Itchin' for Hitchin'

Dec 9, 1998 at 4:00 am
"We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout ..."
-- Nancy Sinatra, "Jackson"

One day the little shop became a chapel of love. The way Wylline Oduyeru tells it, her mother, who had returned from the Strip, remarked that her shop looked like a Las Vegas wedding parlor. A lightbulb went on in Wylline's head. It wasn't a big makeover for the inconspicuous storefront located on Lafayette, across from Soulard Market. Already, Simply Beautiful had been renting props for weddings and parties -- garden arches, columns, silk flowers, champagne fountains. Wylline put a sign in the window, "24 Hour Weddings." She bought a case of champagne. She found ministers who agreed to wear beepers and be on call. That was two years ago. Since then, the "Wedding March" has played about 300 times in the shop, including five on Valentine's Day this year.

"We do not do like they do in Las Vegas," says a highly animated Wylline, 48. "We don't rush people out; we don't book on top of other people. Basically, it's two hours of love songs plus the traditional wedding music. I announce the new couple, 'Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mr. and Mrs. Johnson.' They stay, have toasts, cut the cake, relax, and feel married. We really try to make it something nice. None of this bip, bam, thank you ma'am."

For couples hoping to avoid the ordeal of a meticulously planned church wedding, or who don't care for the civil tones of a courthouse service, the one-room chapel is ideal -- $175 gets you a minister, a fresh cake from Schnucks, champagne, music, birdseed and bubbles. As a service to the love-smitten, there is nothing like it in the entire region. Folks can and do get hitched on very short notice, even in the middle of the night. "Not a problem," says Wylline, who sleeps with a beeper. "There's no extra charge. I may not have a cake, but there's plenty of champagne. So far, only two couples have walked in and said, We want to get married right now. They usually call a week or two in advance."

Though the wedding parlor has been featured on Show Me St. Louis, Wylline says her best advertising is word of mouth. It's hard to keep mum about a place where offbeat marriages are possible, even encouraged. "I have an Elvis wedding planned for New Year's," chirps Wylline. "We're taking down the Christmas decorations and putting out silver lame tablecloths and candelabras. They're bringing their own minister, and he will be dressed as Elvis."

Wylline's clients come up with all sorts of gimmicky ideas for their nuptials. "Every Halloween and almost every Friday the 13th you can bet that people want to get married at midnight," she says. And one gay couple wanted everyone in the wedding party to wear togas. "Twenty men in white sheets," she chuckles. "That had me going for a minute.

"Yes, we do gay unions. At first, I had a hard time with the kissing part," she volunteers, "but I saw true love in one of the couples, and it touched my heart, so it didn't matter to me what their sexual orientation was. You can tell the ones that're sincere, happy and in love, and I've seen it in gay couples and in straight couples."

She brings out a posterboard filled with Polaroid snapshots of couples who have tied the knot under her auspices. "You see that woman, the one in the leopard-skin gown? That's the bride, and she is not a happy camper. The minister thought he'd have her recite traditional Baptist vows, how she promises to be humble unto the husband, submit to him, make his home a castle. Well, that did not fly. She stopped the ceremony, 'I'm not agreeing to anything like that!' But the minister, it seems, was set on those vows, and that caused a problem. He doesn't work here anymore."

She points to another picture, a man and woman in African garb. "And this woman, as you see, is very pregnant. She wanted to jump the broom -- it's an African tradition, part of the marriage -- and I said, 'Just step over it, honey.' Then, there was a lady minister who went into labor during the ceremony. We had to hurry that one right through."

Each snapshot evokes an anecdote. One shows a young couple aglow with amour. He's got her in his arms Tarzan-style, as if to carry her over the threshold. "These two wanted to consummate their marriage on the spot," says Wylline, adding that sometimes, after the ceremony, she'll leave for a bit, do an errand or so. "These two, I come back, they're on the sofa in a lovelock -- I'd like to have to hose them down!

"I've had my share of green-card weddings," she continues, loquacious as ever. "I think that's what they were. It's not my call to question motives, but when they act like they hardly know each other, barely kiss, and can't wait to get out of here, well, you have to wonder."

What you don't have to wonder about is the entrepreneurial spirit of Wylline Oduyeru. It shines like a diamond ring.