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Stranger of the bride

A little hint about remaining inconspicuous when crashing a wedding reception: It’s probably best not to catch the bridal bouquet.

The bouquet toss was the furthest thing from my mind when I cruised party hall parking lots on a Friday night. Seeking another experience for my year of new adventures, I simply anticipated a nice meal, a few drinks and the opportunity to celebrate the wedded bliss of a wonderful couple. Sure, I wasn’t invited, and I’d never met either of them. Minor details.

Crashing a wedding might have been more fathomable if I were 21, accompanied by a group of friends, and half-plastered. At 52, alone, and sober? Not so much.

I scored with a full parking lot at the third place I passed, one of the most upscale reception halls in town. Yet when I stepped into the lobby, the first thing I spotted was a poster with a huge photograph and the words, “Rest in Peace.”

Since when did a party hall host a wake on a Friday night? I stepped back, contemplating my next move. And then, I spied a bigger banner, reading “Congratulations,” along with a photo of a happy young couple. Apparently, the first poster was only their memoriam for a recently deceased loved one.

My shoulders drooped at this tearjerker tribute. But I was alive and on hand to take part in the celebration! It seemed so wrong, yet so right. I ignored my weak legs and wandered in. I’d morphed into a 10-year-old schoolgirl, wondering just how much I could get away with.

I made a beeline to the bar — a rational move. No plastic cups for my fabulous, newly wedded BFFs. This was a classy kind of gig. I was pretty certain I would fit right in — if I hadn’t been some freeloading stranger walking in off the street.

I wasn’t a true freeloader, though. I had brought a congratulatory card with a gift certificate enclosed. I dropped it ceremoniously on the gift table and slowly swiveled my head around, hoping people might note this validation of my attendance.

As I saw the line forming for the dessert table, I realized I missed dinner. If only I actually had been invited, I might have known when the event started.

I joined a group on the outdoor patio. No one questioned me or my relationship to the bride and groom. I was a tad disappointed I didn’t need to conjure up any of the pre-fabricated stories I’d prepared on the drive there.

While enjoying a conversation with a friendly guy, I turned to see the bride approaching us, looking eager to join the discussion. I backed away, avoiding her glance, and headed back inside.

As I watched people swinging it on the dance floor, I deliberated asking someone to dance. The thought terrified me, which made it all the more an obligatory move.

I hadn’t danced with a stranger in how long? A decade? As my stomach rolled, the DJ made the last call for all single women to join in the bouquet toss. I realized a shot of the backs of a group of unidentifiable women, lunging for the spray of flowers, would be a terrific photo op. I hurried over, stationing myself a good 20 yards behind the line of waiting women. I pulled out my iPhone just as I heard the DJ begin his countdown.

Before I could manage to find my new phone’s camera setting, I heard a collective rush of shouts, and then — silence. I looked up to see the crowd of single women, as well as every wedding guest in the room, staring at me.

I followed the direction of their glances. I looked down. Apparently, the bride was a former softball pitcher with a hell of an arm. Her throw landed the bouquet far past its intended aim. It was lying two inches from my right foot.

The room had fallen so quiet you could hear my chin drop. All eyes were focused on me. I had no choice, really. I picked up the bouquet, clutched it and smiled stupidly.

As cameras flashed, my heart rate quickened. If all went according to normal wedding reception protocol, I knew I’d soon find myself posing for more photos: with a garter-snatching stranger feeling his way up my thigh. It was a halfway appealing notion, but I was pretty sure I’d rather salvage the bit of anonymity I had left.

A little girl came to my rescue. She tugged at my blouse, pointed at the bouquet, and said, “Can I have that?”

I smiled down at my small savior and said, “Honey, it’s all yours.” I thrust the flowers in her hands and walked straight to the exit.

Although I didn’t remain inconspicuous, I figured I did stay anonymous, at least until a discovery the next day when I posted a story and a photo online. Here’s another little hint about wedding-crashing: It’s best to not inadvertently be Facebook friends with the owner of the reception hall.

My anonymity was completely blown after I agreed, months later, to be interviewed about my experience on the TV news show 20/20. When the episode aired, I found myself included with criminals and miscreants in a segment titled The Moochers. I was relieved that, mostly due to my gift, I appeared to be the moral of this story.

“If you must crash a wedding,” the voiceover advised, “crash with class.”

Feeling redeemed, I managed to connect with the bride and groom, Mike and Helen (who was indeed a former softball player). They proved to be a good-natured couple, who remembered my unsigned card and gift. I’d chosen that card very thoughtfully. The pre-printed text read: “A toast to good friends: To a great couple, to your love, your future, and your happiness… and to the friendship that will keep us close always.”

Below, I scrawled: “Thanks for an evening none of us will ever forget.”

Wasn’t that the truth.

— Sherry Stanfa-Stanley

Sherry Stanfa-Stanley is a writer, humorist and squeamish adventurer. She writes about her midlife escapades and other topics on Facebook (The 52 at 52 Project) and also blogs at www.sherrystanfa-stanley.com. Her memoir, Finding My Badass Self, debuts in August. By day, Sherry attempts to respectably represent her alma mater as a communication director at the University of Toledo.

Reflections of Erma