A twist on wedding bliss
Picture it: Huntsville, Wednesday, April 27. Vanessa Rolf Jones and her husband Tyler were due to be married the upcoming Saturday.
Little did either of them know, one of the worst natural disasters in Alabama history would put their plans of wedded bliss on hold.
A whirlwind of tornadoes was about to shake Alabama, leaving nine dead in Madison County alone.
The area was without power for almost seven days. People couldn’t buy gas or food, and the county was hit with a dusk-‘till-dawn curfew.
Jones and her now husband managed to pull it off anyway.
“We decided that we just wanted to get married,” Jones said. “It was something hard for me to let go of.”
So without electricity, food and a cake, the wedding went on.
CALM BEFORE THE STORM
Jones had spent a year planning the wedding and its “over-the-top reception,” complete with a three-course dinner and Motown-type band. The wedding was to be held at First United Methodist Church and the reception at the Huntsville Museum of Art.
“We had worked really hard to save money and have this big lavish wedding and reception,” she said. “I put my heart and soul into planning every little detail: the flowers, napkins and seating arrangements.”
Hours before the storm hit, Jones and her mother, Sharon, made gift bags, finalized seating arrangements and took care of the “little things” that were left.
Jones was so caught up in her own world; she didn’t realize the ensuing danger the weather was bringing.
“I got a call from my fiancé around lunch, and he said something about school letting out early,” she said. “ I was so focused in my own word, I had no idea what was going on.”
She left work early at her job at NASA.
After the power outage, Jones assumed the power would come back later. She set her cell phone alarm for 6 a.m. the next day with plans to continue wedding activities.
The next day came and her alarm didn’t sound. Cell phone signals in the city were scarce.
“I couldn’t get in touch with the church, art museum and pastor,” she said. “With all these little things, I never realize how important cell phones are.”
The art museum was unable to open without power for safety precautions, so the reception was out. She was able to reach the church and its senior pastor, Glenn Conner.
They decided to continue with the wedding inside the church, but with one change: the ceremony would be lit by candles.
Surprisingly enough, out of the 188 people scheduled to attend the wedding, 132 made it, including all bridesmaids and groomsmen. Guests were housed with family members.
Food and flowers were next on the list of things to handle.
In Bloom Floral Design Studio in Huntsville provided the flowers for the wedding and reception.
“We got up that Thursday morning and realized there was no communication with the bride,” said Ron Cooper, co-owner.
In Bloom was working with four employees for two weddings that weekend, which meant hours and hours of planning, decorating and creating.
“We kicked into full gear with limited resources,” he said.
With no refrigeration, the designers and florists created vase arrangements so water could keep them alive and healthy as long as possible. They did manage to retrieve some flowers from the wholesaler in Birmingham, and they also provided the candles, which lit the wedding. Cooper said that provided a more elegant and sophisticated ambience.
Next on the list was food. The reception had to be moved to the caterer’s restaurant, Cyn Shea’s in Huntsville.
The reception was originally planned to be a two-party affair, one with hors ‘d oeuvres, cocktails and a tour of the museum, and the other a dinner party.
“After the tornadoes, we changed gears,” said Cynthia Shea Hart, restaurant owner. “By Thursday afternoon, conversation between me and the wedding planner resulted in being able to offer our space at the restaurant as an option.”
Preserving the food was a top priority for Hart, so she and her husband traveled to Georgia three times for generators and food for the restaurant.
“We got home at 1 a.m. Friday morning and were back in the kitchen at 4 a.m.,” she said. “We he had from lots of friends from the men’s ministry. Several men were well versed in electricity and spent two days trying to power the generators and save the walk in and freezer foods.”
The generator wasn’t strong enough to keep the freezer at an adequate temperature, so the food was sent off to feed those in areas affected by the storms before it all spoiled. Sysco delivery services also brought in food.
The caterers started over from scratch.
“As a caterer, knowing to the nth detail that we had planned that, that I was going to have to caution the bride that it would not turn out to be exactly how she had planned it,” Hart said. “I asked her to give us a little freedom, and we would do the best we could. She was very open. She said whatever you can do, it’ll be fine.”
While new food was being prepared, Hart drove to Decatur to clean the linens at Laundromat and purchase bread.
Shawn Duvall is the executive chef at Cyn Shea’s. His first day on the job was the Wednesday of the storms.
“They said the lady still wanted to do her wedding and we’re going to try and make it as nice as possible,” Duvall said. “We pretty much lost everything, but we found the products to do the menu she wanted.”
Generators dimly lit the restaurant.
Jones said she walked into the reception and was amazed by what everyone pulled together.
“I walk, in and I’m overwhelmed by the table cloths, flower arrangements, full buffet of food and cake.”
There was enough power to play music on an iPod, which guests danced to until it was time to leave for the curfew.
“It wasn’t the smooth perfect wedding day that brides think of- but my day was perfect because it was the day I married my best friend,” Jones said.