Here Come the Brides

Wedding gowns? Check. Priest? Check. TV crews? Check. Linda and Elli strike a blow for Gay Rights!

Eleanora Piombino is not sure she likes what she sees. Staring at the pearly white heels with typical pointy toes, she adjusts the atypical diagonal straps across the top of her left foot. Now for the test drive: She stands and struts down the imagined church aisle. Abruptly she stops and turns to Linda Enger with her verdict, "No, ow!"

Linda interprets this exclamation as a request for a larger size. She searches the stacks of shoe boxes piled not even in shelves, but in cardboard boxes that have been cut open on one side to approximate shelves. A DSW Shoe Warehouse employee asks if she needs help.

"We need help bad, you don't even know," Linda says with a hint of a laugh. She and Elli are on a mission: to purchase the perfect shoes for a wedding -- their wedding.

Linda helps Elli with the platforms she'll wear at their wedding.
Linda helps Elli with the platforms she'll wear at their wedding.

After a quarter of a century together, the lesbian couple are getting married. They've been making plans since April, enduring the usual wedding stresses: purchasing dresses, printing invitations, calling the caterer, ordering the flowers (pale pink roses). But they've also been making unusual preparations: obtaining a street function permit from the city to close a small residential street, hiring security, and contacting newspapers and TV stations. Elli and Linda know their ceremony is political, as well as personal.

They're planning a church wedding, of sorts. About a year ago, the United Methodist Church ruled that "homosexual unions" are not to be conducted in its churches, nor officiated by its clergy. But Bering Memorial United Methodist Church is in the heart of Montrose, a traditionally gay neighborhood, and its senior minister actively objects to the ruling, as does much of the congregation. To get around the ruling, Elli and Linda asked the Reverend Troy Plummer, a gay Orthodox Catholic priest who is employed by Bering, to conduct the ceremony. And since they can't have the ceremony inside Bering, they opted for the next best thing: to have it in the street in front of it.

About a dozen clergy from different denominations, including Methodists, will stand on the steps of the church in witness and support of the ceremony. The Methodist clergy, while technically following the letter of church law, face risks for violating its spirit. And the risks of this high-profile wedding aren't confined to the clergy: Linda worries that the friendly hellos from neighbors could turn into cold stares, avoidance or vandalism. Elli is afraid she might lose her job.

But at this moment, among the rows of discounted shoes, Linda, 46, and Elli, 55, aren't worried about the controversy. Right now, they've migrated to the women's sandals section, where Elli has spied platforms. And now, Linda is on one knee, helping Elli with the tan velvet platforms named Horoscope in the mystifying way that shoes and cars acquire names for no obvious reason. Linda pulls snug the straps on the size 8 1/2's. They're a perfect fit.

In May 1974, 21-year-old Linda started work as a music department cashier at the brand-new Woolco department store in Milford, Connecticut. It was her second day on the job; the store wasn't open yet, and Linda was walking by the automotive supplies when she stopped and stared.

Sitting on the floor, a young woman was pricing spark plugs one at a time. Linda's heart played an undeniable rhythm -- bah-dum-dum-bah-dum.

"I was head over heels," Linda recalls. "She had blue-black hair, beautiful green eyes and an olive complexion. It was boom -- it just hit me. I never thought I'd just see someone and feel like that."

"Hi!" Linda offered. "What are you doing?"

Elli, who had just priced 2,500 spark plugs, snapped, "What the fuck does it look like I'm doing?"

Feeling bad about her uncharacteristic behavior, Elli treated Linda to lunch that afternoon. Elli was 30 and in the midst of a second divorce, with four girls, two from each of her marriages.

Linda didn't know what to do -- an older woman! four kids! -- but from then on, she seized any excuse to talk to Elli. She bought four tires from Elli although her '61 Dodge Seneca was sitting on blocks, never to run again. She bought a car stereo.

Elli had no idea why she wanted to spend time with a 21-year-old. She'd tell her best friend, Barbara, that Linda looked at her weird, looked her straight in the eye until Elli felt flustered and had to turn away. So she introduced Barbara to Linda, instructing Barbara beforehand to pay close attention to the look Linda gave her.

"I said, 'Did you see it?' "

Barbara said no, in that slow, drawn-out way that implies that the question was a silly one.

"Well, why do I think she's looking at me weird?"

Barbara gave her characteristic answer to everything: "If you don't know, then I don't know."

Linda started showing up at crochet nights, Wednesday gatherings at Elli's house. She learned how to crochet a basic chain, but never got much further, fiddling with the chain until it tangled into a huge knot.

She attended the Tupperware parties that Elli frequented, even though she hated the whole idea of Tupperware parties.

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