August 6, 2018

The Engagement Party

A few weeks after the proposal weekend, my parents began planning an engagement party for Andrew and I. We picked out a menu, found a Mr. Boddington invitation on Paperless Post, and watched Father of the Bride for inspiration. The party would take place in my parents’ backyard on a Sunday evening in July — I hoped and prayed it wouldn’t be too hot.

The first half of July flew by: closing on our new condo, the 4th, our weekend in NYC, my birthday. Before we knew it, the weekend of the party had arrived.

Truthfully, I wasn’t in the best of moods. That workweek had been a particularly tough one. I watched deal after deal fall apart, I agonized over my own condo sale, and I felt those all-too-familiar feelings of fear and anxiety. And to add some first-world fuel to the fire, I visited every department store in the city and could not find the perfect white dress to wear to our party. I broke down and cried a few times that week.

Andrew’s family (Lynn, Mike and Grandmother) drove in from Georgia on Friday afternoon, and that night, they had a reservation for everyone at Mon Ami Gabi in Oak Brook. I drove there with my parents, and from the backseat, I told them that I needed to get out of my funk.

“Can I pray right now?” asked my mom, turning to look at me.


My mom grabbed my hand. I don’t even remember what she said, but I do know I took a long, deep breath, leaning into Jesus and trying to take the pressure off of myself.

Our dinner was lovely, of course. To Andrew and I, it felt surreal to be at the table with both sets of parents. They have met once before (last summer, for a drink at 3 Arts Club). This time, though, we were sitting with each other’s future in-laws. I held Andrew’s hand under the table, watching everyone interact.

The next morning, Andrew’s great aunt and uncle (Barry and Becky) flew in from Texas. He spent much of Saturday showing them around the city, from his West Loop condo to our new one in Lincoln Park. I loved seeing Lynn, Mike, Barry, Becky and Grandmother walk from room to room, ooh’ing and ahh’ing over our soon-to-be home. Barry and Becky gave us a gift — a framed photo of Andrew and I at the waterfall where we got engaged.

I woke up on Sunday, nervous. Our party would take place that evening, and all I wanted was for it to go well. The weather was humid and very hot — soaring close to 90 degrees. I spent my morning in the city working out, drying my hair, meeting a few girlfriends for breakfast, and worrying.

Andrew had slept over at my parents’ house on Saturday night, so I didn’t see him until a few hours later. He took one look at me and immediately knew how anxious I was about the party.

“Melanie,” he said, grabbing my shoulders. “This is supposed to be fun. It will be fun. Your parents are throwing us beautiful party. Try to enjoy it.”

Just like on Friday night, I sighed and asked God to help me change my attitude.

It torrentially rained around four o’clock. The sky turned grey-green, and then it just let loose, soaking my parents’ perfectly staged backyard just before the party. By the time Andrew and I walked in the back door of their house, everything was moved inside and the air-conditioning was on full blast.

I ran upstairs to get ready. My mom had gifted me a creamy white dress for my birthday just a week before, but I didn’t think I’d end up wearing something with long sleeves. Since the party was now indoors, I decided to put it on. After all, it was my only option. (It ended up being the best option!)

As I swiped coat after coat of black mascara onto my lashes, I couldn’t help but laugh at all of this. A small engagement party is nothing compared to an actual wedding (which we are not having, but more on that later). I could only imagine how I’d react in that situation — tumultuously, I’m sure.

My best friend Courtney arrived, and she and Andrew came upstairs to find me. We stood in my parents’ bathroom, talking and laughing as I finished my makeup. I glanced at my handsome fiancé in the mirror. He was wearing a white linen shirt, dark jeans, and a little scruff. Even as I write this, I can’t believe I get to marry that guy.

The three of us went downstairs. My home was simply stunning: candles everywhere, low lighting, our favorite jazz songs playing, fancy platters and servingware, Veuve Clicquot in a bucket, roses everywhere in shades from white to pink to red. I have shared before about my mother’s love for entertaining. This party was all her, from the decor to the catering menu to the flowers on the cake. Even as she was rushing around to get everything set up in time, she looked so, so beautiful. I don’t know how she does it.

Before the guests got there, Courtney took a few pictures of Andrew and I in the living room. We posed on the couch, doing whatever she directed: “Put your hand there! Soft smile! Real smile! Kiss!”

Andrew and I had never taken photos like that before, but we both had a ball with Courtney. She has a way about her that just makes you feel comfortable, and since the three of us are all close, it was even easier to be ourselves.

Shortly after six, the house began to fill up with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. Champagne in hand, I moved around, caught in a happy whirlwind of hi’s and hello’s and thank you’s. It was such a joy to see people from each part of my life in one place: high school, college, adulthood. What’s more, those people were interacting with Andrew’s family — all to celebrate our approaching marriage.

I sent each guest to the bar, where they could make a cocktail, pour a glass of wine, or grab a cold beer. In the kitchen, the centerpiece was a giant cheeseboard, crafted by one of my mom’s friends. It was a true work of art, showcasing gouda, brie, rosemary asiago, crackers, sour cherry jelly, different nuts, slices of salami and prosciutto, grapes, olives and more flowers.

After appetizers and drinks, the caterer cleared the kitchen and set up dinner. My mom had carefully selected this menu from Standard Market, reading it over to Andrew and I several times before the weekend. It was an outstanding spread: colorful orzo, decadent lobster rolls, crab cakes, pork sliders, caprese salad, shrimp skewers, and the fluffiest bread. The meal was not to be outdone by the dessert table, all done by my mom’s good friend and bakery owner: pink and white cookies, glittery cupcakes, chocolate truffles, and a three-tiered cake adorned with fresh roses.

The night flew by. Eventually, the weather cleared, and some guests sat outside in the humid evening air. I stayed in the crisp air-conditioning, laughing with my girlfriends and losing track of how many glasses of wine I’d had. By the time the last guest left, it was almost eleven o’clock.

Andrew and I stayed up late. We changed into pajamas and sat at the dining room table, opening gifts and reading cards aloud to one another. Between us, we filled a plate with food (and more dessert!) so that we could sample everything. I ate too much and drank too much, but I adored sharing that time with Andrew.

As I write this almost one month later, I feel wistful and thankful. For my parents, who bent over backward to create a magical evening for us. For Andrew’s parents and relatives, who traveled from far away to be there. For my friends and family, who came over to celebrate.

And last but not least, for Andrew, who will soon become my husband.

Courtney Cimo Photo + Film