February 14, 2020

Evacuations, Love & Weddings, Oh MY

Jodee Debes Photography (@jodeedebesphoto)

By Emily Merrell 

When I was little, I never imagined a big fancy wedding. Yet when I met Greg Hill, I knew I wanted a wedding. When looking for wedding venues, we knew it had to be in California, specifically wine country. Both of us are transplants, and our common denominator was California.

Jodee Debes Photography (@jodeedebesphoto)

The thing that was most important to us was having our friends and family stay on site. I didn’t want our wedding to be just one day, I wanted it to be a whole experience. On Wednesday, October 24th, just two days before the wedding weekend kicked-off, we heard of potential power outages. We did what we had to do and rented a generator. Then on Saturday, October 26th — the day of the wedding — we started seeing the evacuation warnings due to the Kincade fire. The fire was moving closer to us and things became more real, so we stocked the venue with preventative masks for all of our guests. At 11:30am, in the midst of hair and makeup, we closely monitored the fires but we were still in the clear.

At 2:00pm, my mom (Elizabeth Packer Frank) zipped me into my wedding dress and I met my dad (Allen W Merrell) on the porch for our first look. Surrounded by family and bridesmaids, we began taking photos before the ceremony. Just two photos in, I saw my wedding planner, Cristina Heald, 7 months pregnant with a preventative mask on her face, approaching to have a word. My heart sank. She told me that the fire marshal had just stopped by and told us to evacuate. It was a little less than an hour to our ceremony.

Jodee Debes Photography (@jodeedebesphoto)

Time to initiate Plan B. While our guests raced to pack up their cabins and load up their cars, my friend and photographer Jodee Debes took me to our wedding ceremony location for a first look with my future husband. As I walked down the aisle to him, I was trembling with emotion. We’d already had one house fire this year, how could fire literally strike twice?

Seeing Greg was so emotional but we had to laugh. Because humor has been our medicine and tears were too much for us to handle — we had to mobilize and quick.

Jodee Debes Photography (@jodeedebesphoto)

My family friend Ellen Shifflett had let us store our booze for the wedding at her place, and with all the power outages, had casually mentioned we could always host it at her place if we had to. Never did she expect a call at 2:30pm asking if that offer still stood. Would she mind hosting 135 of our closest friends and family for a ceremony, dinner and dancing — with a full band?

Many hands make light work. Community was the theme of our wedding, yet I never believed “community” would be put to work as it was. Back in May when we had our apartment fire, I had coincidentally been to a tarot card reading that day. I’m not super “woo woo,” but the cards represented catastrophe, lovers and community. I was amazed by the community and how they had rallied around us and lifted us up. Yet, here we were again in a place where we had to put our community to work.

Jodee Debes Photography (@jodeedebesphoto)

We had groomsmen knocking on neighbors’ doors asking for chairs for the ceremony. We had our caterers, La Saison, Napa Valley cooking the majority of the food in their Napa Kitchen, and the rest on a grill in my friend’s driveway. The most beautiful taco buffet was laid out on tables in the driveway, complete with handmade tortillas.

Our florist Ida Blooms swept stray leaves and crafted a ceremony site in an overgrown part of my friend’s lawn. My photographer brought me to see the new ceremony site and I immediately broke down sobbing. I didn’t sob because I was heartbroken that our dream ceremony and wedding wasn’t happening; I was sobbing because everyone was so great. Because our community didn’t flinch when I sent out an email that said “we’re evacuating, new plans below.” They all rallied, pitched in and mobilized in a way I couldn’t fathom.

Jodee Debes Photography (@jodeedebesphoto)

We didn’t have the wedding with the fancy linens or the rentals I’d ordered. Nor did we have a luxurious Sunday by the pool like I had envisioned. Instead we had a ceremony that was so emotional and so full of love and laughter. We had dancing that filled the whole dance floor and lifted us up (literally on two chairs). We had the best food sitting on the stairs, eating off of bamboo plates. I had something more magical than I could have planned. More emotional and joyous and love filled than I could have envisioned.

I tell you this story because despite all those moments of getting knocked down, my friends and family have been there for us. I am so beyond thankful for their love and support and remind you to nurture your community, don’t sweat the small stuff and always have a plan B and C and D.

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