Nicole Goldsmith and Struan Kerr-Liddell
July 15, 2017, in Kenmore, Scotland, and July 29, 2017, in Sicklerville
Eight months into her veterinary studies at the University of Edinburgh, Nicole and her friend and classmate Erin needed to blow off some steam. The Cuckoo's Nest pub was conveniently downstairs.
Nicole hails from Sicklerville, Erin's from Colorado, and both were keen to make local friends. When Erin overheard an attractive man speaking a language in which she's fluent, it seemed like an opening. Erin said, "Hola," and the man invited her and Nicole to the table where his friend Struan, an IT consultant who lived in the neighborhood, was waiting.
Nicole had a guy back in New Jersey, and Struan thought she was much too young for him — things that made a little flirting with a smart and hilarious stranger seem exceptionally harmless.
Wanting to be certain Struan understood her intent, Nicole texted the next day that she had a boyfriend.
"I asked if she wanted to stay friends and meet up for a drink at some point," Struan said. "I didn't think she'd say yes."
They texted back and forth for six weeks, then met up again when her exams were over.
At dinner, Struan was neither bored nor icked out by detailed discussions of veterinary medicine. Having spent part of his childhood on a farm, he had some interesting animal tales himself. "He told me about a pig his mom kept in the kitchen," said Nicole, who remains delighted by that story.
After dinner came drinks. "Nicole turned around and said to me, 'So, do you want to go make out?' " said Struan, who remains delighted by that story. "At first, I was kind of wondering whether I misheard her."
He hadn't, and they did.
Nicole told the Jersey guy things were not going to work out, but she and Struan didn't really think things would work out in the long term with them, either. They have a 14-year age gap, for one thing, and Nicole planned to return to the United States to work.
Without discussion, both decided to enjoy what they had while they had it.
Nicole returned to New Jersey in the summer of 2014 and missed Struan much more than she expected. She knew that meant she was developing real feelings for him and asked herself a hard question that hadn't mattered when it was just a fling. In 1999, Struan broke his neck playing rugby and uses a wheelchair. How would she handle that? She wasn't sure.
Back in Edinburgh, they met for dinner, and Nicole said they should try to go back to being friends.
Struan agreed but never stopped wooing her. Example: He cooked his "friend" a roast and mashed potatoes. "It's still one of the nicest meals I've ever had," Nicole said.
A month later, they declared the friends-only thing a complete failure.
"I feel taken care of when I'm with him," Nicole said when asked why she fell in love. "And he's got a stupid sense of humor that makes me laugh all the time." She also admires the hell out of his stubborn independence.
Part of the reason Struan fell for Nicole is the answer to the question she asked herself when they were apart. "She treats me the same as anyone else. She has no special sympathy for me," he said. "Plus, we make each other laugh, and even though we had quite different upbringings, we are on the same page about the important things."
In May 2015, Struan, now 40, surprised Nicole, now 26, with a trip for her birthday. In Paris, the romance was so palpable they joked about it. "You're not planning any big romantic gestures, right?" she asked. No, he was not!
But that Christmas in New Jersey, Nicole mused aloud that perhaps they should get engaged in about a year. "Don't ask until I start dropping hints," she said.
That summer, Struan suggested she drop them already. Proceed at will, she said, but she asked that he talk to her father first.
And so in early December 2016, Struan told Nicole he had a work thing in London, then he boarded a plane to New Jersey. He texted a photo of him with her parents and grandparents at Peter's Diner in Williamstown.
That Christmas, her mom and dad, Karen and Kevin, and her brother, also Kevin, were all invited to join Nicole, Struan, and Struan's parents, Elizabeth and Stiubhard, at their home in Campbeltown, Scotland.
"It looks out over the ocean, and so fulfilled the requirements of being near the water, and her family being there," Struan said.
At the edge of the garden, overlooking the shore, Struan lifted himself out of his chair — over Nicole's highly concerned objections — and asked Nicole to marry him.
She would! But she would not accept his ring until he was safely back in his chair. He hoisted himself back in and asked again. Back in the house, everyone celebrated.
The couple wed at the Kenmore Hotel in Kenmore, Scotland, in a ceremony lead by a humanist celebrant who covered the legal necessities and then told the couple's story. Nicole's Nana Jackie did a reading and Struan's sisters Rowan and Kirsty read a poem together. The rain kept them indoors, but next to huge windows overlooking the Tay River.
Each of the couple's 70 guests placed a pebble into a jar of water, echoing a Celtic tradition in which guests place hoping stones with well-wishes into a body of water.
A piper led them to the reception, where the bride, her father, and the groom made speeches. "I was up till 3 a.m. the morning before writing it," said Struan, who made good-natured fun of everyone, including himself and the bride, before thanking everyone and expressing his feelings for Nicole. "I ad-libbed mine," Nicole said. "I just wanted to say that I felt loved from everyone."
After the meal, a Scottish band accompanied a ceilidh – a set of traditional Scottish dances. Then the couple began the part that terrified the groom — their first dance, to "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."
At the open bar, the guests drank double the venue's estimate.
Two weeks later in New Jersey, the bride's parents threw a second celebration that began as a plan for drinks on the patio at Villaris but that morphed into a full-blown reception for 110.
Struan had no idea what Nicole's dress was like or how she'd be wearing her hair. "She looked pretty damn good," he said. "And everyone was in the room, and I was kind of thinking, bloody, this is actually going to happen!"
After the ceremony, the rain cleared enough for everyone to go outside. "Having us surrounded by loved ones was such a happy occasion," Nicole said. "It just felt like not much could top it, ever."
The bargain: Booking the Kenmore, in a teeny-tiny village an hour and a half north of Edinburgh, was an exceptional deal. "It was half the price of anywhere else we considered, and twice as beautiful," Nicole said.
The splurge: A local florist brought all the bride's rose and peony Pinterest dreams to life. Struan was especially glad they sprang for the white birch arch. After the wedding, the couple donated their flowers to a local hospice.
Shortly after the wedding there and reception here, Nicole began her veterinary career at Powderham Veterinary Group in Devon, England, requiring the couple to move there with cat Kallee and some fish. With so much happening, they've opted to wait a few months before traveling to South Africa.
Officiant: Catherine Owen, Humanist Society Scotland.
U.K. venue and food: Kenmore Hotel, Kenmore, Scotland.
U.S. venue and food: Villari's Lakeside, Sicklerville.
Cake: Sweet Eats Bakery, Voorhees.
U.K. music: Ceilidh: Tarmachan www.tarmachan.com.
U.S. music: Feliciano Productions, Williamstown.
U.K. photography: Morag Warrender.
U.S. photography: Brian Raymond, Blackwood.
U.K. flowers: Emma Harvey, Coach House Flowers, Grandtully, Scotland.
U.S. flowers: Dawn's Florist, Williamstown.
Dress: Kudos Bridal, Edinburgh.
U.K. hair and makeup: Joshua John Hairdressing, Aberfeldy, Scotland.
U.S. hair and makeup: Enchanted Image Salon, Williamstown.