting married Wednesday night, because we were a little bit worried we wouldn’t actually be able to get legally married. Everything was just happening so quickly. But the man who married us assured us he was willing to come. We ended up holding out with the caveat that we said to him, “If at any point you feel uncomfortable, just let us know, and we can get married just the two of us.”

Beth: It started sinking in around the second week of March. My daughter was getting ready to go on spring break to Florida, and that’s when everything started getting really iffy. I was coming to Alexandria, Virginia, where we are going to be moving, and my mom was supposed to be coming with me. We kind of decided she probably didn’t need to be out and about and traveling. That’s when I was like, “I’m not sure what this is going to look like.”

Julianne: I think the first week in March is when I started getting kind of stressed about it. As the weeks went on, we decided we were not going to invite friends, and we would just scale it down to the wedding party, their significant others, and immediate family. About two weeks before the wedding, that was kind of our plan — to keep it under 50 people. About 10 days before the wedding, we decided to completely cancel, and we were just going to do us and our siblings and parents, and try to keep it to about 15 people. The pastor said, “If you keep it under 15 people, I’ll still marry you in the church.” Then, the week before the wedding, we started getting a lot of positive cases at the hospital we both work at — I’m a nurse practitioner in the ER, and Ted’s a resident physician. He was actually on the ICU rotation, and we decided he was too exposed. I didn’t want him to get around my family, especially my grandma. So, we decided to move the wedding up a week and called his parents and told them the day before, “Hey, we’re going to get married tomorrow!”

Mr. and Mrs. Clymer saying vows during quarantine wedding

“Neither one of us wanted to postpone it,” says Beth. “We wanted to go ahead and be married — to move forward with things. We just had no idea what that was going to look like. My husband is the optimistic one who makes lemonade out of lemons. I was the one saying, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to do this. I don’t want to go to the justice of the peace.'” Image: Beth Clymer

What did the big day end up looking like?

Ann Walker: I have always loved Sewanee. I grew up going up to the mountain, and my grandfather went to Sewanee before it was a coed school. His name is in the chapel at the church there. It was also one of the first places Daniel and I went after we started dating — we went up for a day trip to go hiking. So we were like, what if we went up there? There’s this beautiful cross that overlooks this valley of Franklin County, and it’s our favorite spot. Close family friends have a house up there and said they would have the reception. So, we decided to just have our families and get married. Yes, we wanted all of our people to be there, but ultimately, what mattered was the fact that we wanted to be married. I also had Daniel’s wedding ring very carefully engraved with “March 20, 2020,” so … We were getting married on the 20th! Everyone gathered at their house, and I went to the back bathroom to get ready on my own — very cool, calm and collected. We told everyone to go ahead to the cross to wait, and I stayed there with my parents to finish getting ready. Not five minutes after they left, it started downpouring. Not a sprinkle — torrential sideways rain. The whole nine yards.

There are gates as you go into Sewanee proper, and you’re supposed to tap your ceiling because it releases your angel. When you’re within the perimeter of Sewanee, you’re considered safe. When you leave, you tap again so your Sewanee angel follows you to protect you while you’re out in the world. So, every time we drive through, we tap our ceiling. Campus was closed because of corona, but a Sewanee angel provided us with a dry place to say our vows. My dad walked me down the aisle, my friend was our photographer, her husband was our videographer, and their son played the violin for us. After that, we went back to their house to celebrate. Whoever thought that getting married in 2020 would look like this? We worked so hard to plan this (unintentionally) large wedding, only to have it fall apart in a matter of hours. But we’re married, and that’s what’s important to us.

Eliza: We wound up getting married with just family in my parents’ backyard. So, that was quite a departure from our original plan. Of course, we ended up having to cut out all the floss — no caterer, no late-night, no music. Originally, we were having a big 14-piece band, so we just pared it down to the essentials. Our flowers had already been ordered, so our florist ended up coming over and delivering them to my parents’ house. My mom entertains all the time, and she’s very creative, so she did a great job of making it look wonderful. Our photographer came, and hair and makeup agreed to come as well. I don’t know if it would have been possible to have that component even a week later, but that was a big part of making the day feel a little bit more like a traditional wedding day.

Beth: We decided to do it online and have a wedding where everyone was with us instead of just 25 people. We had the ceremony in our backyard in our new house in Alexandria, Virginia. It was still very important to me to have the ministers who were originally going to marry us because we know them really well. They are both ordained Methodist ministers, so they can marry anyone, anywhere … or so we thought. The Tuesday before the wedding, after we had already overnighted the marriage license to them, they called and said, “The city of Alexandria is not going to allow us to marry you without coming in person.” So, we reached out to a church right down the street from us. The minister there was absolutely wonderful and said, “Hey, no big deal. I’ll come and do the legal part, and your ministers can still marry you.” So our ministers married us from their house in Nashville, and the minister from the church here in Alexandria signed the paperwork and did whatever was legally required. It took a village. It was not at all what it was supposed to look like, but it was very memorable and a lot of fun. We made it work.

Julianne: Our pastor backed out the night before. He called at the last minute to say he couldn’t marry us unless it were just the two of us, without our parents. My mom called her own pastor, who we’d never met but who agreed to marry us, and we got married in our friend’s backyard. Our parents, siblings, and a couple of other family members were there. We had to-go food in my parent’s living room and did our first dance. My mother-in-law brought me a bouquet that one of her friends made, and my sister-in-law got a little two-tiered cake so we could still use our cake toppers. We still had our guest book out for people to sign, and we made a little toast. Thankfully, our photographer came, so we have pictures. Surprisingly, we lost a lot of money; some of our vendors weren’t very understanding. But thankfully, a lot of them are letting us reschedule.

Ann Walker and Daniel exchange sips of champagne at wedding reception during quarantine

“My mom had gotten a mini version of our wedding cake, so we cut the cake and then had our first dance on the front porch,” says Ann Walker. Image: Ann Walker Greenlee Huttchson

Beth's backyard wedding

“My husband, Christian, reached out to his good friend who owns a PR firm, and said we were thinking about doing our wedding on Zoom,” Beth says. “His friend said, ‘This is the best thing we’ve ever heard. Everybody needs some good news right now!’ So, he took it and ran with it.” Image: Beth Clymer

Did you wear your dress?

Ann Walker: No. I was wearing white pants, a white top and my rose gold Birkenstocks.

Eliza: I did. I debated back-and-forth because my dress was picked out for a bigger event – not a backyard wedding. But I kind of figured, when else am I going to wear it? It’s still my wedding day, even though it looks different than what I envisioned it would.

Beth: No. I ordered a dress from Nordstrom — a “church dress.” My wedding dress is actually still at the bridal salon in Nashville.

Julianne: I wore my dress. I wasn’t going to — I was just going to wear what I had planned to wear for our rehearsal dinner, but my mom was like, “No, this is still your wedding. You still need to get dressed up and look beautiful.”

RELATED: 7 Life Lessons We’re Learning From the Quarantine

Julianne and Ted outside together during quarantine wedding

Of her wedding day, Julianne says, “It turned out to be perfect even though it wasn’t everything we hoped it would be. We still got married to each other at the end of the day. It’s definitely a story to tell our kids and grandkids.” Image: Ashly McCoy

What is the most memorable part of your day?

Ann Walker: I remember walking down and just seeing Daniel — we both just cried the whole time. We’d cried every day up until then, really. That Thursday and Friday before were a disaster! We went ahead and exchanged wedding gifts to one another just to help lighten the mood and make ourselves feel better. But all we needed was our family there. We wanted all of our friends there, but those are the most important people to us. Between that and a good sense of humor, that’s what made it for us.

Eliza: Probably the same as it would’ve been with our original plan —walking out with my dad and seeing the people we care about most there, celebrating us. I didn’t do a first look; I never planned to. But that moment was incredibly special and probably not all that different than it would’ve been with our original plan. Also, my sister pulled out all the stops. She made this 30-minute video, and so many of our friends and family sent in toasts for us. They put on tuxes and did skits and funny toasts, and my sister made it into one big video. She picked up a projector screen from an old coworker of hers who had one, and set it up in my parents’ sunroom, so we were able to watch it with our families. It made it feel like everyone was there. I still can’t believe she pulled that off. It was a total surprise!

Beth: The fact that we had so many people who tuned in who were not going to get to be a part of it, and the fact that we were able to bring so much joy during a tough time. It gave people something to look forward to. At one point during the ceremony, Christian and I were holding hands while we were praying, and my daughter reached out to Christian’s daughter Mary. So, we were all four holding hands. It was just a really special moment.

Julianne: This probably sounds silly, but as I was walking down the aisle, Ted pulled Germ-X out of his pocket. I was in tears, laughing! He squirted some on our hands and the minister’s hands before we even started the ceremony. It was hilarious to me.

 

Eliza and her parents on her wedding day during the quarantine.

“My mom was very helpful with it,” Eliza tells us. “She was like, ‘This sucks, and you get to be disappointed about the fact there are certain pieces that aren’t going to be what you want. But it’s still a really happy thing, and aren’t you ready to just be married?'” Image: Meghan McSweeney Photography

Congratulations to these beautiful brides! Thank you for sharing your stories with us, and we wish you all a world of health and happiness as you embark on your married lives!

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