On August 3rd, 2013, six months ago today, we got married in a snowmobile/generator mechanic shop in Antarctica. It was the austral winter, and we hadn’t seen the sun in months. Did this really even happen?
[I realize that we briefly talked about this event on facebook, vague anecdotes and pictures trickled through, but we never made the whole story public to the internet (far flung friends and family, this one’s for you), or gave many people the proper public credit they deserve (McMurdo Winter Crew 2013, this one’s for you). There were many, many hands involved with the creation and execution of the event, and we really just can’t thank you enough. This is a lengthy story, and that’s ok. We love you. Here goes.]
The Postal Service holds several meanings for us. The band, we exclusively listened to during our brief initial courtship in 2006. The USPS, we exclusively used to deliver mail to each other while I was in Antarctica for a year and Bryan was in San Francisco 2006-2007. Collin Stackhouse, Joseph Singleton (violins), Kira Morris, Charlotte Howell (vocals), and Brad Geer (director), performed the song, “Such Great Heights” (by The Postal Service the band), as we rappelled from the second floor of the Science Support Center (ok, “technically” lowered by Mountaineer Ben Adkison). Our Wedding Party, who waited for our arrival onstage, was a result of those who signed up on the rec board sign up sheet and was a ragtag group of heavy equipment operators, Science Support staff, warehouse workers, mechanics, IT crowd, fuelies, Kiwis, and other people that make up the community that makes McMurdo go.
The rest of the event was a bit of a surprise to us, or, shall I say, it held surprises all around. Our officiant was the newly minted Universal Life Church Minister, Communications Technician, and long-time Phillusionist Rev. Philip Doug Jacobsen. As Phil put it to us weeks before, “We can do this your way, or we can do this my way. I would prefer you do it my way and let me run with it. I see the ceremony as kind of an entertaining show, and you get married at the end.” We were cool with that, and recognized (and appreciate) all the effort he put into orchestrating one of the greatest/most elaborate ceremonies we’ve ever been part of, but it was still the biggest trust fall of my life.
After a couple welcome zingers and jokes, Phil was about to tell our story when friend, filmmaker, and Waste Management Supervisor Ben Morin stood up in the audience, interrupted, and screened a video they had made in secret – The Drunk History of How Sandwich and Bryan Met.
- I must pause here, and tell you that it’s really hard to keep a secret in McMurdo, and even harder to do so in the winter. Hats off to you, Ben, Phil, and everyone. -
- I must pause again and admit that when the title of the video flashed on the screen, and we did not know what was in store for the next 17 minutes, may I refer to the aforementioned trust fall. -
The video was hilarious. (You may have seen Phil’s other work here.) The entire room was holding-their-guts laughing. Many other brides might have been horrified to see some drunk guy trying to reiterate the story of how she fell in love with her husband-to-be. Our McMurdo friends re-enacted the origin story of our relationship, creating scenes they’ve never been to, impersonating people they’ve never met. All made with love, cardboard, string, and an iPad. To us, it couldn’t have been perfecter. Everyone loved it. I almost peed myself at my own wedding. Internet, behold: https://vimeo.com/76196823
Phil had contacted our families and close friends back home. Melanie Troftgruben, our station Physician’s Assistant, read speeches from our moms. It was hard, having a wedding without family and friends from back home present. The sentiment was dear, and emotions got real – all over my face. (ps San Francisco and New England – We’re getting married stateside this Summer.) Thank you for including our families.
There may not have been traditional, repeatable vows, but there was magic: Phil’s famous storytelling card trick of love and future. We selected cards that told the fortune of love, and some things to expect, look forward to, and work towards to build a solid marriage and maintain a stable relationship. And of course, when the time came to guess which card I was holding, Phil’s sharpie-decorated chest burst out of his shirt screaming IS THIS YOUR CARD? I love that trick. And we did not see it coming.
I’ll be honest, the week before, when Phil asked if we knew what a handfasting ceremony was, we said yes, but thought that was a little too hippie for Phil (and us). Trustfall: with the McMurdo spin on it, our wrists were bound with 2” velcro, tygon tubing, climbing rope, and metal banding (complete with banding tools, clip, and an assist from Waste Technician Shannon Wilson) – each material with their own special meaning to our lives and work in Antarctica.
Phil had MAPCON records made from the MET. Bryan and I are officially in a DOS-based inventory database, gathering dust on a shelf somewhere in Warehouse 004.
In traditional ceremonies, next would come the part where we would exchange rings and kiss. This being winter in Antarctica and a lack of jewelry stores or smiths, on top of the fact that we are not ring people (Bryan has webbed fingers), we decided to do our own thing. Since the US Postal Service had served us well cementing the foundation of our relationship, we found it an appropriate theme to serve as the backdrop to our wedding. We had found a scrap piece of junky 4×8 plywood, and painted it like an airmail envelope addressed to us. With other scraps of plywood, we painted and cut two 1’x1.5’ stamps – one with a mustache and one with a sandwich, both icons laid on top of a line drawing of the Continent. In lieu of exchanging rings we didn’t have and wouldn’t wear, we screwed these plywood stamps onto the plywood airmail envelope (with a DeWalt screw gun that matched out wedding attire).
Immediately after Phil pronounced us screwed, we ran out of the Science Support Center building together, holding hands, out into the Antarctic night. This would be the equivalent of exiting a chapel, I guess, and moving on to the reception part of the evening. A small Kawasaki Mule was waiting for us at the bottom of the metal industrial stairs, chauferred by friend and Groomsman Martin Dragonbeard Robinson. We hopped in the back, Martin drove us in a big donut around the quad for approximately 45 seconds, parked in the exact same position he picked us up in, and we proceeded up the metal industrial stairs amidst a flurry of snowballs (throwing rice would be littering the pristine environment) to commence the reception. Which involved live music, dancing, and an obligatory conga line. People dressed in dresses and suits and tuxes, and flannel and jeans. There was a skeleton and a penguin and a drag queen and a clown and buttless chaps. Upon hearing our wedding colors, Zach and Jen dyed their skin yellow with turmeric.
THE DRESS. In McMurdo, we work with what we’ve got. My wedding dress consisted of a corset made from Carhartts, a polar tent, and a month and a half of my spare time. Somehow I saw potential in a single pair of black Carhartt pants with a blown-out crotch. I navigated the usable fabric, rivets, tiny pockets, and tag onto an industrial sewing machine, grommeted the back for lacing, and used 12” heavy duty zipties for boning to make the corset. (I also pulled out my hair a little bit a lot.) The skirt was made from the top of a retired, UV-faded yellow conical Scott tent. I just clipped off the top to fit my waist, added a retired cargo strap, inserted a Carhartt fly (because I had one lying around: see above) as a zipper in the back, sewed some Antarctica-shaped patches to cover rips and stains (classy!), and added D-rings and a small carabiner to clip up the train. I made a tiny top hat out of cereal boxes, scrap Carhartt, scrap Scott tent, zipper, and a feather I ripped off a terrible Mardi Gras mask. The retired Scott Tent also provided fabric for a vest I made for Bryan, bowties that he made for himself and groomsmen, flower corsages and barrettes for the wedding party, and tons of pennant flags throughout the shop. Huge thanks goes to Sarah Leonetti for being there while I fit the damn dress, for tracing out the shape of the skirt, keeping me on track, and dressing me the night of the event. And thank you to Amy Shields, who made the bouquet out of Antarctic maps (lack of flora on the 7th Continent and all) and telco wire.
THE FOOD. Logan, our intrepid (yes, intrepid) baker volunteered to make desserts. Displayed on a silver platter during dinner in the galley were hundreds of cookie mustaches (“Kiechle Cookies”), piped with chocolate and perched on a small white stick. At the wedding, the cake was multi-tiered, gorgeous, and included devils food, jelly, Italian butter cream, and whisky. It delightfully matched the colors of our outfits: A black (fondant) backlit silhouette of the Royal Society Mountains across McMurdo Sound, with a gradient of soft yellow (Italian butter cream frosting) signifying the slow return of the sun to Antarctica. That’s pretty damn poetic (and way more poetic than the selection process of our colors – “Carhartt and Scott Tent, yep, that’s what we’ve got”). Tiny metallic stars climbed up the cake, and two small maps of San Francisco folded into paper airplanes on toothpicks perched on the top, ready to take off home.
Also big thanks to the galley for creating a wonderful meal, to Kira for creating the ambiance and decorations, to those who helped set up and quickly clean up, and to Sarah, Liz, Sue, Bamma, Stef, Logan, and all who helped put in extra time with hors d’oeuvres (prosciutto wrapped dates!) at the event.
The décor: There was so much, we are still shaking our heads as to how it all happened. First of all, it wouldn’t have been as beautiful as it was without Kira Morris, our wedding planner. We. Had. A wedding planner. I sent her my Pinterest page (yeah, I guess I turned into THAT bride), spent a couple of evenings crafting on her floor with her, and she pretty much did the rest. She incorporated the industrial function of the mechanic shop among sheets, drapery, art, and lighting to transform it into a completely different place. She made fluffy clouds with soft lighting that hung above the audience as we rappelled in. She draped sheets from a hoist and made the stage look like a circus tent. Our RSVP airmail Mad Lib postcards were strung like garland and spilled out of a giant model airplane made by Dave White. Kira painted a giant variegated watercolor map of the world that hung next to the cake, and sketched a portrait of Bryan and I on canvas and let the community color us in. She coordinated the community of volunteers for load-in, decorated the Galley for the dinner, clean up, moving furniture and equipment, etc.
Our friend Libor says that the greatest gift you can give someone is time. At McMurdo, there is never enough time. We work ten hours a day, six days a week. Those hours are often spent in below zero temperatures in unforgiving wind chills doing physical thankless labor. After work and after dinner, there may be a good couple hours in you before you completely pass out and do it all again the following day. Sunday is your one day off. During the ceremony, Phil spoke about the Greatest Gift. I looked around the room. I looked at the people in the audience, and the wedding party behind us. All of this happened. Many hands made this happen with valuable time they didn’t have. They did this for us, for each other, for the community. In August, after a season of being tired, this. I had a series of unblinking moments where it didn’t seem to be real. There were fluffy clouds with lights in them. There were hundreds of handmade paper flowers, and I don’t know who made them. Phil spilled a beer on the stage during the ceremony and asked for another. They made a movie. For us. There’s a clown in the third row. Morale and motivation was high. The sun would finally rise next week. I’m madly in love. And holy shit, we just got married.
Here are the pictures. Thank the photographers. http://www.flickr.com/photos/sandwichgirl/sets/72157634936230991/
Our hearts are bursting with love for you. Some of you barely knew us, some of you knew us too well. Six months later, as we open the boxes of our winter wedding celebration and live it all again, we’re thinking of you. It was perfect. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. (Remember, the coupon is no good if you don’t use it)
This is my best attempt at listing them all:
The MEC: thank you for letting us use your space. Station Managers: thank you for letting us do this.
Wedding planner/Volunteer Coordinatrix: Kira Morris
Officiant/Master of Ceremony/Mastermind: Rev. Phil Jacobsen
Groomsmen: Zach Anderson, Jeron Garcia, Dan Pells, David Chu, Larry Fabulous, Mike Rowe, Tim Delany, Martin Robinson, Todd Russell
Bridesmaids: Spring Wood, Colleen Hardiman, Meghan Brown, Molly Anderson, Dan Vedra, Dean Martin, Sue Nylander, Shannon Wilson, Bamma Mellott
Flowergirls/boys: Faye Lee, Rich Gunderson, Liz Widen
The Cake (and mustache cookies!): Logan Atkinson
Food: Sue Nylander, Bamma Mellott, Sarah Leonetti, Liz Widen, Shane Stevens, Logan Atkinson, the entire MCM galley (filet mignon!)
DJ: Michael Hartman
Live Music: Zac Schroeder, Jason Barcomb, Mark Walsh, Libor Zicha, Tim Deale
Toasts: Phil Jacobsen, Melanie Troftgruben, Ben Morin, Nikki Beard, Libor Zicha, Erin Heard, Spring Wood
Photogs: Deven Stross, Ben Adkison, Meghan Brown, Rich Jeong, Eric Woolley
Dress advice/fitter: Sarah Leonetti
Bouquet: Amy Shields/Santos
Flower makers/décor/setup/cleanup/everything: Wedding Planner Kira Morris, Todd Russell, Phil Baur, Rachel Javorsek, Erin Heard, the MEC, Lance Warrick, Libor Zicha, the entire wedding party, Jeremy Nylander, Shannon Wilson, Mikey Lofton, Jason Miers, Bryan Chambers, Natalie Potell
THE VIDEO: Ben Morin, Phil Jacobsen, Spring Wood, Mike Rowe, Shannon Wilson, Molly Anderson, Zach Anderson, Collin Stackhouse, Nikki Beard, Jason Miers, Colleen Hardiman
GIFTS: Ray Reed, Shannon Wilson, Mikey Lofton, The Firehouse, Jaron Garcia, Dave White, Storm Schott, Dan Vedra, Libor Zicha, Ben Morin, Molly Anderson, Spring Wood, Nikki Beard, Miles, Scott Base, and the anonymous person who left us that 1/3 bottle of Buffalo Trace – we know what that means, and I nearly cried when I saw that. Thank you all.
QUILT: The Quilt deserves its own photo album and blog post. Massive thanks to Sue Nylander, Bamma Mellott, Mike Rowe, Colleen Hardiman, Cynthia Spence, Stefanie White, Todd Russell, Collin Stackhouse, Cindy Foster, Anita Keitel, Liz Widen, Kira Morris, Meghan Brown, Jeremy Nylander, Phil Baur, Bryan Chambers
THE VACUUM: Bryan received the best gift a boy could ask for: A Dyson stick vac he had been ogling for months. Maybe longer. (NOTE: Since there’s no mail for months without a plane in Antarctica, they collected money for this gift, which was beyond thoughtful and totally nailed it. I couldn’t have selected a better present).