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April 16, 2011, in Philadelphia

Laura Oppenheim and George Armistead were married April 16, 2011 in Philadelphia. (John Barone Photography)
Laura Oppenheim and George Armistead were married April 16, 2011 in Philadelphia. (John Barone Photography)Read more

Hello there

In summer 2009, Laura was out with her friend Julie, whom she had known since her high school days in Moorestown.

"I think you would really get along with my friends' brother," Julie told her. Laura, who was doing her medical residency at the University of Pennsylvania, agreed to Julie's giving her e-mail address to sisters Anne and Mary, who would pass it along to their brother, George.

About a month later - by then, Laura figured George wasn't interested - he e-mailed her. From Alaska. George, who grew up in Chestnut Hill and Mount Airy, is now a bird expert, photographer, and author, who also works for Field Guides Inc., a company that takes both researchers and amateur bird-watchers around the world. "Let's meet up when I get back," he suggested.

Laura agreed to the date, then hit Google. She saw that George was "a cutie-patootie" with a warm, friendly smile. She read of his birding travels. And she learned about his great-great-great-grandfather, for whom George had been named. That George Armistead was the commander of Fort McHenry in Baltimore who asked for a flag so big the British could see it from a distance - the flag that inspired The Star-Spangled Banner. But Laura learned the most about George through the letter-length e-mails they sent each other during the month before his return.

"You could tell he had a very sweet personality," she said. And his writings were "like reading little stories from Alaska." The dispatches provided an escape from her residency routine in West Philadelphia, Laura said.

On their first date, George was so funny and had such great adventure tales that Laura was able to get past his Hawaiian shirt. "I liked listening to him talk," she said.

George, who is now 37, liked Laura, now 31, too. But he didn't have much time to spend with her. Soon after their first date, he was off to the Galapagos Islands, leading another tour.

"He thought of me while he was gone," she said. The Galapagos are home to very old tortoises, and he brought her a wooden representation.

They have been together ever since - even though they are often apart. George spends about half of most months traveling for work.

Laura, a general practitioner at Ninth Street Internal Medicine, works a lot herself. Some days are 10 hours long, or more, and she is on call some weekends. She also has an active social calendar with friends and her sister, Anna, who lives just blocks away from her home in Washington Square West.

Her busy life makes George's absences easier, Laura said. But she is looking forward to July, a month when he won't travel.

How does forever sound?

In March 2010, on the first nice day of spring, the couple went to Cape May - a birder's haven. Laura loves the outdoors, and she was enjoying walking along the beach with George and Ida, their adopted Scottie mix. Then she noticed that George wasn't next to her anymore.

Laura doesn't like standing still, waiting to spot one type of bird or another. When George, who is especially fond of seabirds, does this, Laura tries to be patient to allow him to do his thing. She knows he'll catch up with her eventually.

Laura glanced back over her shoulder, but George was not looking at a bird. He was down on one knee. "Laura, I love you very much," he said. "You make me so happy. Will you marry me?"

It was so them

It was important to Laura to have a Jewish ceremony.

Long a lover of beautiful fabrics, she had a box full of vintage handkerchiefs, some gifts from family and friends, some thrift-store finds. She finally knew what to do with them. "I took a sewing class," she said. "I made our chuppah."

George and Laura wrote their own ketubah - the Jewish marriage contract - and Laura hand-painted the border. They broke a glass together, symbolizing that their marriage could never be undone.

Laura gathered wedding photos from their families. When their 140 guests picked up their seating assignments, they were greeted by nuptial images of George's parents, Liz and Harry, and Laura's, Jeffrey and Julie, along with grandparents, great-grandparents, and George's sister Mary.

This didn't happen at rehearsal

It rained buckets the entire day, and the couple had to walk two blocks from the hotel to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Luckily, the bride's mother bought her a shawl, and her dad provided the couple with a huge umbrella.


During the ceremony, the rabbi asked the couple to look at their guests. "In this room were so many people who were important to me," Laura said. "I felt surrounded by so much warmth and love."

George said: "As soon as the ceremony was over and we had some time to ourselves, I realized we were heading out to see all our friends and family as a newly married couple and that I found that really exciting and empowering. I was filled with awe pretty much the whole time."

Discretionary spending

A bargain: The bride's shoes. Laura said she found them beneath a pile of other shoes at a "very fancy shoe store that I could never usually afford." Normally $300, she got them for $40 because the store was transitioning from closed- to open-toed shoes. She preferred closed, and they perfectly matched her dress.

The splurge: While the price of Laura's dress was typical, "it's ridiculous to spend so much money on one dress I will never wear again."

The getaway

Six days in Nantucket, to be followed by an African safari next year. The groom had to fly to Ethiopia two weeks after the wedding. He was to come home today. Welcome home, George.


Rabbi Marjorie Berman, coordinator of spiritual development at Philadelphia University

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia

Jimmy Duffy Caterers, Philadelphia

Photography / Videography
John Barone Photography, Philadelphia

Peter Romano Trio, Moorestown, N.J.; and No Macarena DJ, Philadelphia

Moda Botanica, Philadelphia

Nicole Miller, Philadelphia

Paisley Dog Press, paisleydogpress.comEndText


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