By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian
Melanie Stevenski had planned the perfect wedding.
It would be in late June 2012, outdoors at the Holly River, where Brandon Gooch, her fiancé, had proposed to her the year before.
The sky would be the deepest blue, with neither cloud in sight nor breeze on the wind, the river burbling gently in the background.
In the trees, summer birds would sing merrily as she married her one true love.
Family and friends would marvel and gasp teary-eyed at her incredible vision of bridal loveliness.
Her wedding would be more than perfect. It would be legendary. One that people would talk about for years. Unforgettable, one of a kind.
Well, she got her wish.
She and Brandon grew up together in church. He was three years older and didn’t pay much attention to her until she was a senior in high school.
Then one day, at church, he asked her out.
“I was embarrassed,” she said. Nervously she ripped an entire piece of paper out of her notebook and scribbled her phone number, as tiny as she could.
She was just 17 but soon she knew this was it.
“I don’t know when it got serious, but I knew from the beginning we were looking for the same thing,” she said.
She was applying to attend a Christian college in Tennessee “to find a Christian boy,” she said. She ended up staying here and attending West Virginia University after Brandon asked her out.
“It worked out well,” she said. She stayed with her parents and drove to Morgantown every day to study lab technology. Meanwhile, Brandon was a longwall foreman in the mines.
“We were looking for the same thing: somebody with a Christian background. We wanted to put ourselves in our careers and focus on that for a while. And we wanted kids. Everything we wanted seemed to match.
“I really wanted to stay here. I had no desire to move. I was just going to Tennessee to find a good Christian guy.”
She found him, and they started planning their lives together.
Brandon “absolutely loved” Holly River, she said. “He went there every year.”
They went down July 4, 2011, for the holiday with his grandparents.
Picture this: They’re standing at the falls of the river, skipping stones.
“We’re both extremely competitive,” she said. “The joke always was who can do it better.”
He’s always been better at skipping rocks, she said.
“That’s the one thing he does beat me in. I’m really bad at it,” she said with a laugh.
She threw a rock, which sank straight to the bottom.
“You’re not using the right rock,” he said to her.
“Here,” he said. “I found the perfect rock.”
She turned around and in his hand was the diamond engagement ring she’d picked out some time before. She had known a proposal was coming. She just didn’t know when.
She would joke, “I don’t care how you propose, just don’t put the ring on an antler.”
They’d talked about getting married at Holly River, so that was one of the reasons they were there, to scope things out. She was in her senior year at WVU, and they wanted to wait until she graduated college so they could focus on their careers. She had just under a year left, so a wedding was still in the future.
But you can’t have a wedding without a proposal.
“I just thought he was gonna hand me a rock,” she said. “I thought he was still paying on my ring. I didn’t think it would be anything like this at all. He’s such a jokester.”
Flabbergasted, she sputtered, “Are you serious? Is this for real?”
He was and it was.
Once it sunk in, she knew the only answer would be “yes.”
“He’s such a good person, so devoted,” she said. She can be a little flighty, she said, making split-second decisions on a whim. He’s more grounded, she said.
“But we need to do it this way. We’re opposites but the same person. We have all the same goals in life but from different aspects.”
They decided on June 2012, just after her graduation.
So that perfect wedding was on.
And the only place they even thought about was the Holly River.
There would be an outdoor pavilion and that blue sky, burbling river and singing birds.
Cue the derecho of 2012.
The massive surprise storm struck the night before their wedding.
“The whole situation was crazy,” she said.
The powerful winds had plowed through the upper part of the state, crumpling huge power transformers into twisted pieces of metal and cutting off electricity almost everywhere it struck … including the Holly River area.
“It was a complete mess,” she said.
Fallen trees were scattered about like matchsticks.
There was no power for the cabins for guests. And no power for the dryers and curlers that would help create that vision of bridal loveliness she was dreaming of.
“My poor hairdresser. I didn’t think she’d make it,” she said.
Her sister, the honor attendant, was eight months pregnant and resourcefully washed her hair and drove around to dry it.
Her caterer shut down her restaurant to finish cooking the reception … by pilot light.
“Everything that could happen, happened,” Gooch said. “That made my wedding very memorable.”
She didn’t care.
“I said as long as I got to walk down the aisle, I was getting married.”
Wisely, she realized her marriage was more important than her wedding.
“Nothing brought me down,” she said. “I didn’t care. And it turned out great. You couldn’t tell there was no electricity.
“But even if there was no food, even if no one came, I didn’t care. I was getting married,” she said.
Where there’s a wedding, there’s a way.
No PA system for the wedding music? She used an iPod instead. The pavilion had fireplaces, so there was light.
She’d wanted twinkle lights on the pavilion “for a majestic garden feel,” she said. Candles did the trick just as well.
Her dad cleared the area of branches the morning of the wedding. Others pitched in as well.
“Everything worked out for the best,” she said of the ceremony.
“It wasn’t exactly the wedding of my dreams, but I wouldn’t change a thing. It was a crazy wedding. It’s so memorable and every people still talk about to this day.”
Just the way she planned … almost.
Email Debra Minor Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.