As weddings go, the ceremony in Woodbridge last week seemed fairly standard. The bride wore white. Her mother cried and the groom was so nervous that he put his ring on the bride's finger.
But a closer look revealed a few differences. First, there was that usher wearing tennis shoes. Then, it was discovered that the Catholic priest going through the ritual was actually a 17-year-old Lutheran. And finally, the bride and groom admitted that before the ceremony they had never even kissed.
"We're going to have our first date tomorrow night," said the groom, Jeff Johnson. "This might lead to something."
Johnson and his bride, 17-year-old Lynda Fullem, were not legally bound by last week's marriage ceremony, performed in a classroom at Woodbridge High School. Except for that small technicality, however, it was as close to the real thing as teacher Steve Freiberger and the students in his senior sociology class could arrange.
"There are 24 kinds in our class and they all had a role," said the 30-year-old Freiberger who has been married for three years. The goal, he said, was to teach his students some of the financial realities behind the romance of marriage. That includes the problems of supporting a family.
Having studied the question of marriage, said Freiberger, the next lesson will be on divorce. "The divorce will be in two weeks. We already have some volunteers."
At the beginning of March, Freiberger divided his class into 12 couples. Each pair was required to plan a budget to support themselves and one ficticious child.
"We started out living in an $80,000 house and driving a Peugeot," said Fullem, whose husband Jeff was given a modest $30,000 a year income. "Eventually we got down to an apartment and driving a Honda. And we still could barely make it. It makes you think twice about getting married for real."
"She asked me all about our budget and she couldn't believe there wasn't much money left over for anything else," said Eleanore Fullem, Lynda's mother, who shed real tears at the mock wedding. Mrs. Fullem has been married for 20 years, ever since she finished nursing school. Times have not always been great, she admitted, but then she and her husband, a fire marshal, were not brought up to expect that.
Last week, after make-believe clergyman Tim Peifer had pronounced the "in sickness and in health" oration, Mrs. Fullem worred that her own three daughters might not be as prepared for the better and worse of marriage.
"I think our children are spoiled. They can't take the hard knocks as much as we could."
One of Freiberger's students, Theresa Valvo, paid particular attention to the marriage preparations. The 17-year-old Valvo, who is engaged and plans to be married in September, volunteered to organize the nuptial affair.
"This is really good practice for me," said Valvo who is not discouraged by statistics that show between 50 and 60 percent of all marriages in this country end in divorce. "It just makes me want to be one of the ones who make it."
After the ceremony, which was videotaped, the wedding party and guests adjourned to a reception room for congratulations and cake. True to tradition, Fullem and Johnson crammed the first bites into one another's faces. Then it was out to the parking lot, where students had decorated Fullem's car with "Just Married" signs and tied tin cans to the bumper.
"I don't know what I'll tell people at work," said Fullem who would spend her honeymoon night clerking at a local drug store.
"Now that we've seen our daughter marry, we don't have to stick around together anymore," said Dawn Layburn, Fullem's pretend mother.
"Mike (Thomas) and I are getting divorced in two weeks. We'll do the whole court scene including the settlement," she added, giving her school-appointed husband a playful shove. "We've already started practicing." s