COVER

FOR BETTER AND FOR WORSE

An album of memories records eight couples taking the plunge

June 28 1993
COVER

FOR BETTER AND FOR WORSE

An album of memories records eight couples taking the plunge

June 28 1993

FOR BETTER AND FOR WORSE

An album of memories records eight couples taking the plunge

Except for the wire fence in the distance, David Spenst could have been any other anxious groom, clasping his bride’s hand as they stood before the altar, struggling to remember his vows. David and Carol met a decade ago. He dated one of her girlfriends and they attended the same church in Red Deer, Alta. But they lost touch—and did not meet again until after his arrest in November, 1990, for a series of Edmonton bank robberies.

“When I read in the paper that he had been arrested, I was really shocked,” says Carol Spenst, now 25. She prayed for him, she says, and began to write and to visit him occasionally at the Bowden prison south of Red Deer. “I was just visiting as a friend, to give him support,” she explains. Unexpectedly, romance bloomed, “ft was easy to get to know each other,” she says. “We had nothing to do but talk.”

It was not as easy being in love with a prisoner. “I’ve had people tell me he’s conning me,” Carol says. “And I understand—if a friend had been marrying a guy in prison, I would have said, ‘No way.’ ” But she insists that David has changed. “Everybody makes a mistake,” she says. ‘Well, David made several big mistakes—and he’s paying for them.” Still, Carol had to deal with her own self-doubts: “I gave a lot of thought to the old martyr syndrome. I can see that tendency in myself and it’s unhealthy. I don’t think it came into play here. We’re normal, happy people. Our relationship just has some unusual challenges.” Organizing a wedding was one of them. David Spenst, now 26, had to fill out endless forms, applying to prison authorities for permission to marry, to bring in flowers, a cake and the 30 family and friends attending

the April wedding. The groom wore an Armani suit, the bride wore a short gown—“like a goddess in white,” David sighs.

Afterwards, the couple were allowed a three-day family visit at the prison. “It was too short and it was sad,” says David. Now in his third year of an eight-year, two-month sentence, he is eligible for parole next January. The pair long for the chance to deal with the more commonplace challenges of married life. “She told me I have to keep the toilet seat down, and I agreed,” laughs David. Adds his bride: “I’ve no doubt that our marriage will survive those day-to-day things—I look forward to them. We know what it’s like to be without each other.”

Cheri Bossence pinned an open invitation to her wedding on the wall of the Mortlach post office, just in case anyone in the village of 350 in southern Saskatchewan had not yet heard about it. But that seems unlikely—the wedding preparations had already become a community effort. Weeks before the May ceremony, Bossence’s father, her fiancé, Dan Kujat, 24, and some friends, ground about 200 lb. of beef and pork from the Bossence farm to make sausages. Then Cheri’s stepmother and her neighbors made 300 lb. of cabbage rolls. And, on the wedding day, local churchwomen

cooked and served the ham and turkey dinner—charging only for the cost of the food.

Because so many people pitched in, the wedding, including a dinner for 150 people and a dance and midnight supper at the Mortlach community hall for more than 300, cost the families less than $6,000, says the 22-year-old bride. “I’m a small-town girl and it doesn't seem out of the ordinary,” she adds. “But my fiancé couldn’t believe the stuff we could afford.” However, Kujat, who grew up in Kamloops, B.C., a city of 65,000, has made himself at home in the prairie lend-a-hand culture. The couple live and attend university in Regina. But in the weeks before the wedding, they went to Cheri’s father’s farm, where Dan helped castrate and brand bull calves before letting the cattle out to pasture. “I’m knee-deep in it,” he beamed on the eve of his wedding. “It’s sure a different environment, but it’s neat.”

There were not one but two robed priests. Beside them stood two dapper, tuxedoed grooms. Parked in front of the Eastern Orthodox Church in downtown Toronto were two white stretch limousines. And coming up the aisle, to the strains of a Macedonian wedding song, were two beautiful—and almost identical—twin brides, Helen and Elizabeth Papaconstantinos. “All I have is my two girls—they are my only children,” said their mother, May. ‘To see them take husbands on the same day, in the same church, brings me great joy.” Double love has been compounding since an evening in 1991, when Kogan Pillay invited his best Mend, John Forshaw, to a get-together of his office mates, including Helen and Elizabeth. Kogan asked Helen for a date that night; a few weeks later, John followed suit with Elizabeth. The foursome began double-dating regularly. “Dating with Liz was something I had always avoided,” recalls Helen, now 30. “Her boyMends were always into disco and had too much gel in their hair. But John is a great guy.” Six months after their first date, John asked Elizabeth to many him, and six months after that, Kogan proposed to Helen. At first, the sisters were reluctant to share their wedding day, says Helen, “because we have always shared everything else.” But their father, Jim, did not want his brother to have to make two trips from his home in Australia. And despite the cost of

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the May wedding—with 370 guests, about $50,000—everyone was happy. “I think my dad was so relieved, he didn’t care what it cost,” jokes Elizabeth. “Thirty is pretty old for a Macedonian girl.” Helen says that she “feels like I’ve got a husband and a half. I really do feel married to John and Liz, too.” It is a sentiment that is likely to endure. After returning from their separate honeymoons, the couples plan to start house-hunting—for a duplex.

Joyce LeMouel always wanted a traditional native wedding. A Dene, she spent much of her youth in Fort McMurray in northern Alberta. “I was more exposed to the white culture there,” she says. But in her teens, she lived several winters with her grandparents, on trap lines in Embairás Portage, south of Lake Athabasca. “It instilled traditions in me and a great appreciation for the land,” she says. When she became engaged to Fred LeMouel, now 36, a Métis from Yellowknife, she began > to do research into native weddings. %

What emerged, after months of planning ¡2 and finger-numbing work, was a twoday, three-tradition event—a blend of Dene, Métis and western cultures.

Joyce, now 31, designed and sewed her own dress. “I couldn’t get hold of caribou hide on time,” she laughs, “so I went and ordered material—cowhide I’m ashamed to say.” For two weeks, she beaded the gown with turquoise and royal-blue beads. Then she made Métis shirts with satin ribbons for the groom and his ushers. And when she entered the Roman Catholic Church in Yellowknife, Dene drummers performed the processional.

The evening reception was western—complete with a country band. But the next morning, she invited her family and elders to her home for a pipe ceremony. ‘We were sitting in a circle,” she explains. “We had prayer and blessings. And the pipe was offered person-to-person.” Only the men take from the pipe. “The women are highly honored because they are life-givers; the men show their humility by taking the pipe. It is a very spiritual thing.”

It was raining at the Port Sidney Marina outside Victoria when the bride arrived, clad in yellow gum boots and a huge green trenchcoat over her wedding outfit; silk blue-and-white striped T-shirt and shorts. The groom wore a black cowboy hat and leather jacket over his denim shirt and jeans. The couple tied the knot in May aboard a rented converted fishing trawler anchored just inside Canadian waters. Then the newlyweds—sailing buffs who have their own 37-foot boat—took their 20 guests for a cruise around the Gulf Islands. “We did everything in an ultra-, ultra-, ultracasual West Coast boating style,” says 41year-old Daina Eby, who has taken a year off from her job as a civil servant to write a book about dog-walking.

Both the bride and the groom, 43-yearold physician John Eby, were married before—large traditional weddings—and

they wanted something more personal. “Being on the open water,” says the groom, “is a symbol of freedom—free of the proprieties and rules that restrict you from being yourself.” But it was still important to get married, they say. “I grew up in the late 1960s and the 1970s when we were trying to throw over the old order,” says Daina. “Open marriages and free love were the thinking then. Now that I’m older, I see the value of the rituals human beings established—there’s a lot of value to a public affirmation of the depth of my commitment.”

For Darcel Williams Hart and Charles Hart, their June wedding was a reflection of their own values—and a public statement in a black community plagued by family breakdown. Charles Hart grew up in Uniacke Square, a housing project in north-end Halifax. His future bride lived a few blocks away. They were both raised in singleparent families, Charles by his father, Darcel by her mother. Now 29, Charles, who completed a bachelor of commerce degree at Halifax’s Saint Mary’s University, is a technical training officer with the Royal Bank. Darcel, 25, earned her bache lor of education from Saint Mary’s this summer, and is looking for work. Both are active in their community— Darcel through her church and Charles as the organizer of a basketball tournament—and both see themselves as role models. ‘There are lots of single-parent families in the black community,” says Darcel. “We want to show that the family structure is important to us.”

Charles admits to what he calls “the usual concerns every guy has—if we have an argument, I can’t just walk out the door.” But, despite Canada’s high divorce rate, he is optimistic. “What gives us inspiration,” says Charles, “is when we see our older relatives who have been together for 35 or 40 years. We know that if they can make it, we can, too.”

Sophie Savoy and Michel Saillant had been living together in Montreal for about a year when they decided to make it official. “I wouldn’t say there are social pressures to get married from parents like, say, 50 years ago,” says Savoy, now 31. “But there are other pressures to have one partner and not be so liberated as in the 1970s.

With diseases such as AIDS, values have returned somewhat to those of our parents’ day.” The couple wanted an intimate wedding—but bowed to her parents’ desire for a lavish affair. They hired a bridal consultant, invited 150 guests and organized a gala on the grounds of the Savoy family estate. They rented four tents, including a 4,000-square-foot reception tent complete with cathedral windows.

They had wooden floors built, and installed shrubbery and an apple tree trimmed with white lights. The affair cost Savoy’s parents—her father is president of a large office-supply company— about $125,000.

Three years later, pregnant with their second child and contending with diapers, bottles and an infant’s whimsical time schedule, Savoy says that it was all worth it.

“It was so beautiful,” she says, “our marriage started out on such a positive note.”

University-educated, athletic and articulate, Ninu Dhaliwal made decisions for herself. But she expected her parents to help her choose a husband. “I grew up with this perception that an arranged marriage was OK,” says Ninu, who now runs a counselling program that deals with family violence. “It wasn’t something that was just thrown on me at the age of 21.” In fact, Ninu’s parents had introduced her to seven or eight prospective husbands before they arranged a meeting with Narindar Kang, now 31. Ninu, whose family moved to Victoria from India when she was 10, was skeptical at first—Narindar is fourth-generation Canadian and, she says, “It was very shocking to me that this man who was so worldly was still considering an arranged marriage.” But over tea and sweets, the two families chatted while “we sat across the room, checking each other out.”

Raised in southern Alberta, Narindar had tried dating as well as arranged introductions. “I was caught between two beliefs and it

easily could have gone the other way,” he says. But Ninu “knocked me off my feet.” She was more cautious—they were both immersed in university and, at that first meeting, they made no commitments. It was not until IV2 years later, after she had completed her economics degree at the University of Victoria and he was finishing law school at the University of California, that they met again. “My parents gave this leeway, to see each other three or four times,” says Ninu. “That is where the crunch comes. There’s not a lot of time to dillydally.”

She took the plunge. “I can’t honestly say I was in love with him when we decided to marry,” says Ninu, now 27. “I mean I liked this guy. I thought he had a lot of potential and I liked his jokes. But I had to rely on my parents’ criteria—his family background, his education. It was somewhat of a risk.”

They married three years ago at a Sikh temple 2 in Surrey, just outside Vancouver. Now, Ninu 1 says, they are deeply in love. “But we didn’t just ^ mesh,” she says. “We didn’t really have this intima8 cy from the beginning, we developed it. We were ^ both strong personalities—I’m a very assertive § woman.” But, she goes on: “You really have to believe that the system is going to work. Whenever we had arguments, he used to say things like, ‘No matter what you do, I’m never going to leave you.’ That was very comforting to hear.” Adds Ninu: “Some of the things he does still drive me nuts. But at the end of the day, I love this man.”

MARY NEMETH with JOHN DeMONT in Halifax,

VICTOR DWYER in Toronto and ANNMcLAUGHUN in Montreal