Since his junior high school class on Family Living, Steve Dory, 25, had been waiting, planning and dreaming about the day. For nearly a year, he had saved $300 each month in preparation. He dieted and ran four and five miles a day. Fifty-five pounds he shed from his 6-foot-5, 297-pound frame. He wrote a song especially for the occasion and practiced it religiously. Yesterday, he was finally ready to be married.
Joyce Markeeta Shellman, 23, used to put a sheet over her head and pretend she was a bride walking down the aisle when she was a girl. As a teen-ager, she told girlfriends her wedding would be big, her bridgroom tall, and he would love her so. Yesterday, she replaced the sheet with a veil of net and lace and walked down a wide, white cotton runner at Zion Baptist Church on upper 16th Street NW, one of Washington's finest middle-class black neighborhoods, toward Steve and an altar blanketed in red roses, pink gladiolas and white baby's breath.
It was a $5,000 affair, the wedding their parents never had. Joyce's family paid the bill and the guest list included 525 people. Nine bridesmaids in pink dresses with burgundy trim stood in attendance with nine groomsmen in charcoal-gray tuxedos and pinstriped pants.
Two ministers officiated. There was a caterer, a florist, a wedding coordinator, a personal seamstress, two soloists, and a man who as the couple left the church, released 200 helium-filled balloons with "Faith, Hope and Love -- Joyce and Steve" written on them.
In a time of changing family life styles and values, Joyce and Steve Dory have chosen a traditional plan of life, one that, if anything, is more conservative than that of their parents. Steve and Joyce are born-again Christians, more religious, they say, than their parents, but only by degree. In a permissive era, both say they have never made love. In a day of feminism, Joyce says the Bible demands that a family have only one head, and to her, that is Steve.
Yet, most of all, they are members of the middle class, pursuing family dreams and goals passed from grandparents to grandchildren, each generation consciously building on the achievements of the last.
Their families moved beyond urban and backwoods poverty, challenged racism by believing firmly in American values not limited to any race: honesty, hard work, frugality, education, the primacy of the family and religion, and the importance of material comfort. Yesterday's wedding symbolized the passage to adulthood -- and the passage of beliefs from parents to children.
"Weddings to some people are like going to shows or plays," said Sylvester Dory, Steve's father, a tall barrel-chested man and a former high school athlete, who planned the balloon salute and painstakingly cut out black construction paper sihouettes of lovers for the reception hall walls. "They see in weddings things they wish for themselves or friends and relatives."
Joyce and Steve have few fears for the future, even though they've never lived on their own and know little of the bill-paying merry-go-round.
"I feel that there is nothing we can't do or have," Joyce says.
She would like a Mercedes-Benz but will settle for a $10,000 sports car. The house she eventually wants will have bedrooms galore and not just a recreation room, but a family room as well. Steve shrugs and allows that he hopes he can help give Joyce these things. In the meantime, he has bought a four-door Ford Fairmont for $6,000.
In material ways, the newlyweds begin better off than their parents -- as did their own parents. Like their parents, Steve and Joyce have college degrees. He is a researcher for a Georgetown consulting firm, Joyce, a civilian accounting technician for the Army.
They will honeymoon at a Pocono Mountains hotel complete with heartshaped beds and tubs and return to a two-bedroom apartment in Forestville. Besides buying their new Fairmont, they have spent $2,500 in cash to furnish their apartment -- something their parents never could have done.
When Joyce and Marcus Shellman were married in 1957, her father, a custodian at a whites-only junior college in Barnsville, Ga., couldn't afford to pay for a wedding, and Marcus, her fiance of two years, didn't want a church wedding anyway. His father was a poor farmer. Her parents opposed their marriage because she still had a year to graduate from Savannah State College, an all-black college, as Marcus had already. So they eloped and were married by a justice of the peace.
The Shellmans had no honeymoon and their first home was a room rented from an elderly couple in Savannah. They owned no furniture, no car. They moved to Washington in 1967 to a $22,000, three-bedroom split-level home in Wilburn Estates, a rolling hillside subdivision in Seat Pleasant, where Joyce and her two brothers were reared. The family moved in as middle-class whites moved out. Mrs. Shellman is a schoolteacher, her husband, a satellite techician.
Althea and Sylvester Dory, Steve's parents, were married in 1952 before the picture window, flanked by potted palms, of Althea's godmother's duplex at 123 47th St. NE, a home that remarkably resembles the Dorys' Riggs Park NE home today. About 35 people attended. Sylvester was a Navy seaman who, like his wife, would later graduate from Washington's old Miner Teachers College, then a school for blacks. They both became D.C. schoolteachers; they had two sons.
Sylvester had grown up with his nine brothers and sisters in the basement apartment of a whites-only building at 55 M St. NW, where his father was the janitor. Althea's father was a government messenger -- one of the best jobs blacks could get then. They lived at First and D Streets SW.
"I've told my children that I expected them to do better than their parents have," says Althea Dory softly, her brown hair fashioned in a pageboy style. If the imposing Sylvester is like a downpour, then Althea is like a shower, demure, but no less determined.
"I alway wanted my sons to go to college. We told Stevie that material things, clothes, cars, the latest fashions, had their place, but most important were the friendships and family life. It was important to teach him to be in an environment that was like his own."
Steve's environment was the rows of tightly packed brick homes in Northeast Washington. In his back yard, Steve's father started a summer camp. He and other fathers patrolled the streets at night. He formed football and basketball teams, organized trips for neighborhood children, showed movies in the back yard.
"In a way," his son, Steve, recalls, "he was trying to make the neighborhood safe for his family."
Joyce Markeeta Shellman was born in a wooden Georgia farmhouse, the kind elevated on brick pillars with a wide porch and chickens pecking all about. Her mother was staying with her husband's relatives while he worked in Savannah several hours away, and the hospital was too far away. Miss Ethel, an expansive woman who barked orders to boil water and tear up linen, delivered Joyce in her grandmother's bed.
Today, the Shellmans' Wilburn Estates neighbors belong to social and block clubs, take the neigborhood children to museums, form sports leagues and help sponsor children's parties.
In family picture albums, Joyce looks out as a 2-year-old at her birthday party; in Easter dress and hat in front of the family's new home in 1968; and in page after page of photos with boyfriends before high school dances, with girlfriends, with neighbors.
Steve Dory -- a serious young man in a dark suit, carrying a briefcase, who Mrs. Shellman first thought was a peacher -- appeared on the scene only about a year ago.
Like Steve's parents, Joyce's stressed education, so much so that when Steve -- in traditional fashion, asked her father for permission to marry her -- Marcus Shellman first worried that marriage would interrupt Joyce's plans to attend graduate school, excatly what his wife's parents feared before they were married. Joyce's mother said she didn't care if Joyce ever married -- as long as she finished college.
"I see college as a way for her to be able to cope and compete in the world," says her mother, a slender, practical woman who is the president of her nine-member social club, The Lively Set. "I have tried to instill this thought in the minds of all my children from early childhood."
If the values of the Dorys and Shellmans and their children are much the same today, the Washington that Steve and Joyce saw as children was different from the Washington their parents knew. In those days there was no sneaking into "whites only"" playgrounds at night or scampring through lawn sprinklers at the Botanical Gardens when Washington's pools were segregated.
The Sylvester Dory remembers the lessons of race that his father taught him -- lessons, like education and family, that he consciously tried to teach Steve.
"My father said, 'Always do the kind of job so that people will want you to come back.'" Sylvester said. "He told me that white people would leave money around the toilet and on the dresser to test me, to see if I really dusted or cleaned or if I would steal the money. My father was perceptive, and he was right."
Powerful beliefs, however, can also lead to powerful expectations and pressures on children.
Several years ago, for instance, Steve became infatuated with a young woman his father described as "from the ghetto." His mother and father told Steve she was not right for him. He was puzzled.
"Here all along my father had been bringing children home from the ghetto, and everybody was treated the same," Steve says. "When I began seeing this woman, things changed and I couldn't understand what they were talking about. But since I met Joyce, I understand. We can talk and relate because we've had similar backgrounds, we want some of the same things." r
"When Joyce came along, we began to breather easier," says Sylvester. "She was from a stable home. Their interests were much closer to ours."
Steve and Joyce met at church. He is the lead singer in The Joyful Noise Band, which plays religious music, and Joyce had enjoyed the group. But she wasn't interested in Steve, thinking he was attracted to her girlfriend, Georgette.
He thought Joyce had the prettiest smile he had ever seen.
"Lord, what do I really want from a woman?" he wrote in his diary then. "Mainly someone that is growing, developing herself . . . a career woman . . . as soft and gentle woman . . . a lover, a thriller, a giver and someone with a BEAUTIFUL SMILE."
Their courtship, like their upbringing and their attitudes, was traditional.
It included wild roller-coaster rides at King's Dominion, day trips to Harper's Ferry, concerts, walks in the mud at the National Arboretum and kite-flying at the Washington Monument.
It was weeks before they kissed. And the night they did -- on April 4, 1980 at midnight -- they debated and prayed for four hours about whether it was right.
Steve stood in Joyce's living room, a few feet from the door, intending to leave, but not wanting to go without that kiss. When it finally came, it lasted maybe one minute, maybe three, who knows? Joyce's knees shook. Steve's heart "sang."
Yesterday, they were married. The organist played the old gospel hymn, "Faith of Our Fathers," during the wedding procession. Steve sang a song he had written himself. Instead of the bride's father giving Joyce away, both sets of parents stepped forward, as Steve and Joyce had asked.
Sitting in the third pew, Joyce's grandmother, Annie Jordan Braddy, 72 -- in whose bed Joyce had been born -- cried and captured the meaning of it all. "I can see some of myself in her father and a little in her, too," she said. "Makes you feel right full -- full of happiness."