Story by Jessica Perkins
Photography by Amanda Cross
Mothers-in-law often receive a bad rap in marriage; however, newlywed Nicki Stricklin says her mother-in-law is one of the most generous and thoughtful women she knows.
On the eve of her son's wedding, Toni Stricklin decided to host a rehearsal dinner that suited the personalities and interests of both Andrew and his soon-to-be-bride, Nicki. While Toni hoped to make the rehearsal dinner memorable and fun for their guests, she also knew that Andrew and Nicki were not interested in having a lavish affair.
So she had to be thoughtful in her event preparation without going overboard.
"Andrew and Nicki are minimalistic and very frugal," Toni says. "So we had to come up with something that would feel personal to both of them."
With the help of family and friends, Toni brainstormed ideas for the rehearsal dinner about a year before deciding to host an outdoor bonfire, complete with a barbecue dinner, a s'mores buffet and a torch-lit walking trail for guests to enjoy throughout the evening.
"She asked us what we would like for our rehearsal dinner and we told her something laid back and outside," Nicki says.
Growing up, Andrew and his siblings hosted many bonfires for friends and neighbors in the family's backyard. It was a place that held many happy memories for Toni and husband David, as well as their children. It seemed the perfect place to celebrate the upcoming nuptials of two young people whom the Stricklins wished to honor.
"We thought it would be fun to do a bonfire at the Stricklins' home during the rehearsal dinner because that was always such a fun part of our relationship. It was just one of those fun, sentimental things that we both looked back on," Nicki says.
Toni rummaged through sale items, collecting mason jars and chalkboards, and vintage-inspired picture frames to display old family photos. They searched the pages of Etsy for inspiration and discovered a bride and groom cornhole set that served as kitschy entertainment for guests throughout the evening.
Every detail that went into the event was centered on the interests and personality of the bride and groom, making the event feel exceptionally intimate.
"Everything was so special," Nicki says. "Toni put so many personal touches into the rehearsal dinner. She knows that I like that, and I could tell she tried to make it special for us."
The fence line around the garden at the Stricklins' home was strung with festive outdoor lights and the word "LOVE" hung prominently for guests to view as they entered the grounds. Tables were decorated with vintage pieces that Toni and her friends assembled as centerpieces.
"She had placed photos of our grandparents' weddings on our tables as part of the décor. I liked the family history that she incorporated," Nicki recalls.
Art pieces were displayed throughout the property, offering inspirational sayings and encouragement for the soon-to-be bride and groom.
However, the focal point of the decor was the addition of a salvaged chandelier hung cleverly from a tree in the backyard and lit up for the evening. The decorated tree provided a slightly secluded spot for guests to enjoy a quiet moment rocking in the rustic glider that sat beneath the tree's heavy branches.
The tone of the evening was set and, with the exception of rain that dampened efforts at lighting the bonfire, the rehearsal dinner went off without a hitch. Everyone was relaxed and enjoyed the evening's festivities.
"Toni and David were very hands on," family friend Kim Carr says. "They managed not to be rattled or stressed."
Toni says the work would never have been completed without the help of so many gracious friends and relatives.
As the Stricklins shot off to the rehearsal at the church, friends stayed behind to put the finishing touches on the decorations just in time for the guests' arrival at the Stricklins' home. "I went to the rehearsal, and one hour later my village (of friends and family) had pulled it all together," Toni says with amazement.
During the evening, guests shared their favorite stories of the young couple, and laughter abounded. Toni was thrilled to welcome Nicki as a new member to the Stricklin family. "Nicki is beautiful on the inside and out," Toni says. "Nicki and Andrew are both wonderful people separately and even better together."
The rehearsal dinner was just as Andrew and Nicki had wanted.
The couple now resides in Louisville, where Andrew has started his first year at the University of Louisville's School of Medicine and Nicki is pursuing a Master's degree in Speech Language Pathology. They are still settling into their new routine and are enjoying this new journey of marriage together. n