Column: My parents got married during quarantine


Ian and Marlaina Dowling kiss at their surprise wedding on July 22, 2020. The couple’s orginial wedding plans were cancelled because of the pandemic. Courtesy of Hannah Renton.

Hannah Renton

My parents are the busiest people on Earth. Together, they own and operate a microbrewery in our hometown of Bethlehem, New Hampshire. Though they have a small yet strong team of employees, this venture is all consuming.

Their idea of a vacation is running away for a night to spend a few hours mountain biking in the hills of Vermont, which is not exactly relaxing, at least to your average Joe. So when they told the family they were finally getting married after nearly seven years of being together, my first thought was, “Where hell are they gonna find time to plan a wedding?” But the real kicker is, they got engaged one week before the coronavirus hit the U.S. and our world changed forever.

As anyone can expect, this put a damper on some plans. My mother, Marlaina, and her man, Ian, considered many options for a “quickie” wedding. They thought they could just go to town hall or maybe hire a justice of the peace and hike up their favorite mountain to get it done. But as the weeks passed and we were all stuck inside together quarantining, their ideas of a fast wedding seemed more and more unlikely. Eventually, they gave up and decided to wait for things to calm down so they could have a proper wedding. This also meant more time for planning, so it seemed like the right choice. But this sentiment faded quickly.

Both Ian and my mom became more and more antsy. They knew a ring and a ceremony would never change their love for each other. But after waiting so long, these last few months were excruciating for them. They wanted their union official and on paper. It was honestly quite hard to watch. All I wanted to do was help, but I didn’t know how. That was until a quiet night in with our close friends and neighbors turned into the scheme of the century.

Nikki and Eric, the best neighbors a girl could ask for, felt the same about the wedding situation. They knew the parents didn’t want to wait and that they would never put away the time to really plan it because they had so much to do with the brewery and life in general. So, while sitting across the dining room table from me, Nikki said bluntly, “Why don’t we just plan it for them?!” And I couldn’t have been more down to do it. Knowing I had their help and support, I was ready to plan the most fun, and safe, surprise wedding.

It took six weeks, four Amazon shipments and lots of secretive meetings, but everything was ready and on July 22, the wedding date, all that was left to do was finally break the surprise to my mom and Ian. After sending them away for a day of mountain biking with my brother Phillip and now-step-sister Meg, the neighbors and I frantically turned our plain backyard into a fairytale scene chock-full of twinkle lights, wildflower bouquets and tiki torches. Once everything was ready, Phillip snuck back home early with the excuse of a meeting, and we both dressed in our best garb to head to the courthouse with all the paperwork for a marriage license in hand.

And then there we were, waiting patiently in front of town hall when the silver Sprinter van pulled up across the street and Ian and Mar stepped out. After a bit of understandable confusion, they turned toward us and saw me, with a bouquet and the paperwork, and Phillip, with a sign reading, “IT’S YOUR F****** WEDDING.” From a few yards away, I could see the shock on their faces. Phillip and I were beaming under our masks and, as they approached us, I could see the tears of joy and excitement. We all exchanged the biggest hugs I think we’ve ever had and explained the whole scheme. We then sent them in and us three children went back to the house to greet the guests and get the ceremony ready.

I have to say, there were about a dozen times we almost gave up on the wedding because of many, many hiccups. But, in the end, it went perfectly. The forecasted rain stayed at bay, there was the perfect amount of food and a killer playlist made by Meg. All the guests and the newlyweds ended up dancing till dawn and kicking all the kegs. It was a night I will cherish forever, and I truly have to thank our wonderful friends and community for making it all happen. Cheers to the bride and groom! I love you guys!