Love in Pandemic Times: Tying the Knot Takes a Toll

Photo by Natalie Miranda / Glendale News-Press
Ayana Pendergrass, Ellis Beamon and their dog Jewel enjoy a moment at their Glendale home. After having to downsize their wedding last summer on account of the pandemic, the couple is a finalist for a contest to fund their “dream wedding.”

By Natalie Miranda
Glendale News-Press

When Ellis Beamon got down on one knee  for Ayana Pendergrass, his marriage proposal was cheered so loudly by family, friends and bystanders that the new bride-to-be’s response was inaudible.

This reaction was one that Beamon had hoped for on his wedding day, but his dream of hearing the resounding celebratory exclamation from a crowd that could fill an arena was left unrealized due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on their wedding plans.

“We didn’t get to share that moment when you tie the knot and kiss and everybody starts going crazy like people cheering inside of a stadium,” Beamon said. “In my head, that’s how I always thought it was going to be like. But instead I went in for a kiss and everyone was just clapping. That’s not what was most important, but that’s what I had imagined in my head.”

The Glendale couple was just one of many forced to hit “pause” on their momentous ceremony during the global health crises in 2020, which forced lovebirds worldwide to put their dream occasion on hold or alter plans, creating a “micro-wedding” phenomenon.

But Beamon and Pendergrass, at least, now have a chance to make up for their disappointment in a big way.

Plant-based food brands Barnana and Bitchin’ Sauce recently announced the finalists in their Perfect Chip to My Dip contest, and the pair, along with three other couples, have been chosen to contend in the running to win $40,000. The companies kick-started the contest as a fun way to round out the pandemic, which derailed so many milestone events and weddings.

“From micro-weddings to postponed parties, what we saw from the submissions is that couples came out of pandemic quarantines stronger and more committed,” said Barnana founder Caue Suplicy in a news release about the contest. “We want to help one lucky pair finally realize their dream wedding surrounded by family and friends.”

Pendergrass first heard about the contest on Instagram. She wasn’t initially going to enter themselves in the competition, but decided she wanted to share their love story for a chance to win the cash prize, which would go a long way toward helping them pay off expenses connected to their wedding complications.

The story that got them chosen is simple, but one of the sweetest kinds: Born and raised in Philadelphia, Beamon and Pendergrass were introduced as children at church. Nearly seven years later, they reconnected on Myspace and started dating almost immediately. On their first date, when Beamon took two buses and a train to meet her in a different city, Pendergrass knew he was special.

Fast forward to 2018 — after more than a decade of dating Pendergrass, Beamon decided to propose.

“When you know, you know,” Beamon said. “It was like a light switch flipping on. I was thinking to myself, ‘No more time needs to pass. It’s happening. It’s going down. I can’t do anything without her.’”

He took time to save for a ring and in March 2019, Beamon, family members and friends gathered to surprise Pendergrass with a staged proposal group photo shoot outdoors. The crowd’s roar was such that Beamon couldn’t hear his intended’s reply to the proposal, so she said “Yes” a second time.

“The feeling was a culmination of all the years of us being together,” Pendergrass said. “For him to propose was just the best moment.”

After a magical time choosing her bridal gown and planning the ceremony, to be held at a large New Jersey venue, pandemic-related obstacles began to arise. Pendergrass found out a day before her bridal shower in March 2020 that their wedding date that June had to be postponed. The news of the delay marked the start of attempted improvisations to try to make the most out of their wedding festivities.

Within 24 hours, the shower, which was supposed to have 50 guests, was abruptly relocated from the planned venue to their home due to COVID-19 lockdowns.

“My mom told me the news and I just broke down crying,” Pendergrass said. “But we rallied together and did everything at my house and condensed the attendance to about 20 people. My bridesmaids, my mom and my grandma took all of the decorations we were going to use at the venue and set it up in the living room.

“It was still nice, but it wasn’t what we all wanted.”

Pendergrass soon learned that the dream dress she purchased a year earlier would be delayed by pandemic-related production problems, so she embarked on an online mission trying to find a replacement gown by her new wedding date.

Photo courtesy Ayana Pendergrass and Ellis Beamon
Ayana Pendergrass and Ellis Beamon married during the pandemic but had to upend their wedding plans, scaling down their invitees from 250 to just 20 close family and friends. The couple will host a wedding celebration in August to make up for the loss.

Beamon, meanwhile, was planning to have his outfit made when the shutdowns began, which required him to seek out a rental suit.

“It wasn’t what I wanted or what I imagined, but it did the job,” Beamon said.

While Beamon was ready to work on getting through challenges one day at a time — “I couldn’t sit there and dwell on it,” he said.

Pendergrass allowed herself to mourn, however.

“I took the time to grieve this and told myself that it was OK for me to do,” Pendergrass said. “But at the end of the day, what was most important to me was being married to Ellis, first and foremost.”

Her joy returned on the day of the wedding in September 2020.

Beamon danced down the aisle in front of 20 of their closest family members and friends, setting the mood for the ceremony.

“That was my only time to shine, the rest of the time everyone would be looking at Ayana,” Beamon said.

Like that of their guests, Beamon’s gaze was fixed on Pendergrass when it was her turn to come down the aisle.

“I just tuned everyone out,” Beamon said. “I didn’t even know her father was walking her down the aisle, I saw nothing except for her.”

Although the occasion marked a special moment for the couple, their wedding experience wasn’t an adequate substitute for the 250-guest celebration they had originally planned. In the meantime, however, they’ve settled in as a married couple, moving to Glendale in November 2020 for Beamon’s job. They’ve enjoyed getting fresh air around the Jewel City, where they often visit the Americana and Glendale Galleria. So far, they’ve found people to be welcoming and friendly, despite the pandemic.

“We didn’t get to interact with the city in its full heyday, but now things are starting to open back up so we’re getting to see more of what Glendale has to offer,” Beamon said. “Before it was quiet and less people were around, but more people are starting to come out now and have fun and we’re happy to experience that with them.”

The couple’s wedding reception is planned for this August at the same New Jersey venue. However, they decided to downsize their original 250-guest list for the reception to about 200 for an increased sense of safety in the summer.

During a cocktail hour, they will share a video of the 2020 ceremony as most of their guests were unable to attend due to COVID-19 capacity restrictions.

As the couple awaits the results of the Perfect Chip to My Dip contest, they said winning the $40,000 cash prize would be a source of financial relief and partially go toward the money spent on the wedding deposit that could have alleviated the financial burden of their moving expenses. The total cost of the wedding was approximately $30,000, but they contributed $1,400 for additional expenses including the replacement dress and rental suit.

“It would lighten our load so much and allow us to take off our heavy shoulder pads and sigh,” Beamon said.

The grand prize would also potentially fund their Bali honeymoon, and be divided among loved ones as thank you gifts.

“We would love to give this money to the family and friends that have helped us and supported us along the way,” Pendergrass said. “Of course, we would want to keep a portion of the money and go on a honeymoon, but it’s so important to give back, because they have been our rock this whole time.”

Voting for the Perfect Chip to My Dip contest wrapped up recently and the winner will be announced at the end of June.