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Midlife weddings take many forms in Maine, for better or worse

Posted April 21, 2017, at 7:35 a.m.
Last modified April 21, 2017, at 12:14 p.m.

It was a beautiful, breezy mid-April day when Corinne Desruisseaux and her fiance, Rodney Royer, drove the winding road to the top of Ducktrap Mountain in Northport. When they reached The Summit, the elegant and aptly named hilltop facility of the Point Lookout Resort and Conference Center, they strolled out onto the expansive deck and took in the view with deep satisfaction.

Far below and off to the east stretched the sparkling waters and green islands of Penobscot Bay. A brilliant blue sky arched overhead, accentuated by puffs of white clouds. In a few short weeks, inviting green lawns and early flowers would surround the center’s multi-level decks and porches.

It was a spectacular spot for a wedding.

In May, Desruisseaux, mother of Bangor Daily News reporter Lauren Abbate, and Royer will speak their vows here, before a gathering of about 130 guests. It’s a second marriage for both of them. They met online, fell in love, got engaged last fall and started talking about what kind of wedding would please them.

“I actually wanted something small,” Desruisseaux, 48, said. Her first wedding was a big family event, in a church, with all the usual fanfare and festivities.

“I thought that if I ever married again it should be something small and intimate,” she said. Her historic home in Tenants Harbor would have been just fine.

But Royer, 45, had a different vision. His first wedding was tiny — just four people in addition to the bride and groom, at home, in the living room.

“She wore black slacks,” he offered, as if that might explain everything.

He never thought he would marry again. But now, presented with a second opportunity, he wanted a more substantial ceremony.

What did he imagine?

Royer paused and smiled before answering. “This,” he said, gesturing full circle — the heart-stopping view, the decks and lawns, the elegant dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows and a dance floor. “I wanted to do it right,” he said. “I wanted to give her a great wedding.”

From grand hotels to rustic summer camps, from elegant evening soirees to up-to-camp pig roasts, from sweet old village churches to impressive cathedrals, Maine offers many options for celebrating a marriage. According to state statistics, about 10,000 couples marry here every year — Maine residents, summer folk and out-of-staters alike.

Many of these weddings, of course, mark first-time marriages. But there is a large subset of older couples who tie the knot for the second or third time, who may have a different perspective on the importance of the wedding event itself.

For some, a simple ceremony at home may be the most meaningful, along with being more affordable than a larger event. Some skip all the hoopla and elope. Others opt for an even simpler option and head for the town office. Here are a few of their stories.

“Nothing romantic about it”

Susie Airhart of Surry was in her mid-40s when she and her live-in boyfriend, Carl Sederquist, decided to make things official back in 1996. Their decision was largely pragmatic, driven by the tragic death of Airhart’s younger sister, who was in a live-in relationship when she died and left behind a difficult and legally confusing estate.

“There was nothing romantic about it,” Airhart, now 64, said of her second wedding. “It was practical decision to get the paperwork done.”

How un-romantic was it, exactly?

“One day around lunchtime, we said, ‘Let’s go to the Surry town hall and get married on the way to the dump,’” she said, laughing. “I mean, it was right on the way.” Their plan hit a snag when the only person at the town office that afternoon was the clerk. She could perform the ceremony, but there had to be two witnesses.

That technicality could have derailed their intentions. “But right then, a guy from Massachusetts who was looking at property to buy comes in to look at some maps, and Carl asks if he’ll be a witness,” Airhart recounted. “So he went out to the car and got his wife, and they stood up with us.”

They signed the papers and Airhart and her husband left for the dump. They picked up celebratory sandwiches at the convenience store on the way home and discovered that word of their union had already spread via the small-town grapevine; the sandwiches were on the house.

They never saw the Massachusetts couple again.

“It’s about us.”

Diane and Ray Pillsbury of Milford, 62 and 60 respectively, met two years ago on a dating site for people 55 and older and were married last weekend. It might easily not have happened.

“I was never going to get married again,” Diane said in a recent call from the 2017 Corvette they rented for their Florida honeymoon. “I was pretty adamant about it, and I had been very upfront with him about it.”

But one day, she realized she had never asked Ray how he felt about marriage. “He said, ‘I’m old-fashioned. I’d love to refer to you as my wife,’” she said. She felt herself relenting. Shortly afterward, Ray proposed and Diane said yes.

Initially, they planned a summer wedding and reception for about 50 people. Then Diane’s father suffered a health crisis, and they moved the date up from July to April, scaling back the guest list to about 20. When her father died in March, everything went on hold. They started looking at the time, money and energy they were spending on the wedding.

“It all started adding up,” she said. “And we realized it’s not about that. It’s about us.”

Their wedding on April 15 took place at their home. There were just eight of their closest friends and family members on hand, plus the officiant. Afterward, they all went out to eat at a nearby restaurant, and then Ray and Diane left for the airport.

“Everybody was so good to us,” she said. Even the airline provided free cocktails.

Muffins and endearments on the dock

Linda Belisle and Myron Long, both 74, decided against marriage because of financial considerations. Instead, they entered into a legal partnership in 2006, after she retired from her job in Augusta and moved two hours north to the waterfront home he was building in Lakeview Plantation. But there had been no solemnities or festivities to mark the occasion.

One July morning about a year later, they woke up to a bluebird day at the lake — flat, calm water, white contrails carving across a clear blue sky. The date, 07/07/2007, seemed auspicious.

“We said, ‘Well, why not?’” Belisle said. She baked a special batch of muffins and set the table with a lace cloth and flowers. After breakfast, they stepped out on the dock in their jeans and T-shirts and joined hands.

“We said endearing words to mark our commitment,” she said. They spoke off the cuff, and she doesn’t remember what, exactly, they said — but it was tender. A neighbor happened to look out the window, caught them in the act and insisted on snapping a photo. That’s all there was to it, but it was enough.

“It seemed important to validate our partnership,” Belisle said. “Yes, I am here for you. Yes, I will have your best interests at heart in the future. Yes, let’s finish building this house together.”

For better or worse, no Elvis impersonators

Len Kaye, 66, and Dyan Walsh, 43, of Orono didn’t want to plan or pay for a big second-wedding event. But after dating for about four years, they knew they did want to get married. So, as they were preparing for a vacation in Las Vegas back in 2011, they decided to tie the knot in the city famous for quick-and-easy weddings.

“You can just walk into City Hall and get a marriage license any time of the day or night,” Walsh said. Not only that, but the concierge at The Venetian, one of the swankiest hotels on the strip, helped her find and rent a simple, strapless, ivory gown. Kaye had brought a suit coat and a fancy tie. They became husband and wife as they were poled around the hotel’s indoor waterway in a gondola.

Their families were a little bit surprised, Walsh said, but they got over it. “We FaceTimed with my mother so she could see me in my dress,” she said. After spending five days in Vegas and the surrounding desert, they drove on to Scottsdale, Arizona, to visit Kaye’s family for a bit more celebration.

Neither of them has any regrets. “We’d both been married before,” Walsh said. “There was nothing we needed, and all that planning was nothing I was willing to go through a second time.”

Escaping cost and complexity

In Bar Harbor, Lynne and Norman Sykes envisioned an elegant wedding with 65 or 75 guests, perhaps at one of Mount Desert Island’s iconic public gardens. But at the same time, Lynne said, they were doing a pricey renovation of their house. They weren’t exactly made of money.

“Perhaps I’m not as romantic as I used to be,” she said. “But really, the house seemed more important.”

In addition to the expense, there were all the complicated logistics of bringing faraway family members to the island for a wedding, and some touchy family dynamics. Plus, they were busy with their careers and other commitments.

“The complexities became overwhelming,” she said. So in August 2015, they eloped instead — a spur-of-the-moment move that took everyone by surprise, including them.

They already had booked a weekend getaway at the Blair Hill Inn on Moosehead Lake in Greenville. The owners quickly arranged for a notary and a photographer. On a Friday afternoon, Lynne and Norm drove up from the coast and were married on the lawn before dinner.

“The owners told me people do this all the time,” Lynne said. “It was so beautiful — the lawn and the gardens and the sun setting over the lake.”

An admitted clotheshorse, she rented a slinky blue gown to be married in for $70 from the website renttherunway.com. “Every woman wants to look beautiful on her wedding day,” she said.

The next day they climbed nearby Borestone Mountain, and on Sunday they stopped at the Piscataquis County Fair on their way back to Bar Harbor.

“I highly recommend eloping,” Lynne, now 53, said. “It takes all the stress out. It’s romantic because you can really focus on each other. It was out of character for me, but that was fun, too.”

“I wanted Lynne to have whatever she wanted,” Norm, 59, said. “I am very happy with the fact that this happened at all.”

A day to remember

For Corinne Desruisseaux and Rodney Royer, the formal upcoming wedding and splashy reception at Point Lookout is as much an expression of their appreciation of friends and family as it is a celebration of their love and commitment.

She has opted for a flowing, strapless, floor-length gown in ivory. He’ll be wearing a classic gray tux with a white shirt. There will be a a small party of attendants as they speak their afternoon vows on the deck, followed by a champagne toast and reception, a sit-down dinner, a splendid three-layer wedding cake and a disc jockey for dancing into the night. Some guests will stay overnight at the event center’s rustic mountainside cabins.

They have a budget of about $20,000.

“We are inviting the people who have most deeply touched our lives and supported us in good times and bad,” Desruisseaux said. “We really just want them all to enjoy the day and have a good time.”

 

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