The Three Weddings of Sarah and Bruno
An Account by Barry McWilliams

Bruno Balogh proposed to my daughter, Sarah, last April, Marianne, my wife, was there on her "Raggedy Ann" Patchwork Conference Mission Trip to Kaposvár, Debrecen, and Poland. So on their last night in Kaposvár, Bruno took them out to a nice restaurant. A thin soup is the first course in Hungarian meals. Bruno loves fruit soup - a popular Hungarian item of cream and cherries or other fruit. So he told Sarah that if she found a pit in the soup, she would have to answer a question. (Alas, there were no pits!) So he arranged for an almond pit to be slipped into her cappuccino at the end of the meal. The question was written on a napkin - "Will you be my wife?" with multiple choices for answers. Sarah responded, in America, the guy gets down on his knees and asks. He did. To her surprise, and perhaps to his, she answered "Yes!"

Soon after Sarah had to return to the states to get a visa. A wedding plan was hatched. In Hungary - the civil ceremony (Polgari) is required - at the courthouse of the city where they lived. Hence wedding one in Kaposvar, in Southwestern Hungary. A religious service, so essential to a Christian couple would be a separate one. Since Bruno's mother, his sister, and his other relatives lived near Mende, East of Budapest, the second wedding would be at Tóalmás, near Mende at Word of Life, Hungary - the Bible School which Bruno had attended. The campus was a Castle - actually a Baroque Summer Mansion built by the same architect who did the Opera House in Budapest, for a prime minister in Hungary in the late 1800's. A lovelier setting for a wedding would be hard to find. Bruno's mom would be making those arrangements. The third wedding would be in Sarah's hometown, Everett, Wa., in the church where her parents were wed - Westminster Presbyterian Church, for Sarah's family, relatives and friends. Preparations for the latter were largely done before she returned to Hungary for the summer English camps.

The plan soon had Bruno and Sarah attending the fall missionary training sessions in Libby, Montana after a couple of weeks of honeymoon in Washington. A break would be taken from his business classes in Hungary. Visas were a touchy item, prayed earnestly for and the Lord faithfully providing them.

Marianne set to work on dresses for the bridesmaids for both the Tóalmás and Everett weddings, and a dress for herself as well. Wedding parties? Usually in Hungary, just a best man and maid of honor - and only the bride and groom dress up fancy. The two witnesses for Kaposvár were Kati, his sister and Pastor Attila of the Methodist Church. Sarah had a best friend from childhood Anitra Radtke as maid of honor at Tóalmás (Her new husband works for Voicestream, co-incidently was on business in Budapest that week so Anitra came along), and Kati, Bruno's sister, as bridesmaid. Bruno had two friends from Word of Life as his escorts. Everett had Chrissy Graham (who had returned from International Messengers work in Romania) as Maid of Honor and Anitra and Arial, another close friend as brides maids and Bruno had Jay Marble (who worked with him and Sarah in Kaposvár last year) from Michigan and Sarah's brother, Paul, and Chrissy's brother, Andrew, as groomsmen. Unbeknownst to Sarah, a flower girl was arranged as well - she would later bring some humor to the service. The dresses were blue with a lace over the bodice - Marianne made most of them. Marianne's was burgundy red. Sarah's colors were the blue, red and white.

Marianne and I flew through London to Budapest on August 25th - a nine and a half hour flight to Heathrow, a layover of several hours, then a two and half hour flight to Budapest, arriving at 11:00 PM. Bruno and Sarah met us, and we spent the first night in Mende, a village about 30 miles east of Pest, at his mom's. We met her and Kati, his sister. (Bruno's father passed away in 1999.) We awoke to doves and roosters, and a breakfast of sliced bread, cheese, meat and peppers (standard fare). Bruno was building a shed for his car. Bruno is quite a capable man - he can do construction, build computers, knows all about vineyards and orchards, has a wonderful sense of humor and can drive like a maniac - a requirement in Hungary where everyone knows exactly how big their cars are. He is also quite a romantic - devoted to Sarah - frequently buying her flowers.

Tuesday afternoon we loaded the car and headed for Kaposvár, five to six hours drive down around Budapest, across to Lake Balatin and then south through rolling hills and fields and quaint Hungarian villages. Part of the trip was on an expressway still under construction with the usual delays, then a substantial thunderstorm. Hungary is a broad rolling plain, green with fields and clusters of trees. That evening we helped decorate the Methodist Church for the reception. We had brought tulle for bows with us. Many of these were used in all three weddings. It is typical of Sarah that even in the midst of all her busyness, she dropped everything to figure out just who to call to resolve a cultural mis-communication conflict between her roommate, Barbara, and Barbara's new landlord. We stayed at Sarah's that night.

Wednesday, we awoke to the mourning doves and bells of Kaposvár. The next morning required some planning - especially figuring out how to get people where they needed to be. (Sarah could do that in her head - but Bruno needed to put it all on paper.) Sarah was getting a bit frantic over the details - the cake, the flowers, etc. She had a hair appointment that morning. Breakfast was a bag of pastries and somehow salt had gotten into the sugar bowl. Lunch was a Hungarian feast prepared by Bruno's landlady (he has been staying at the Sutton's apartment) who had killed a hen for the occasion. There was soup (the essential first course), two kinds of chicken, two salads, and dessert. Bruno's mom, her boyfriend, and Kati, his sister arrived, her first trip to Kaposvár. Sarah and Marianne arrived a little later. It was a hot day, iced beverages are rare in Hungary and I was sweating in my new suit.

Sarah wore a light blue suit for the first wedding. Arriving at the courthouse for the Polgári, we greeted guests who had come - the Hungarian way is a kissing sound on each side of the head. Then we proceeded up the stairs to the big assembly room - a beautiful room with stained glass windows and the Kaposvár and Hungarian Seals painted on the walls. The wedding party was seated in the front row. Passports were checked and the ceremony began.

Bruno had said it was just a formality and a piece of paper - but it was clear that it was more than that for them. Sarah was absolutely radiant. The magistrate donned her sash of office, embroidered with the seal of Kapsvár. The ceremony was in Hungarian, Marianne and I had a translator whispering over our shoulder. After words of welcome and introduction, the bride, the groom, and the witnesses, Bruno's sister, Kati, and Pastor Attila, signed the big book. Then vows and rings were exchanged. A unity candle was lit. The magistrate gave an admonition to the couple to persevere in their marriage. Flowers were presented to the parents. They kissed - obviously they had had some practice and were very much in love. Congratulations were given - more double kissing. As Sarah and Bruno emerged from the courthouse they were showered with rice. After some more greetings, the couple followed by their parents set out by foot up the Walking Street - a bricked pedestrian street lined with beautiful baroque buildings and shops. People smiled as we passed. It was about a ten minute walk to the Methodist Church.

As the couple entered, the pastor, his wife and three children sang a lovely song. The couple was escorted to two seats with bows. A Hungarian custom at weddings is for the guests to bring songs, poems, Scriptures and good wishes (special greetings) to a couple. Panko, a girl Sarah had discipled in Pecs, sang a song, which she would sing in Tóalmás too. I told a story about Adam and Eve and the origin of pets. There were about forty people there - they included many close friends. A table was set with intricately done sandwiches and cookies (Bars actually). The cake cutting was American style - a matter of serving each other and "not just mushing cake" in each other's faces. Bruno played a game where blindfolded he had to find Sarah by touching girls hands - apparently he had to dance with the one he chose. He found Sarah! The couple's first dance was to a song of praise to God that would also be sung in the Everett Wedding: "Father, We commit to You". A ring of dancers formed around them. Sarah's shoes came off and she finished standing on his toes. Then the pastor on his guitar and another on a keyboard started playing Yiddish tunes as the guests danced in a circle - a kind of Jewish line dancing. The guest book was circulated - each guest writing a full page of remarks. Little bundles of an American candy, Jelly Belly's, were passed out. As the reception wound down, guests would present gifts to the couple - Hungarians prefer giving gifts as they leave so the host won't be obligated to give one in return - and personally presenting them to the bride and groom. (Hungarians often give gifts of money in an envelope marked only with the bride and groom's name - but it is essential that they know who gave what.) They received a number of beautiful things including three sets of dishes for six!!

On the way home, we stopped by the Pindar's (who hosted Marianne and I in March of 2001) for some toasts. (I managed to sit on a casserole dish on the car seat in my new suit - groan - dry cleaners are practically unknown in Hungary.) We stayed with Sarah at her place, Bruno at his.

Thursday was a hard day. We got up and finished packing Sarah's things, Bruno was packing his stuff up as well. We helped move their stuff to their new apartment that they will live in when they return in January. Errands and misc. details resulted in us leaving several hours later than planned. Traffic was awful at Budapest. We were almost at Mende when we had to backtrack to Tesco in Pest to get fruit and stuff for the dinner at Tóalmás. We arrived late, but Bruno's mom had some dinner waiting for us. There was some confusion concerning several friends who would be decorating the castle. They had been stranded there - finally they took the train back to Mende and we had three extra guests that night.

Friday morning was laid back - typical breakfast. Another warm day. Logistics of getting people to Tóalmás were complicated - but somehow worked out. We arrived to find decoration in progress - the 100 white luminaries (with hearts cut out) lining the drive and walkway to the lake. The ribbons we brought were used, but they had lots of fabric roses made up too, and drapes of red fabric, white Christmas lights on the railing of the stairs, and a big heart of ribbon roses over the door outside to the veranda where there were tables with burgundy clothes. Real flowers were put on the cake. (Eat your heart out, Julia Roberts!!) Bruno's grandfather's garden provided four large bouquets on the railing posts, illuminated by tiki torches.

The Andrássy Kastély was a wonderful fairytale setting for a wedding. Bride and groom got ready. She came down the stairs to a stunned groom - her cream colored gown with a long train and both a long Cathedral and short veils. Pictures were taken outside. Hungarians don't do rehearsals - I wish they did though - we might have had less confusion over seating and our translator would have made it to the seat behind us. But it was a beautiful wedding. I walked her in. The bride and groom had their seats in front. Panko sang. The Pastor preached. I gave the bride away - my speech more than the usual "Her Mother and I". Rings and vows were followed by a pastoral prayer by me. Special greetings - that Hungarian thing - included a story by me, the Stone before the Door, (which humorously had the Pastor translating "Pull" when I was saying "Push"). Another long kiss, greetings and more double kissing.

The reception was wonderful. There were about fifty people there. Paul had made CD's with jazz and ballads for music. There were about fourteen wedding cakes on the table (another Hungarian thing - guest often bring cakes - which is good because boxes of cake are given to the guests as they depart later in the evening. The cakes had lots of layers about half an inch each.) The dinner was catered. Verna Sutton, an American missionary, started the "Click the glasses - get the couple to kiss" thing and glasses were clinked again and again and again. The Cake cutting was hilarious, Bruno trying to cut through all three layers (and the cardboard between them). Face mushing, of course. At dark the luminaries and tiki torches were lit. No dancing however - it is a Christian School that frowns on such.

Gradually the guests departed. We stayed on however. Sarah and Bruno had a somewhat private room for their first wedding night, complete with a loft. Marianne and I were on the third floor - in what were once servant's quarters. It takes the hot water a long time to get up there.

Next day, we cleaned up the castle. A walk around the castle grounds. Breakfast was leftover salad from the night before. We all headed back to Mende. That afternoon, Bruno's mom had a party for neighbors and relatives. It was a small affair, out in the yard - another hot day. There was plenty of leftover food from the night before. Champagne toasts. Some wine and beer. Some folk-dancing foolishness. And the custom of the "Little Money". Handfuls of small change tossed on the walk. Sarah given a broom to sweep them up. (Custom says that if she sweeps them up apart from the dust - she will manage the finances well.) A couple of platters were smashed (the more pieces, the better the marriage), more change and sweeping. Sarah finally got it done. A little rest. Then Bruno and Sarah had a surprise for Marianne and I. A trip to Pest, stopping by the cemetery where his father is buried, a ride on the underground to Buda, where we sat on the banks of the Danube for the (postponed from 8/20 because of the flooding) St. Stephen's day fireworks - half an hour of fireworks from the castle on Gellert's hill, and from the bridges. Spectacular, accompanied by music - right in the middle they played Beethoven's Joyful, Joyful as the crowd sang along, gold rings exploded in the sky along with blossoms of fire. Marianne said even Budapest was celebrating their marriage - the same piece was played as they exited the wedding service the day before. Packed like sardines in the metro, we headed homeward, with a stop at McDonald's on the way.

Sunday was a day of rest. A time of worship with Scriptures and prayer. A visit to Bruno's grandfather's to see his gardens and vineyard (which Bruno built) and drink some of his new and older wine. After Bruno's parents divorced, it was his grandfather who raised him. We watched the video tapes that had been made of the weddings. Some neighbors came calling with gifts.

Monday morning was laundry time - Hungarian's have nifty compact little washers, but no dryers - so clothes have to be hung out to dry. Details were dealt with. Finally, we had expected to leave much earlier - we headed into Budapest for some shopping for souvenirs. We stopped in a village where Bruno got his International Driver's License. Bruno was also looking for someone to translate their marriage certificate so their visas and passports could be updated. We had lunch there - along with a thunderstorm. Traffic in the city was awful, but we had a hour of shopping while Bruno looked for a translator. We picked up Kati at her work and stopped at a village on the way home for bowling in a two lane alley with Bruno's friends (overwhelmed by Hungarian, Marianne and I absorbed ourselves in Electronic Solitaire and FreeCell). When the music got too loud we all went for late night walk around the village, which has a castle being restored and a church shaped like an Ark. Back to Mende.

Tueday, Bruno and I set off for some "quality time" - driving East to the next county. We got the wedding pictures from Toalmas, Bruno put the monetary gifts they had gotten into a higher interest account at the Posta Bank. We browsed a few fish stores - Bruno loves aquariums. That afternoon I dubbed a video tape for his Mom. Packing commenced for the trip home. That evening we presented our gifts we had brought from America to Bruno's mom and his sister, mindful that the time of leaving is the time to give gifts..

Wednesday we were up at five, packing all of ours and Bruno and Sarah's luggage, ourselves and an extra person (to drive the car back) into Bruno's Vento. We flew home on British Air - Sarah and Bruno on KLM. Our flight from London home was delayed several hours by mechanical problems - so we arrived at 10:30 PM instead of 3:15. Bruno and Sarah were picked up by Chrissy Graham. We were picked up by Paul and his girlfriend (also a Chrissy.) Our new bathroom - a part of our remodeling project - just finished just enough that we could use it.

Jet lag (you wake up at 4 AM full of energy) was useful as we began to pull things together for the wedding on Saturday. This meant shopping trips and other preparations. You can get a lot done when you start that early. Thursday, Bruno decided to work - he weeded my beds, trimmed my hedge and cut down a tree sized laurel bush. Getting Tux's. Bruno experiencing culture shock. Friday was preparing for the Rehearsal Dinner, and decorating Westminster. The guests from IM in Montana arrived, including Mariana and Leveu (friends from Romania at the training center in Libby this fall). The rehearsal started late, and took a while - a good sign. The dinner, at our church building in Lake Stevens was for over twenty people - we had hauled all our china over for that. Marianne's Lasagna, my Chicken in Orange Sauce, and a salad were on the menu. Entertainment was our videos of the weddings in Hungary. Thea Beaty (who went with Marianne on the Raggedy mission trip in April) was indispensable for her help.

Saturday morning - Bruno and Paul and Jay played video games. I did five posters of pictures of the couple, pictures of them as children and pictures from weddings 1 & 2. Sarah had a hair appointment. I decorated for the reception - including bowls of gold fish on the tables - and a bride and groom fish tank up front with angels - a surprise for Bruno. Lunch at Scuttlebutt - no peach juice - but Bruno liked their rootbeer. The five wedding cakes with an intricate basket weave frosting were decorated with real flowers including some expensive white lilies. Pictures were taken by Sarah's uncle, Bob Gaston.

Guests began arriving - there was around a hundred, 180 had been invited. Candelabra's down the aisle. A wonderful service - especially since it was in English. I had prepared the whole service, but got to sit through most of it - an elder lead the worship - Bob Rasmussen, President of IM (Sarah and Bruno's mission) was the speaker, he (and Chrissy Graham) brought special music as well. I did the blessing at the end. As the vows were said the sunlight from the stained glass window in the back lit up the bride and groom. Just as the service ended, it set. The entire wedding party (including the flower girl) whipped out sunglasses and literally ran out, the bride leaving her shoes behind. Sarah and Bruno returned to greet and excuse guests pew by pew.

There was plenty of food at the reception, provided by people from our church, supervised by Pat Jackson. There was lots of fun. Toasts. The usual wedding stuff, cake, bouquet, garter. Jelly Belly's and jingle bells for the guests. There were also a couple of Hungarian "things" done - the bride and groom smashed their goblets after a toast - the bride dutifully sweeping them up - shocking some American guests who didn't understand why he didn't help. And just before the end came the money dance - Sarah appeared wearing a special red Hungarian peasant's dress and headdress began dancing with the guests (Bruno was a bit stunned - this was a surprise for him) in exchange for cash. (A nifty bit of money for the honeymoon resulted.) The bride and groom departed for a suite at an Inn on Everett's waterfront as Marianne and I set about cleaning up, we got home about 11:30 PM - it took three carloads to get everything home.

Sunday, the IM people were at church. Bob Rasmussen, our guest speaker. The Bride and Groom made it too. Following the service we head home and slept. They opened gifts and cards in the evening. Monday, Sarah and Bruno headed off for a few days honeymoon at Seaside on the Oregon Coast stopping by Mount St. Helen's on a beautiful day.


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