Dulce Gonzalez was sure her beach wedding was ruined.
Heavy storm clouds crept in to spoil the once-sunny day just before the ceremony was set to begin on a picturesque beach along the Mississippi coastline. Thunder boomed and lightning flashed as wind and rain whipped up white-tipped waves - and drove down her hopes.
Gonzalez, 24, watched from inside her parents' car June 30 as thick raindrops tore at her fairy tale nuptial setup - drenching the rows of white folding chairs set up on the sand, the flower-crowned altar inscribed with her initials and those of her fiance and the petal-strewn white carpet down which she was supposed to walk.
"I was trying to hold my tears," Gonzalez said in an interview with The Washington Post this week. "I'm about to have a panic attack, I'm asking my mom, 'What am I gonna do?' "
Just then a woman walked up to Gonzalez's car window, umbrella-less and soaking wet, and made an offer that Gonzalez could hardly believe.
Hold your wedding in my house, the woman told her.
The soaking wet woman, Cynthia Strunk, 67, and her husband, Shannon, 53, had been watching the wedding preparations from their beachfront home all morning.
Weddings are a fairly regular occurrence in Pascagoula, Mississippi, the beach town where the Strunks have lived since 1999. Strunk said she typically witnesses at least a handful of ceremonies every year - but she had never once seen one canceled by weather.
She didn't want this to be the first. So she approached the car.
"The bride's mother started crying at that point and [Gonzalez] said 'thank you' and she had tears in her eyes," Strunk said.
Gonzalez was overwhelmed by the offer.
Gonzalez watched Strunk hurry back toward her house to prepare for the impromptu wedding she was about to host. Gonzalez then turned to her mother and recalled her sudden premonition, as Strunk approached the car, that the total stranger in the big house nearby was going to offer the use of her home.
"I was like, 'Mom, I told you! I told you!' " Gonzalez remembered. "I had this feeling she was going to save us."
Strunk asked for just 10 minutes to get the house ready. The Strunks' home is usually a little bit messy - a state of affairs Strunk attributes to having "lots of grandchildren." But as luck would have it, the house was "nice and clean" that day, she said.
The Strunks have a large extended family, so they always keep roughly two dozen extra chairs stashed away for get-togethers and reunions. Working quickly, the couple pulled the chairs from storage and positioned them in rows in "the gallery," a large, square room in the heart of the house that has marble floors, a concert piano and a vestibule at one end that Strunk decided would function nicely as a makeshift altar.
She said she set things up the way she would have "if it was my daughter" getting married.
Minutes later - after the Strunks had helped ferry the roughly 50 guests waiting in their cars into the house, shielding them under umbrellas - Gonzalez walked into the gallery. She was shocked by what she saw.
"They had everything set as if we actually planned it," Gonzalez said. "It was perfect. I told my husband that [the Strunks] were little angels that God sent us."
Some guests sat on the chairs, others stood and still, others squeezed in to sit on the Strunks' staircase.
As Gonzalez and her intended, Ariel Gonzalez Mass, 30, exchanged vows, they were framed by windows showcasing the stormy beach - meaning the wedding was still "sort of a beach wedding," Gonzalez said. This was important to both her and her husband because their relationship began on a beach. In the early days, the two would meet up at a beach in Pascagoula - where they both live - to chat and to flirt.
The Strunks waited inside their kitchen while the wedding proceeded, taking only occasional peeks at the "beautiful, beautiful ceremony," said Cynthia Strunk. Afterward, Dulce Gonzalez's father called the Strunks into the room and gave a speech thanking them. He spoke entirely in Spanish, so the bride's best friend interpreted for the couple.
"The father was just so appreciative and they were just such gracious, wonderful people," Strunk said. "We were just happy to do it - and to us it was no big deal."
After the ceremony, the families embraced and wished each other well. The newlyweds held a reception at the same restaurant where they got engaged.
Strunk and her husband said they have been "completely shocked" by the public response to their story. A few days after the wedding, Strunk posted a summary of the incident to Facebook, writing that she would "highly recommend impromptu weddings." The post got attention nationwide.
The Gonzalezes recently visited the Strunks to thank them again and to bring them a cake and a Fourth of July-themed flower arrangement. The couples friended each other on Facebook and swapped contact information.
Gonzalez, who is Dominican and whose husband is Puerto Rican, said she plans to cook "Spanish food" for the Strunks sometime soon.
Both women said they thought the wedding was an auspicious start to the Gonzalezes' lives together.
"I did tell them that when they have their first baby that I fully expect them to bring the baby to the house and tell them where it all began," Strunk said.
Gonzalez said she's planning on it.