By Sally Quinn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 19, 2010; C03
People often ask me how to make conversation at dinner parties. I always tell them to ask about their dinner partner's family -- once they get started, they won't stop. Everyone has a dysfunctional family. Ours is no exception.
I'm going to discuss a drama unfolding in our family, and I'm discussing it only because others have made it public and messy. It's a conflict that I hope readers can understand -- and avoid in their own lives.
Our son Quinn Bradlee is marrying Pary Williamson in Washington on April 10. My husband's granddaughter Greta Bradlee is getting married the same day in California. In the past few days there have been a spate of negative stories, both online and in print, about the "dueling weddings." It's been hurtful to all four of these wonderful young people. This "dueling" characterization couldn't be further from the truth.
The unfortunate result of the dates being the same was an inadvertent mistake on my part. My error had nothing to do with the two couples who will wed that day.
I once wrote a book called "The Party," which became the name of this column, and one of the things I wrote about was how even the so-called experts screw up. I am no exception. Greta, the daughter of my husband's son Ben Bradlee Jr. and ABC's Martha Raddatz, planned her wedding last fall and sent Save the Date cards. I gave ours to my husband to put the date on his calendar, and he did not. A warning to wives everywhere!
Quinn and Pary decided on Oct. 10, 2010, as their wedding date. Over Christmas, Greta's mother and I came to an understanding that, because of existing tensions, it would be best for all if none of us attended Greta's wedding. Then, in mid-January, we were thrilled to learn that Pary is pregnant, due Sept. 21, and decided to move up the date as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, our church does not do weddings during Lent or Easter. The only date we could arrive on when both church and minister were available was April 10, and the next wasn't until after Memorial Day.
Frantically, I checked my calendar, my husband's, Greta's aunt's, and her cousins' -- everyone had the date free. Each gave the go-ahead. We were also lucky enough to find that the band we had booked was able to make the date change, as well as the photographer, the planner and the attendants. Pary had found the perfect dress, which we bought. It all seemed serendipitous, so we booked everyone and ordered the invitations.
Anyone who has ever hosted a wedding knows the maddening details involved. Locking things down seemed such a relief. Then came the revelation. Two weeks or so later, my husband's son learned of the new plan. Happily, we did not have a single overlapping guest. We had already decided not to go to the California nuptials. And, by then, it was too late to change the one in Washington. We decided to go ahead.
It never occurred to any of us that my mistake would be a story, much less a gossip item that proved so upsetting to the two couples. Again, a so-called expert was completely wrong.
Anyone who has been a stepmother or a stepgrandmother will identify with the unintended impact -- the mistakes and misperceptions that were hardly meant to "ruin Greta's day." Greta is a caring and generous young woman, and so is her fiance, and we love her very much.
We want this to be for both couples the most joyful, sacred day of their lives. There will be two beautiful brides, one with a growing family, and two handsome grooms. None of us want this day to be anything but meaningful and memorable for all of them. In fact, nothing would please us more than to celebrate the two happy couples together someday soon.
I feel so sorry that all this happened. That I am responsible for the big mix-up is clear, but it is not deliberate. However, there are many lessons to be learned here. I can only hope and pray as these four begin their lives together that they don't repeat the mistakes of their older relatives. Family, for me, is the most important thing in life. I wish for them, too, that they will be able to take their own fractured families and make them whole once more.
Sally Quinn is a regular contributor to Style and co-moderator of On Faith.