On the path of their relationship, the wedding was meant only to be a bridge. Ellen Easterly and Tony Cappello learned of each other by way of the Plenty of Fish app. The two met in person on Aug. 7, 2016. Their relationship flourished for three years, and the two got engaged Sept. 21, 2019, and set the wedding for March 19, 2020.
Ellen and Tony were head over heels for each other and excited about the next stage of their relationship as husband and wife. They just had to get through the wedding.
The two were of the same mind with regard to the ceremony: keep it simple and small.
“When it came to actually planning our wedding,” Ellen said, “we knew we wanted two things. First, we wanted a simple ceremony. Second, we wanted a great meal where we could have all of our family members spend time telling stories, eating good food and laughing. Laughing a lot. The rest, the details, were entirely negotiable.”
Those details included a dinner and celebration at Parizade in Durham for 45-50 family members, plus a few very close friends. Travel arrangements and hotel reservations were made. A bridal lunch was scheduled and the invitations sent.
Even Ellen, who shuns attention, agreed to some “extras” and had her hair lightened. She bought a white dress and picked out flowers with her mother, who lives in Raleigh.
“The thought of pomp and circumstance gave me hives,” she said. “Neither Tony nor I are self-promoters by nature, and the thought of a lot of details to manage gave us both serious pause.”
At that time, news of the coronavirus in the U.S. was little more than a trickle. Ellen and Tony made the final payments to the wedding officiant and the honeymoon resort.
And then the dam broke. Fears of COVID-19 and the efforts to slow its spread would soon flip over even the simplest plans.
If the wedding was just the bridge to get Ellen and Tony to a life of marital bliss, it was now taking on water.
“So we made the decision to downsize,” Ellen said. “Out of town guests were given a reprieve. Don’t come. Stay safe. Parizade was out. We cancelled the flights to Saint Thomas and rescheduled the resort until October.”
Now Ellen, her sister, Sarah, and Tony were left with figuring out when and where to make a wedding work. The wedding was going to be on, but the mechanics had to be managed.
“We actually considered the courthouse,” Ellen said. “But daily government downsizing put even a quick ceremony in front of a Magistrate in question.”
Sarah, who was to be the Matron of Honor, mentioned Ayr Mount, a Federal-era plantation house in Hillsborough, with gorgeous grounds and walking trails. Sarah and Ellen visited Ayr Mount to scope out the location. Ellen knew a ceremony inside the venue was out of the question, as the COVID-19 guidelines shuttered many sites that could be used for weddings. But outside the building could work.
The two met Bill Crowther, site supervisor at Ayr Mount. Ellen spoke with Crowther and explained the situation. She wasn’t sure what to expect on such short notice. Crowther left, but returned moments later with an application. He asked Ellen where she planned to have the ceremony so he could be sure to mow that area first. He then led her to the back of Ayr Mount to show her where the bathroom was where she could get ready on the day of the wedding.
Ellen and Sarah were in shock. One of the biggest obstacles to crossing that bridge had been eliminated by the gracious generosity of Crowther and the folks at Ayr Mount.
The two celebrated with a bridal party for two, getting take-out from Chick-Fil-A and eating it at the nail salon while they had their nails done.
The celebrant, the Rev. Sydney Charnley with Eternity Wedding Ceremonies in Greensboro, confirmed she would be there no matter when or where. Tracy Thompson, a photographer and friend of Sarah’s, offered to take pictures during the wedding.
Ellen’s mother had offered to order her a bouquet for the wedding. Ellen decided she would stop by Hillsborough florist, The Flower Patch to order a boutonniere for Tony. She spoke with the owner, Dione Compton, about what she wanted for Tony and another bouquet for her sister. Ellen and Compton spoke for a while, each sharing challenges they either had faced or were now facing. Compton mentioned her business was being hit hard by cancellations because of the coronavirus. Ellen spoke of marrying later in life and of being a cancer survivor.
When the flower arrangements had been finished, Ellen asked for the bill. Compton, though, slid the flowers across the counter and said it was on the house. She said her own mother was a breast cancer survivor and she wanted to show her support for Ellen as she prepared for the next stage in life.
Ellen was again left speechless by the outpouring of generosity and care from people who themselves were facing uncertain times, but still were able to see the value of celebrating the love between two people.
This happened Wednesday. The wedding was Thursday.
The morning of the ceremony at Ayr Mount, Ellen was getting herself ready in the bathroom made available by Bill Crowther. In the original wedding plans, Ellen was to have her hair and makeup done by Hannah Allmon and Rebecca deJesus, who were hair stylists and makeup artists at Haven Salon. Ellen had met with the stylists several times in the weeks prior to the coronavirus outbreak. Now, with the salons being required to close, Ellen believed she was on her own to fix her hair and apply her makeup. Only, she wasn’t.
“Several days prior,” Ellen said, “I got a personal message from Hannah. She said, ‘I know things have been stressful. I know that it’s a very special time for you, but I just wanted you to know that I was thinking about you. You’re beautiful, you’re going to have a wonderful day, and I’m sure you’re going to be great and it’s going to be a wonderful wedding no matter what happens.” Her personal message helped me have confidence that I could do my own makeup and do my own hair. She wasn’t promoting her salon. She was just being a supporting and caring part of the community. Rebecca also messaged me. The receptionist and the owner also did. A lot of people in that small business were supportive in a personal way.”
Ellen purchased a gift card to the salon as a way to say “thank you.”
About 30 minutes later, in front of a dozen family members, Ellen and Tony Cappello sealed the deal. As the newlyweds turned to face those in attendance, Ellen and Tony looked forward to the time they would spend together sharing their lives, hopes and dreams and being each other’s cheerleaders.
They had crossed the bridge; one that had been rebuilt and supported by a community of selfless acts and efforts to let love rule the day, even in uncertain times.