Dangers of saying ‘I do’ at the beach

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By Hardy Jackson

Beach weddings are big business down on the coast.
Hardly a spring or summer or fall or even warm winter week goes by without one. There is a whole “beach-wedding industry” ready and waiting to help you tie the knot with caterers, chair-renters, photographers, even preachers if you don’t have your own.
Resorts cater to the happy couple and all their guests. Individuals who own beach houses rent them out to families and friends of the betrothed. In some cases, a wedding party simply pulls into a beach-side parking lot, piles out, sets up chairs and coolers, rolls in the friendly minister, vows are said and the party begins.
It can be a lovely scene – and often is.
But even a lovely scene can present parking problems and produce noises that inconvenience and upset neighbors.
Which is why, down in Walton County on the Florida Panhandle, the county commission stirred up a storm when it considered an ordinance that would require folks who were renting their beach house and/or condo(s) for wedding festivities to get a permit and pay a fee. More significantly, the plan would limit these permits to no more than four times a year. This, according to folks on the scene, “will cripple the wedding industry.”
The debate focused on the usual things folks down there focus on. People who own beachfront houses and want to rent them say the government has no right to tell them what they can or cannot do with their property which, they argue, includes the beach itself. (Saying that the government has no right to tell you what to do unless it is something you want to do is a time-honored coastal tradition).
However, the people next door are demanding relief from streets packed with cars and “raucous, post-wedding parties.”
Meanwhile, folks who come down to do the renting, claim the beach belongs to all. They don’t want government, local snobs, or anyone else, keeping them from getting married on “their” beach – a point of view generally favored by the “wedding industry.”
Then there are those who say that the beach belongs to God’s creatures and want to make sure that weddings and parties are not held during turtle nesting season.
At the heart of all this, it seemed to me, is a cultural standoff between, on the one hand, those who feel beach weddings bring in the wrong sort of people, people who will disturb their serenity and depress property values. On the other side are those whose livelihoods depend on those very people coming down.
I was pondering all this when I got an email from a friend, telling of a recent beach wedding he attended.
After noting that “going to the beach to marry is kinda like going to Bourbon Street to be baptized,” my friend described a wedding party that included a bridesmaid who was spilling out of her “strapless pink dress.” However, the anatomical attributes of the young woman were forgotten when onlookers realized that the cup she was carrying wasn’t for drinking, it was for spitting.
Yessir, my friend wrote, “I’ve been to two Worlds Fairs, several rodeos, Holiness revivals, and even seen buzzards breeding, but I have never seen a bridesmaid with a dip.”
Now the immediate assumption would be that these were the very sort of folks who put the redneck into the Riviera, an assumption seemingly supported by their behavior at the reception. (One guest was so loud and obnoxious that a woman told my friend if “I’d brought my purse I’d pull out my pistol and shoot his a**.”)
But don’t be quick to put this into your “typical redneck” file. According to my witness, the guy who didn’t get shot was a Yankee, and “most of the young folks were college grads.” The “dippin’ bridesmaid” had a degree from the University of Georgia (my alma mater).
Then, I got an email from a high school classmate, who wrote to tell me that he was getting married and the ceremony would take place at Gulf Shores.
On the beach.
At sunset.
Now as far as I knew, Baldwin County had no restrictions on beach weddings, so my friend was safe on that account.
And though I had met his bride-to-be only once, I got the distinct impression that a “dippin’ bridesmaid” would not be in her entourage.
However, other dangers lurk.
So as a wedding present I offered a word of warning.
People get different when they breathe salt air.
So scrutinize the guest list carefully.
And be ready. On the coast you never know who or what will show up.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.

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