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I was an October Surprise Bride and lived to tell the tale

My husband and I had always wanted a fall wedding. It’s such a beautiful time of year. Most of our family is out of town and we wanted to avoid the holiday season. So when we were picking a date, we looked at the calendar and found an autumn Saturday that was available at the spot where we wanted to hold our reception.

The date we chose? Oct. 14, 2006.

That makes me more than an October bride; that makes me an October Surprise Bride, who’s celebrating her 10th anniversary today and remembering all the things we had to overcome before we could say “I do.”

It never occurred to us that weather would be an issue. We did stock up on umbrellas in case of rain. And I was sure the party had something to cover their shoulders if it was cold.

Who worries about snow in October?

But on Thursday Oct. 12, two days before my wedding, I watched the snow come down in North Tonawanda. I thought it was pretty. We weren’t concerned at all.

Not at first, anyway.

We never lost power and we had no flooding in our basement. People around us did … but our block did not. We were so fortunate. My husband spent the night trying to save the branches of our trees by knocking the snow off as we listened to them cry out from the weight of the snow and ice. I was racing to print out my wedding programs for the church. I was so afraid that we were going to lose power. (I like to wait until the last minute.) I also made some tearful calls to my family members fearing that the wedding would be canceled.

It's not every wedding photo in which you see a groom with a chainsaw

It's not every wedding photo in which you see a groom with a chainsaw

When we woke up on Oct. 13, there were branches and wires down on both ends of our street. Our large maple tree in the yard had lost some large branches into our yard and our neighbors.

Our rehearsal was supposed to be at the church that day, but it never happened because the church was dark. I did end up having our rehearsal dinner at Pane’s in North Tonawanda.

My family was traveling from Albany in three vehicles. They had to get off the Thruway due to the storm and ended up on Route 20. Not knowing where to go they followed a pizza man … thinking he knew where he was going … until he turned into his home driveway. Then they ended up using a paper map to find their way.

We never considered postponing; no matter what we were getting married. But 24 hours before the wedding there were so many unknowns: the limo; the hair salon; the priest, Father Barry who had to travel from Hinsdale; the flowers; the guests; the reception hall; the band; and the photographer. I was scared. Everything I had planned was flipped upside down. It was a very disorienting feeling. I had no control. I remember calling the hair salon in Williamsville over and over again … no answer. It was closed and had no way of contacting me to tell me. So I found a place in North Tonawanda that would take the whole wedding party at the last minute on Saturday.

As I drove to the hotel the night before my wedding, there was a police officer directing traffic on Twin Cities Highway. The lights were not working. I decided to take a right turn onto Erie Avenue, which is marked for no right turn. He stopped me to explain that I couldn’t go right. I remember yelling “I’m getting married tomorrow and I need to get to my hotel!”

He let me go.

By the end of Friday, I remember being completely exhausted mentally and physically from all the stress. We were staying at a hotel next to Suzanne’s in Wheatfield, where the reception was to be held, and which we had planned to do long before we knew about the storm. But I had to share a bed with my maid of honor because of a name mix-up. So the room that was going to be mine was given away. They were filling up rooms with people who needed a place to stay during the storm. I remember looking out the window … making sure there were no other surprises.

leah-church

Trying to stay warm outside the church

On Saturday morning, I remember feeling really uncertain about the hair appointment. I had done a run-through with the salon in Williamsville and knew how things were going to look. It did work out just fine.

We finished at the hair salon and then went back to the hotel to get dressed. My maid of honor helped me with my makeup, so I didn’t look too exhausted. When I slipped into my dress, I felt a sense of calm. By this point my expectations were really low. There had been no rehearsal and I had no idea what I was doing but somehow that was what kept me calm. The photographer and flowers all came to the hotel. I HAD FLOWERS! Thank goodness my flower shop was in North Tonawanda. I was feeling like I made all the right decisions. After the photos it was limo time. I HAD A LIMO!

While we were traveling to the church, our photographer, Derek Gee, was taking photos of my husband with a chainsaw at our house. So we have chainsaw storm damage photos.

Once in the limo, I started asking my bridal party wedding procedure questions because I didn’t rehearse. And then we arrived at the church and it was dark and cold. The guests were wearing coats because it was so chilly inside the church.

But once I saw how many people actually made it to the church, I was amazed and felt the support of all my family and friends. During the ceremony, the priest started making jokes about the storm and I started to relax even more. Even funnier, without rehearsal some of my bridal party didn’t know the order for them to sit in the pew. I ended up sitting all the way at the end … the farthest away from Tom because they were in my spot.

Once the ceremony finished, we had planned to go Ellicott Creek Park and the North Tonawanda Botanical Gardens on Sweeney Street for photos. The park was destroyed. You couldn’t even get in and the parking lot was a lake. We decided to go to the gardens. I remember the limo moving slowly around all the debris in the roads. At the gardens, we tried to avoid the mud and deep puddles. Derek decided to use the gazebo because it was actually dry. I can still remember holding up my dress so it wouldn’t get muddy.

The reception was beautiful. The band made it but some people couldn’t. I remember stacks of takeout containers filled with dinners that went unclaimed. We handed them out to anyone who wanted them.

The reception felt like the perfect place for people to unwind. Not coincidentally, a lot of alcohol was consumed.

On Sunday, some of the men in the bridal party and our family helped cut limbs and drag all the debris to the front of our yard. I felt so bad because some of them had hangovers. We were supposed to leave for our honeymoon on Monday and we couldn’t with our trees in our neighbors’ yards.

We arrived in Florida on Monday and while waiting for our hotel room - in jeans - we ordered a drink by the pool. All we wanted to do was sleep.

Looking back on this 10 years later, I wouldn’t change much at all. My wedding was so much fun. It was like a roller coaster; it scared me to death at some points and left me feeling energized and happy in the end. Everyone supported and came through for us. They wanted it to happen just as much as we did. There is no better feeling than that. Love, determination and a lot of luck made our wedding a success.

I’m even smiling while writing this.

Leah Samol is a graphic artist at The Buffalo News.

email: lsamol@buffnews.com

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