Recently, the Friendly Neighbors invited us to go with them to a Valentine’s Day concert at their church. The singer is a professional musician who recently joined a moderately well-known musical group founded in the 1950s. His music could be described as a mixture of pop, folk-rock, and light rock from the 50s and 60s. The musician’s wife (a successful writer of children’s books as well as a decent singer herself) joined him in a couple of songs. A couple members of the congregation (reasonably good musicians themselves) also joined him in a couple of songs. The performer played piano and guitar. The median age of the audience was around our age (mid-60s). My wife and I had a good time with the other old fogies, just as some of today’s rappers will some day sit around with other old hip hoppers and quietly beam at favorite lyrics insulting “ho’s” from the first decade of this century.

However, that is not my story today. The Friendly Neighbors, and in fact, the entire church congregation, were all abuzz about a “surprise Valentine’s wedding” held at the church service that day.

I don’t have every detail of the story, but it runs something like this. B, a member of the church, is a man of part-Navajo descent (though not much in touch with his heritage) about 40 years old and unmarried. About ten years ago he joined their church, suffering from alcoholism and other problems. His participation in the church helped him overcome his problems and today he is the sales manager of a large auto dealership. (As my wife and I have been seeking a newer used truck as we consolidate down to one vehicle, we had some contact B in his sales manager persona; not entirely successful but reasonably described as “no harm-no foul.” It’s part of a larger, rather irritating experience involving our vehicle purchase I won’t discuss right now.)

B has been seeking a wife in Russia, apparently using one of those lonely-heart services that match up lonely American men with attractive poverty-stricken Russian women seeking a better life by marrying an American man. This somehow involved a trip to Israel. I don’t know the whole story. Also, apparently a few years ago, B had married a Ukrainian woman but it didn’t work out. Romance is a difficult and dangerous business, but ever-optimistic, B was willing to try again, this time with M, a Russian woman.

B brought his Russian prospect to the United States and they became engaged. The wedding was set for late March. However, B apparently has a taste for the dramatic-romantic, and launched a plot to have a surprise early St. Valentine’s Day wedding (actually at the Sunday after St. Valentine’s Day, but close enough, don’t you think)?


As the Friendly Neighbor told us the story at dinner before we went to the concert, I asked, “You mean she got married without a wedding dress?”

“No,” said the Friendly Neighbor. “He told M that it is an American custom for the bride to wear her wedding dress a month before the wedding for good luck.” Deceived by this amiable instant legend, M wore her wedding dress to church that Sunday.

B had also clued in the rest of the congregation on his plan. He had already secretly brought her relatives to the United States, and scattered them in edges of the people listening to the sermon where M could not see them from where she sat.

The minister and the rest of the congregation were in on the plot. The Friendly Neighbor has a Navajo basket which he brought to the wedding; a friend brought an eagle feather.

In the midst of the regular church service, apparently B said something to the effect of, “Surprise!” “We are getting married, right now, right here!” Everyone then launched into the wedding. The minister, apparently an eclectic and flexible sort of cleric, worked some sort of Navajo rituals involving the basket and the eagle feather into the ceremony.

The wedding had occurred earlier that day. (My wife and I had not been there.) That evening, at the Valentine’s Day concert, the congregation were still buzzing about the surprise wedding. Apparently a scheme such as this represents pretty exciting hi-jinks for the members of this church. Everyone chuckled and muttered about it in a combination of lively delight and grave concern whether or not it will all work out for B this time.