Mr. and Mrs. Roger T. Steers of Bethesda, Md., announce the engagement of their daughter, Margaret Elaine, to John E. McConnaughy III, son of Mrs. Elaine Anderson McConnaughy and John E. McConnaughy, Jr. of New York City. A June 25 wedding is planned.
Do they still have weddings in 1977?
St Luke's Episcopal Church in Bethesda. Glass and blond brick. The four ushers wear chocolate brown cutaways. One has a beard, and his tie strap has slipped out from under his collar.
A threatening, muggy Saturday morning. White ribbon bows on the front pews. About 70 guests on the bride's side, 20 on the bridegroom's. His uncle is here from California, his grandparents from Florida, some friends from New England.
At last the ushers unroll a white runner down the aisle, the organist launches into Mendelssohn and three very young bridesmaids in long peach gowns approach with studied tread and flickering smile, followed by the bride, in white with a handmade heirloom veil. Brides are supposed to be radiant, and this one is beaming. Even her white-haired father is glowing.
Everyone calles her Linus because when she was in the ninth grade in North Bethesda Junior High she had a big poncho and always hid her face in it when embarrassed, so her best friend called her Linus after the character in "Peanuts."
Sherry Callahan - the classic best friend, tall and satirical - today - today is maid of honor. She lives in San Diego now, but like all the weddings party went to St. John's College in Annapolis.
"She was real shy, you know. She didn't like her name, Margaret, and I didn't either, so I said, 'Okay, you're Linus, that's who you are.' So I told everybody to call her Linus, and it stuck."
The rector has a white chasuble with a hood effect at the nape. A Boston voice. "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here . . ."
It is going to be a full communion service, and the familiar words rise softly in the heavy air. "I, John, take thee, Margaret . . ." As they hold hands for the double-ring ceremony, his thumb lightly caresses her knucles. He has thick blond hair, looks lean and trim in his black cutaway.
He graduated from St. John's last year, but she has a year to go still, so they will live in Annapolis for the first year. Last summer her worked at the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau, and he hopes to get a regular job there. He is 23, she is 21.
The best man has a long pigtail own his back. He is Howard Prior, and when you meet him he doesn't give his name right away but lets you talk first while he sizes you up. He shared a room with John when they were freshmen at St. John.
They are very different, but very much of the same generation. There is a waiting quality about them. You make the move, and then they react with warmth or anger or whatever they feel is called for. You can almost see Howard deciding to open up a little on the subject of his friend. Choosing his words, he says more than anyone else:
"I came into a bar about a year ago in Annapolis, and they were both in there, and John sat me down and said, 'Well, I have this thing to tell you. I got a job for you to do.' I've known him for a long time. We went through a lot of things together. He's changed a lot, has a different look in his eyes. He's just different. I think it's been good for him."
The rector is reading the gospel from St. Mark about "leet thee children come to Me," and a little red-haired girl in a smudge white pinafore is wandering among thee rear pews. No one knows who she is. She must come with the church. Every wedding has a little giel in a pinafore.
"This is a celebration," the rector tells us. "This is John and Margaret's day . . .but it is ours, too . . .especially it is yours: You are the community, the world at large . . .They are one of the 4,000 couples being married across the United States today . . .You'll always be part of us and we part of you."
They didn't like each other at first. One of his cronies was dating her and he was dating one of her pals, so they were thrown together quite a bit. Gradually things changed.
"It took about two months," John says. "Not that there was any great antipathy, but we were very different."
They were engaged for over a year. He asked her at 2 a.m. on June 7, 1976, according to her.
His mother, youthful and also blonde: "John came up to me and said, 'I have three things to do tomorrow. Mother - I have to buy a shirt and have my hair cut and buy an engagement ring.' I said, 'Where you going for the shirt? and yes, you do need a haircut. And what was the third thing? They were afraid to tell me because I was just going through the divorce thing. We've been separated 2 1/2 years and the divorce is this month."
She has two woman friends with her, also from New York, also divorced after many years of marriage. They talk about the words of the ceremony that morning, find them a little bit overwhelming.They all seem proud of having stayed married so long.
Margaret's mother was a divorcee, too, years ago, and has two older children. Gustav and Paula Voigt: he a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins in Baltomore, she an anesthesiologist in Mississippi. John has a younger brother, James, and a sister, Lynn.
We are being escouraged to greet each other, Quaker fashion. Handshakes across the pews. Many people come forward to take communion. We sing Hymn 214. We are so feeble you almost can't bear a sound. "O Perfect Love . . ."
Everyone files out and stands around. The wedding party goes back inside for a formal portrait and later can be seen milling about in an ante-room. John is trying on a top hat. That's another thing: Every wedding has three mysterious delays. We wait on the lawn. No rice or confetti.
A woman peels off long white gloves. "I haven't had gloves on since I can remember."
The reception is at the officers club of Bethesda Naval Hospital, where we are asked which one we have come for. Across the foyer people are collecting for another reception. Another bride. More cutaways. Two more sets of parents and grandparents and jovial strangers.
Finally we led upstairs to a long room where an orchestra is plating and a buffet sprawls along the walls. An elaborate bar. Chicken livers and barbecued beef, corn fritters, a tower of vegetables, a steamship round attended by a man in a chef's hat. At the far end, The Cake.
People straggle through the reception line. John's father looks very young. "If I were planning their lives or something, I'd have him wait. Play around a few years. But this ist he way it oughta be: When it happens, it happens. If they were going to have problems, thy'd have found out by now."
He is with an air pollution control device firm. Is giving them a trip to Greece this fall as a presrnt. There chose Greece because ancient Greece was so much a part of the liberal arts Great Books curriculum at St. Johns, and John speaks some classic Greek. For the honeymoon they will go to Bethany Beach.
Margaret's father, whose medical career was interrupted by Pearl Harbour, flew with the Army Corps ferrying command during World War 11, came out as a captain, for many years was a chemist with the federal alcohol tax board until he retired in 1968. His wife, Mary, has just retired from HEW. A few years ago they moved to Arizona for awhile, and Mary worked with the Indian Health Service while Margaret went to school there.
"I'd hoped she'd wait a year," Mary says. "She had an acute respiratory infection and was in the hospital from February to April, and her father had a coronary in the middle of it. But she's all well now and she wanted to go ahead. So we went to high gear."
Their home is too small for the reception, and besides there would be a parking problem.
Margaret was considering law school, but that plan is on the shelf for now.
The saxophone is crooning "Moon River," and the two of them glide out into the cleared space, good dancers, relaxed, seeking each other's eyes. For a moment there is a hush. Then the chatter resumes, and soon others are dancing, even John's grandparents, married 55 years ("I love her more now than ever before"), while the ushers and bridesmaids, keeping the separate from the rest, talk the arcane talk of ushers and bridesmaids. Oh, yes, there was a bachelor party, and oh, yes, some of them almost got arrested for dancing in somebody's garden.
The afternoon is aging. It is raining. Already the wedding seems a long time ago, and one is faintly surprised to see Margaret still wearting her veil. Pretty soom they will be cutting the cake, and then they will change and leave.
It all seems like something out of our past: a stately pavane, with ritual words and ritual actions and ritual emotions. Somehow we had forgotten that people still do that dance, still dress up in the formal clothes of another era, still recite those hallowed words.
And this particular wedding party is very young, still in college, some of them. It is rather eerie to see people so young wearing cutaways, even chocolate-colored ones. It is also rather endearing. What are they reaching for? Some sort of security? Maybe it's just that tradition tugs its hardest when threatened. CAPTION:
Picture 1, Margaret Elaine Steers McConnaughy and John McConnaugh III, by Frank Johnston - The Washington Post; Picture 2, no caption, by Frank Johnston