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The Sun Valley Guide magazine is distributed free four times a year to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area communities.

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The serendipity of surprise

Surprises are a part of life, and a little drama lurks behind even the smoothest-looking "I Do." For Betsy Andrews Etchart, the biggest surprise was how many surprises there were. Photos by Kirsten Shultz.

When Miles proposed a little over a year ago, he told me, "The wedding can be whatever you want. Surely you have ideas."

Actually, I hadn’t given it much thought since the ’92 Albertville Olympics, which I watched between fittings for a gown my mother was sewing for my planned July nuptials. A month later, I shocked my family, my friends and myself by calling the whole thing off. Mom stowed the gown on a closet shelf, and 18 months later I discovered my ex-fiancé was in another relationship, this time with Chad. Talk about surprises. I was surprised when 15 years passed in a soulmate vacuum. And just when I’d embraced a life shaped not by bouquets and babies but books, I was surprised again when Miles appeared.

My idea of the perfect wedding was simple: informal yet elegant, an intimate afternoon party, outdoors in the peak of autumn when Ketchum slows down, the workforce isn’t so harried and aspen leaves gild the blue sky. I would plan it myself, and there would be no surprises.

Amanda Farley Seaward, whose Sun Valley company, Absolute Weddings, has been overcoming the unexpected for six years, said her job was "to organize and plan for everything, so that when the unexpected comes up, we’re in a better position to tackle it."

When, she said; not if.

When your fiancé has four siblings and nine nieces and nephews, a guest list under 40 becomes impossible. When you’re engaged in December to a man who lives two states away and you’d like to start your life there as soon as possible, an autumn wedding becomes impractical. And when Miles nixed October for March, an outdoor wedding became out of the question.

"Outside," I said firmly, and we settled on a date in early June, aware that raindrops—or snowflakes—might fall alongside our confetti.

I envisioned a dramatic but homey venue. Friends in Elkhorn offered their lawn with its panoramic view of the Boulders. Another suggested her lush Bellevue spread. But to my surprise, my normally easygoing mother was adamant: We should tie the knot in her backyard. I pictured my parents’ mid-valley acre, woodsy and wild, the way my father liked it; a bit too wild for me.

Every day my mother called with landscaping ideas. My sister Susan, whose petite Hailey garden was a horticultural wonder, offered to help. She reminded me that the lilac and spirea would explode with blossoms the first week of June. Susan promised to supervise strategic plantings and lead major pruning efforts on Dad’s feral foliage. Miles grooved on the natural vibe of my parents’ place, and the idea of celebrating in a setting that harbored years of warm memories grew on me. I pictured tables topped with my antique quilts and vintage jars brimming with wild roses from my sister’s garden. My 3-year-old twin niece and nephew, serving as flower girl and boy, would feel at home, raising the odds of good behavior. When the universe—or your family—tosses a good thing your way, grab it. Chez Andrews it would be.

Choosing an officiant was the next unforeseen challenge. We met and passed on some, while others, shockingly, passed on us. Then, in the Yellow Pages, under Abundant Life Ministry, we found Tito Rivera. We liked his faith, his positive energy and the fact that he would squeeze in our ceremony on the day he’d organized the Wood River Valley’s largest soccer tournament. Through a thick Puerto Rican accent, he gamely practiced pronouncing the "s" on Miles’ name.

Not a week went by that I wasn’t surprised by the generosity of others. When I tried to hire my friend the former professional pastry chef, she agreed to assemble my vision of chocolate, berries and flowers—but insisted it would be her gift. For the rehearsal dinner, a commercial fisherman pal offered to fly in fresh king salmon from the Oregon coast.

Choosing the reception menu seemed blissfully straightforward. We hired my friend Lauren Carr to work her culinary wonders, and I would make pumpkin raviolis to accompany her spread. I knew that the groom’s half-Basque clan would approve of my choice of local Lava Lake lamb for the entrée. With so few guests, all of whom we knew so well, one entrée would suffice. But when you discover over Easter dinner that your fiancé’s mother does not eat lamb, you invite the salmon to the wedding. There would be two entrées.

As for my gown, Mom and I raided her closet, and I found that no bad memories clung to the gossamer silk she had sewn years before. It still fit perfectly. I found a costumer in Seattle who fashioned a corset to top it off.

Invitations? I only needed 21, and I wanted them to reflect my love of nature and the arts. After perusing sample books the size of ottomans, I decided to make them myself. I modeled the six-piece invite after medieval illuminated manuscripts—the exquisite hand-scripted tomes that monks toiled over before Gutenberg invented the printing press. I arranged my light box and watercolors and gold-leafing set and spray-mount adhesive and 326 pieces of paper on the kitchen counter.

When someone invents a printing press, use it. After a week illuminating, my mood darkened. I was only half finished, the ravioli dough was still languishing in the freezer and I was tired—all the time. I wondered if….

I was pregnant.

When trying to conceive, don’t be surprised to find yourself pregnant, even if you have the dinosaur eggs of a 39-year-old. Soon enough, my breasts began an alarming exploration of territories beyond the corset edging. As my figure bloomed, so did my parents’ spirea and lilac, followed promptly by a late-May frost. Buds from East Fork to Hailey browned and withered. There went my perfect backdrop.

Less than three weeks before the wedding, Seaward’s words—"You can’t plan for everything"—took on new meaning. When you are in your first trimester, you don’t plan around the 20 percent chance of what medical professionals call a "spontaneous abortion." With 20 days to go and 40 days worth of details to attend to, at almost seven weeks pregnant, I miscarried. My mother tightened the corset laces. But I was exhausted—and sad.

In the days that followed, I became confused—was the wedding still on? Oh, yes—it was the pregnancy that wasn’t. The fact that a wedding is mostly just a big party struck with full force. So did the import of what I was about to do. Inviting so much joy into my life also opened the dark door to loss. Welcome to the rest of your life.

The bridesmaids arrived, and as they threw themselves into their tasks, they helped me regain my momentum. They ran errands, compiled a dance track with songs from Grease, taught me how to waltz and weed-whacked while my sister fought hard with our father for pruning rights. The raviolis could wait another day.

With four days to go, eight of us girls retreated to Stanley for 24 hours of pampering at a local spa. Were there more productive things we could have been doing? You bet.

"How about your wild rice and sugar snap pea salad instead of raviolis?" I asked Lauren. "You got it," she said.

On the way home from the spa, my sister and I rode Fisher Creek—my last singletrack as a single woman. Layered in wool and windbreakers, we wound through the forest until, at the top, we found ourselves in the previous summer’s burn. Snow lay upon the blackened trunks like a salve, and thousands of lupine poked purple heads above the charred ground. We wheeled through the cold, silent landscape, grateful for the reminder of beauty and rebirth. The rehearsal: The threatening storm stalled in the Sawtooths, and down valley we baked in the sun. Someone suggested we have the ceremony under the tent. Someone else suggested we face a different direction. Miles inadvertently insulted the bridesmaids, who were almost swallowed by an out-of-control lilac bush. The twins cried and cried. I wanted to join them.

"That’s what dress rehearsals are for," my mother assured me, reciting the old Broadway adage that when the dress rehearsal reeks, opening night will shine. If true, our marriage was set to be a classic with a run longer than Cats.

June 9, 2007 dawned cool and calm and clear. Roses, lavender and scabiosa burst from the perennial garden; poppies nodded from the berms; clematis climbed from a planter amidst springgreen sweet potato leaves.

The bouquets arrived, perfect except for the groom’s boutonniere, which wasn’t a cornflower, but a purple freesia. There was no time to worry; guests were assembling. Then the twins were sprinkling the aisle with rose petals and grinning shyly. And then I was counting under my breath so my steps would be in sync with those of my father, who hadn’t said a word about the pile of lilac branches behind the garage. And Padre Tito was pronouncing Miles—complete with the s—and I "husband and wife."

When I look through photographs, I regret that Miles’ boutonniere is not cornflower blue. But its purple blossoms will always remind me of the surprise of lupine peeking from the ashes and snow of Fisher Creek.

Betsy has since joined her husband in Arizona. They are expecting a baby boy in July.