Operation: I Do

With the help of their Island friends, one couple planned and executed a surprise wedding that was uniquely them.

Alisun Armstrong and Chris “Petro” Petropoulos had been together for fourteen years before tying the knot on Wednesday, November 23, 2022. To say that marriage was a formality would be an understatement.

But in an intimate gathering at a friend’s rental house in Oak Bluffs, the longstanding couple surprised their family by announcing they would be getting married then and there. The party, held the day before Thanksgiving, had just been a pretense to gather their loved ones for the ceremony.

“When we first decided to get married, Petro just wanted to go to the town hall,” Alisun said. “But I had been married before and I always felt bad that my parents and sister didn’t come to my wedding. So, we started thinking, how about we surprise them?” she said.

Alisun and Petro have been living together year-round on Martha’s Vineyard since 2013, and Alisun’s family visits from New Hampshire every Thanksgiving. The holiday seemed like the perfect cover for a surprise wedding.

“And then we could spring the trap,” Petro said.

Petro is the service director at The Barn Bowl & Bistro in Oak Bluffs and grew up summering on the Vineyard. Alisun works at Island contractor Southwest Construction and does graphic design on the side. Before moving to the Vineyard, Petro and Alisun both lived in New York City for sixteen years – but they didn’t meet until crossing paths at an underground party in Red Hook, Brooklyn, in 2008.

“We were that couple making out on the dance floor,” Alisun laughed. “He asked for my number, and I said, ‘Don’t bother. You’re not going to call me. It’s fine.’

“Not only did he call me, but he called me the next day in the middle of the afternoon,” Alisun said.

By 2011, they had moved in together into an apartment in Queens.

“At that point, we kind of realized we were going to be together for the rest of our lives,” Petro said.

Marriage didn’t turn out to be a priority, they said, and they carried on with their relationship without the official document, moving to the Vineyard and settling into life on the Island.

“Marriage came up when the pandemic happened,” Petro said. “We turned fifty. We started thinking about owning a home together and getting older together. And how all of that is so much simpler if you’re legally married.”

In lieu of the town hall, they devised a plan to tie the knot over the 2022 Thanksgiving holiday.

Planning a normal wedding is stressful enough, but in this case it took a vast network of special ops forces to keep the ceremony under wraps. Not to mention, Alisun had to host an entire Thanksgiving dinner for twenty-one people the day after her nuptials.

“We almost spilled the beans at least twice,” Petro said.

Alisun enlisted her brother in law to help keep her sister and parents in the dark while they went about sending save the date cards to their other friends and family. As the RSVP list swelled, they decided to hold the gathering at the rental house of their friends Chuck Fisher and Stefanie Wolf.

All the while, Alisun, a craft hobbyist, got to work on her own decorations, making almost one hundred paper roses by hand. It was a labor of love that took several months, she said, but in the end it was worth it to see them adorn the living room where they said their vows.

It was a particular point of pride for Alisun that she never outright lied to her family, she said – except for one thing. On the actual day of the ceremony, Alisun told her mother that they would get fried chicken from the Barn before going to a “cocktail party” at their friends’ house.

Instead of picking up the fried chicken, Petro went to the rental house to get everyone ready while Alisun and her sister went to pick up their parents. When they arrived, over fifty guests had already begun milling about – waiting for the ceremony to start. Alisun ducked upstairs to change.

“I definitely wasn’t going to wear white,” she said of her outfit, a vintage jumpsuit thrifted online that she paired with a floor-length velvet duster, taking a cue from her favorite sci-fi character.

“We’re both big fans of Doctor Who,” Petro explained. Alisun’s outfit was meant to take a page from the Doctor’s wife and companion, River Song.

“I had been with Alisun long enough that she obviously wasn’t just my girlfriend anymore,” he said. “We lived together, but she was not my wife. So I would introduce her as my companion. I’d say, ‘She’s my companion. We travel in time and space together.’ But not enough people got the joke.”

By the time Alisun made her grand entrance back downstairs, it became clear that this was no ordinary cocktail party. Anticipating some strong reactions, the couple had placed chairs near the fireplace where they were to be wed so Alisun’s family could sit down and have a front-row view of the ceremony.

“They took it much more calmly than I expected,” Alisun said. “They were really pleased…I think they liked being able to go back and tell people what happened. It’s a good story.”

They even accommodated some remote attendees via video call, including Petro’s family who could not make it to the Island and the friend who dragged Alisun to that fateful Brooklyn party all those years ago.

The pair exchanged vows, and in their excitement kissed before their officiant – a friend of theirs ordained just for the occasion – could say her closing lines, a quote from Doctor Who.

They held a reception at the Barn, complete with fried chicken, strawberry shortcake, and Eileen Blake’s Pies & Otherwise whoopie pies.

“In the end, my mother in law did get her fried chicken,” Petro said.

“So I actually didn’t lie!” Alisun added.

Looking back, Alisun and Petro were proud to have orchestrated a wedding ceremony that felt uniquely them, surrounded by the friends and family they care about most. They also had the Vineyard to thank for being such a natural gathering spot, Petro said, saving them from a town hall wedding.

“It sounds kind of trite, but…follow your heart,” Alisun said. “There’s so many expectations put on people for what you’re supposed to do at a wedding, and it’s supposed to be about the couple…it’s about a celebration of love.”