It’s not every day that one gets married… to a person of a different culture… in a far-off place… for next to nothing … in a wedding ceremony one wrote oneself… as part of a surprise number… at a farewell party (despedida)… with almost nobody in the audience knowing that they were going to a wedding that day!
That’s what happened on April 21, 1970, on the stage of Bicol Teachers’ College’s Little Theater in Daraga, Albay, Philippines, in what the Naga Times headline proclaimed, “A most surprising number.” The mini-headline teaser called it “THE MOST UNUSUAL WEDDING IN BICOL.”
Forty-one relatively happy years of marriage later, these are things about the day that I remember with pride or joy:
1. The cost for everything. It totaled $3, within even a Peace Corps budget ($0.50 for the marriage license and $2.50 to get permission from the United States government to marry a non-American).
2. The words. I replaced the restrictive concept of the bond of marriage with the more expansive notion of marital union. I changed the grim “’til death do us part” with “to be my wedded wife, to share a life, as long as we both shall live.” I altered the materialistic, “With this ring, I thee wed” to the more romantic “With this love, I thee wed.”
3. Its uniqueness. A Philippine newspaper account billed it favorably as “the most unusual in the history of Philippine-American relations.”
4. The sense of oneness and of joy as all two hundred members of the audience joined hands and sang, round after round after round after round: “Hi, ho, nobody home/ Meat nor drink nor money have I none/ Still I will be very merry.”
5. Surprise! The secret was very well kept, with even the two photographers out of the loop, thinking at the outset they’d be photographing just another despedida!
Of the more than 30 remaining photos, The Despedida 1 – The Despedida 6 capture the essence of the event.
The Despedida 1: “A Most Surprising Number” Newspaper Article, shows one of several newspaper articles about the event. Two others were headlined “Surprise Ending: Farewell Party Turns into Wedding” and “Ojai Peace Corpsman Wed in Unique Philippine Rite.”