It was an event a year in the making … with just a few minor hiccups along the way.
In February 2019, Bryan Schnell devised the perfect plan – Aruba in April, a beach bungalow, dinner for two, sunset, a professional photographer, and a diamond ring. Most importantly, Caitlin Jackson, his friend of many years turned girlfriend, who was about to become his fiancée.
It was to be a family affair, including Bryan and Caitlin’s parents, David and Jana Schnell, Bryan’s sister Dania, her mother-in-law, Louann, and sister-in-law, Marissa. Caitlin’s father, Robert Jackson, had given his blessing for the union. Reservations were made, a catering order placed, a photographer hired – what could possibly go wrong?
When they arrived in Aruba for what Caitlin understood to be a family vacation, Bryan learned there was no beach bungalow and no catered dinner. There had, however, been a photographer, who had been introduced to the wrong couple, which worked out very nicely for them as they were renewing their wedding vows. At least he still had the ring.
To explain his unusual mood, Bryan explained to Caitlin he’d requested a better table, while a table for two was being set on the edge of a deck. He inconspicuously handed his cell phone to the waiter commissioning him for photographs, while some other waiters were also on hand to document the moment. As Bryan and Caitlin were silhouetted against the apricot sky with periwinkle clouds, he bent down on one knee, and she said yes.
That night, they discovered the condo on the water Bryan had secured turned out to be uninhabitable with mold, so they spent the following nights on the couch in Bryan’s parents’ hotel room. It wasn’t exactly what he’d had in mind, but neither had been the rest of the day.
This could possibly be why Bryan’s mother, Jana, jokingly refers to the couple as “the bad news couple.” Newport wedding was the plan
The nuptials were planned for July 2020 at Gurney’s Newport Resort on Goat Island with 180 guests. The wedding party would include Caitlin’s two maids of honor – the groom’s sister, Dania Lo, and Lisa Jackson, the bride’s sister-in-law. Her Bay View Academy friends Christine Massella, Lily Wilson, Jordan Werner, Kaitlyn Miller and Francesca Mardenli would serve as her bridesmaids. Bryan’s best man, Desti Vinacco, whom Jana refers to as her adopted son, would have an even more important role, although he did not yet know it. Don Sweet, Bryan’s old friend, would be one of his groomsmen, joined by Philip Taylor and Chris Lo.
Caitlin has chosen her wedding dress from Alexandria’s Boutique in North Attleboro, and would wear her future sister-in-law’s veil. Bryan bought a new suit.
As the day drew near, the coronavirus loomed like a dark cloud in the background. After Gov. Gina Raimondo’s mandate that gatherings be limited to 20 people, it became apparent the wedding location would have to be reconsidered. Plans were set in motion for a smaller wedding, totaling 20 people, while practicing social distancing, at Mashanticut Lake in Cranston, close to the groom’s family home. Gurney’s remained on the calendar for the reception, just in case.
“I’m tired of my life being ‘a good story for my children!’” Bryan sighed, as his mom responded with her well-worn speech on “facing adversity,” just like a good mom always does.
Caitlin’s wedding dress still hung at Alexandria’s, awaiting the final fitting, while the shop remained closed to comply with state regulations during the pandemic. The bride purchased another gown, online at Lulus, a rhinestone and sequin-beaded gown with a swirling Georgette skirt. The groom decided to save his new suit for what he referred to as “the reenactment,” at Gurney’s in July.
When Raimondo issued another emergency declaration restricting gatherings to only five people, the guest list was cut once again. The father of the groom, David Schnell, employed by the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency, would act as local law enforcement.
The new locale would be at the groom’s parents’ home, conveniently located next door to his sister Dania’s house, with a center lawn between them. The entire wedding would include Bryan, Caitlin, her father, Robert, Mike Egan, officiant, and Trevor Holden, photographer – and Calvin, Bryan and Caitlin’s French bulldog. “I paid for the wedding license,” Brian decided, “I’m going to get married!”
On Good Friday, April 10, a year to the week after Bryan’s meticulously planned proposal, the date was set for an early evening ceremony.
Just before 1 p.m. the day of the wedding, dark clouds gathered, and it began to rain. The wind picked up, with gusts of 34 mph promised. More showers were expected at 6 p.m. Even Mother Nature seemed to refuse to cooperate.
Guests by convoy
While Jana had commissioned a florist to create an arrangement on an arbor for the lawn, she assigned Desti the duty of choreographing a surprise caravan of 20 cars nearby, and ushering them to the Schnell family compound.
The rain held off as the cars gathered in the parking lot of Cranston West High School. In a black baseball cap, Desti approached several cars, directing them to line up: “You know, like a funeral procession,” he explained to the drivers. He gesticulated with one hand, while holding his red cell phone to his ear with the other.
Twenty cars soon became 50. A Cranston Police car cruised through the parking lot. The clouds darkened.
Caitlin looked out of the window of her soon-to-be sister-in-law’s house when she heard Jana, who was directing parking from an upstairs open window next door, saying something about a surprise. Caitlin caught sight of the arbor, decorated in seagrass, pink and white delphinium, and pampas grass.
“It’s beautiful!” she exclaimed, but the beautiful arbor wasn’t the surprise.
“Suddenly, I saw a parade of cars,” Caitlin recalled, “and they just kept coming.” A passer-by would have mistaken the scene for a drive-in movie. It was her wedding day.
The enchanting young bride descended the steps of Jana and David’s house on the arm of her father, Robert. She held a delicate bouquet of pink and white roses, made by her new sister in-law’s mother-in-law, Louann. Dania lovingly styled Caitlin’s hair and makeup. As she stepped into the sunlight, for there had been a brief respite between raindrops, Caitlin gently touched her necklace, presented to her by her father just moments before the ceremony began. Her late mother, Patricia, had worn it every day, since the day she purchased it in Rome and had it blessed by Pope John Paul II.
The handsome groom, dressed in a dark blue shirt and tie with a boutonnière of two roses, took his bride’s hand from her father’s, as they turned to say their vows. The Rev. J. Michael Egan of Heavenly Weddings welcomed the guests in their cars, some of them poking their heads out of their sunroofs and wearing surgical masks, “in the quiet of this very special moment,” and spoke of love and strength and support, and how the young couple demonstrated these qualities through a bond of friendship and mutual respect.
“You may kiss your bride,” Egan finally said with a smile, as the horns of 50 cars simultaneously began honking in the cacophony of this very special moment. Bryan admitted he would’ve been happy with a more intimate gathering, but seemed delighted with the turn out.
As Brian and Caitlin clasped hands, they walked towards the parked cars to the opening of the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” and a modern rendition of a stanza of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” The wind resumed, lifting Caitlin’s veil, and enveloping the couple as they embraced as they began their first dance to Alicia Keyes’ “If I Ain’t Got You.”
Hand in hand, the new Mr. and Mrs. Schnell strode between the rows of cars to thank their guests, as people cracked their windows in a most unique receiving line. Groomsman Don Sweet presented Bryan’s mother with his and Sam’s posters – “Schnell-ebrate Good Times, Come On,” in homage to a wedding reception standard, and “We are here for you Today, April 10, 2020, Tomorrow, July 11, 2020, and Always.”
Reflecting on their special surprise day, Caitlin shared, “Bryan and I are really homebodies, and very family-oriented. I was brokenhearted not to be able to hug my friends and family who came, and were only there for 15 minutes.”
The world really needs some good news these days, she feels. Caitlin thought of the morbid data on the news every day.
For 15 minutes, the friends and family of Bryan and Caitlin were transported by a joyous gathering, built on many years of friendship. Later that evening, their love story was retold on both WJAR Channel 10 and WPRI Channel 12 news.
“I like to make people happy,” she said, “and I’m glad to be a part of that.”