My parents were married in my grandparents’ backyard in Darnestown, Maryland on June 2, 1973. I grew up looking at the photos in their wedding album and obsessing over the 70’s fashion on view in their Super 8 wedding film. It was a true hippie, bohemian wedding, very modern at the time, and very them. Here is my June 2015 interview with my mother Camy about her and my father Larry’s backyard wedding, and about my maternal grandparents’ backyard. At the time of the wedding my grandparents Hank and Isabel had recently moved from the small suburban house where they had raised their children in the 1950s and 1960s to a house of their own design out in the country. My parents celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary earlier this month. -Kate
What year did your parents move into their house?
They moved in around 1972 or 1973, but had been building it for quite a few years. They probably bought the property about twenty years before. At the time they bought the property, Darnestown was way out in the country. They loved the wooded lot and back then Route 28 in Darnestown was not so busy. My parents were looking for some place wooded, quiet, and off the beaten path. By the time they moved in around 1972 it was a much busier town, but still rural. My mom would go to the farmer on Route 28 and he would go out into the field and pick the freshest corn for her. My parents liked the idea of being in the country.
They designed the house themselves. They had the “feel” of the house in mind, and were both very involved, down to where the outlets should be. My mom took on more of the interior decisions, like the built-in cabinets, and my father oversaw the exterior look of the house. He wanted to house to blend into the woods.
In your memory, what stands out about the yard and garden?
There were lots and lots of dogwood trees. The trees were already on the property and my parents probably planted additional trees.
Why did you decide to get married in your parents' backyard?
My mom wanted us to get married at our church in Rockville, where I grew up, but Larry wanted to be married outside, not in a church. We thought my parents’ property was pretty. They wanted us to consider renting a quaint chapel in Poolesville because we had no Plan B if it rained, but we went ahead with our plan anyways. My parents worked really hard to get the yard ready. As they had recently moved in, it was pretty bare bones then. They had just planted grass around the house and a few bushes. The carpet wasn’t even laid yet in the house, and my mother was worried about that. But it ended up working out because it poured rain the entire week before the wedding. It was beautiful the day of, but people would have ruined the carpets walking in and out of the house.
At the time, was a backyard wedding considered pretty typical for 1973, or was it an unusual choice?
No, it was a very unusual choice. Even our other hippie friends had gotten married in churches and had formal receptions. Honestly, a lot of our decision was financial. We didn’t want our parents to spend money, and we could not afford a fancy reception. Having it at their house seemed like the right feel, acknowledging their hard work on the house to make it comfortable. I made my own dress, and it was very low cost.
Our friends Mark and Niciola had bells from Arcosanti, Paolo Soleri’s studio in Arizona. In addition to architecture, the studio was known for its iconic cast bronze windbells. Mark and Nicola had cast the bells at Arcosanti and they hung them from the trees in the backyard at our wedding. We also probably had potted flowers as decoration, maybe daisies.
What type of food was served?
Everyone ate outside, picnic style. Blankets were laid out and there were benches and chairs for older people. The food was very typical of my mother’s style—baked ham, potato salad, tossed salad, probably a macaroni salad. It was like church food—very good church food. I remember there were lots of strawberries. My mom had gone out and picked oodles of strawberries. The church ladies from my childhood church made the food.
Did having a less formal backyard wedding influence your wedding dress choice?
No, my mother had worn a beautiful, sheer eyelet organza dress her mother had made for her on her wedding day. The dress must have gotten misplaced moving from one house to another so I was not able to wear it. I wanted to include eyelet to connect myself to my mother. I chose the blue calico because I liked the color and blue and it seemed like a simple, unfussy type of fabric. I didn’t want anything fancy. I didn’t have a diamond ring, and we had plain silver wedding rings.
Do you remember the little pinafore hanging in the little case in our living room? It was made from fabric leftover from my mother’s wedding dress. I think subconsciously that fabric was the inspiration for the white eyelet pinafore I made to wear over my wedding dress.
Now, as your daughter I know the answer to this, but there is a funny story about your wedding cake and your dog. Would you share?
The wedding cake was made at the German bakery near our old house in Rockville. My mother bought everything there when I was growing up. We never had store-bought rolls or bread. We wanted a cakes with blue flowers on it, but apparently that was was considered very unusual for the time and we had a white cake instead. When it came time to cut the cake the top was removed and set aside. Whoever was cutting the cake to serve thought the next layer down was the top so they cut into the layer below instead but the cake collapsed onto the floor. Larry was motioning to his brother to get something to clean it up, and everyone left the room in a hurry to find a rag or cloth. When they came back the cake had been magically cleaned off the floor without a trace. Alfred, Larry’s very charismatic dog, had eaten it off the floor. Luckily there was plenty left for the guests to enjoy. Alfred was our ring bearer in the wedding. He threw up the cake later that night.
What is your favorite memory from your wedding?
I think just looking out at all of the people we cared so much about, all of the family friends, relatives from Michigan, Larry’s relatives. It was amazing to see so many people from different phases of our lives, so many different relationships, all in one spot. Our wedding party consisted of all of our roommates and other good friends, and everyone just wore what they wanted. Your godmother didn’t have a long dress so she borrowed one of mine. Mark and Mel wore jeans and sat under the bells and played the guitar. Our family friends had never seen anything like it. I bet they went back to Michigan with a story to tell, but everyone went with the flow and had a really good time. Our family friend Lois’s daughter was younger, and she was inspired by our backyard wedding and ended up having her wedding in her parent’s backyard.
It was just very personal. We wrote our own vows, with quotes from our favorite rock ‘n’ roll songs and our favorite quote from the 1973 film O Lucky Man!: If you have a friend on whom you think you can rely, you are a Lucky Man.
There was a farm field next to my parents’ house, and during the reception our friends went over and played Frisbee. My parents’ dogs were out there running around, as well as our dog Alfred.
Your parents raised you and your siblings in a small suburban home in Rockville, Maryland before deciding to build a house further out, almost in the country. Did they face any challenges adjusting to having a larger backyard that was mostly woods?
Yes, my father cleared out a lot of the underbrush and cut down quite a number of large trees. Then there was the annual raking of the leaves, which took forever. My father loved to rake leaves on his two acres. He kept the part of the yard around the house very neat, raking and raking, then putting the leaves in a compost pile. In the early 1980s my father built a large barn. He built it partly so he could have the experience and learn to do new things. He laid a stone foundation, designed it, and built it himself. He probably had help raising it. The barn was first painted normal tan color, but then on his own years later he painted it a hideous shade of green that my mother hated. It offended my mother’s sense of propriety to have a barn that wasn’t red.
There was bamboo planted on the property before they moved in, shielding the land from the bustling Route 28. It was a good shield between them and the highway, but my father had to cut it back constantly because it grew like crazy. He dug a trench eight or ten feet deep and used corrugated aluminum as the barrier, then filled the trench back in. It worked.
My mom didn’t love being outdoors, but she had a say in what was planted. There was a nice nursery near their house and they would make decisions together. My father built a working windmill for her in the backyard, about five or six feet tall. She loved windmills, loved anything Dutch.
There was a clothesline strung just past the windmill. My mother loved squirrels, all animals. One day a squirrel jumped off the roof onto the windmill blades and swung around and gained enough momentum to jump onto the clothesline, which had a bird feeder hanging from it. My mother loved that. There were also lots of chipmunks. The woodpile in the backyard was always being replenished. My father loved to chop wood and stack it very neatly. It was a favorite hiding spot for chipmunks.
Did your parents garden at the house you grew up in?
In the 1950s and 1960s my dad always had a vegetable garden at our house in Rockville, about twelve by twelve feet. He grew tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, much more than we could ever eat so my parents would give a lot away, but there would still be more. My brother & I would put cucumbers and peppers in our little red wagon and go to the next street over and sell the produce, probably for only a few cents.
Dad was obsessed with grass. He tilled the front yard then leveled it so it sloped away from house down to the curb. It had to be perfect; he made my brother and I move little piles of dirt all over the yard until it was to his liking. He planted Zoysia grass from the Zoysia farm in Gaithersburg. It seemed like a lot of money at the time but he was determined to have perfect grass.
He also over trimmed the bushes and trees at that house every year. My mother would come out and see what he had done and be furious! But he would do it every year.
Your dad loved physical labor and being outside. What are some of the harder projects he took on in the backyard?
Their house was set up high, and the front of the property was very low. He had to build a retaining wall so he went out to railroad tracks and collect old ties that had been tossed aside. They were incredibly heavy. He collected enough to build a humongous retaining wall, about twelve feet tall by thirty feet wide. At one point he tired day laborers to help, but at the end of the day they told him that they would not work with him again because the was too hard. He was skinny, tall and bean-pole thin, but he was strong.
There were three big compost piles, in different states of decomposition, in the back. My father built these big pens, and one just for rocks. The property had been a quarry, lots of quartz. They actually had to position house to avoid the larger rocks in the yard.
He just loved hard physical labor. He liked digging, raking, shoveling, anything that was exhausting. He needed to stay busy. My mother was just as hard working but she didn’t like to do anything outside. My father grew up taking care of his house in Port Huron, Michigan during the Depression, and then took over his fathers roofing business during World War II. His family never went without during Depression, but they barely made it. His family certainly experienced a large degree of insecurity. They had a Victory Garden at some point, and my father probably learned to garden from his parents.