A long weekend turns into forever

Lansie Sylvia & Andrew Panebianco

Oct. 9, 2021 in Philadelphia

At a First Person Arts competitive storytellers focus group, Lansie’s focus was stolen by the baby crawling directly toward an electrical outlet under the table.

Her huge extended family had prepared her for this moment. She popped beneath the table and turned the little tyke, who, like a windup toy, kept crawling in the new direction.

“You just saved that kid’s life!” said Andrew, another storyteller who saw the tiny drama unfold.

Now Lansie and Andrew were most pleasantly distracted by each other and a tongue-in-cheek conversation about children. Lansie said she loved toddlers. Andrew said he loved babies, but then didn’t want to see them again until they were 25. “Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a Philly Kid Share?” Lansie suggested. Some mothers present seemed a bit offended at the rent-a-kid concept, but the couple could not stop laughing at their ridiculous idea.

They flirted through the rest of that March 2012 meeting. When it ended, she tossed him a softball: “I hope I get to see you again.” Andrew didn’t even swing. “Yeah. Well, see you later,” he said and sauntered out of the room.

Two steps out the doorway, he did a little talking to himself: “You idiot!” An abandoned, pizza-stained paper plate was just the prop he needed. “I almost forgot to help clean up,” he said, hovering around Lansie. They left together, and Lansie made another pitch: “This was a lot of fun, and I hope I can see you again.”

“See you!” Andrew said as he walked away.

What the heck is with this guy?, wondered Lansie. Whatever it was, he could kick rocks. She put in her earbuds and headed toward a date with someone else.

What the actual heck is with me?, wondered Andrew. He ran, spinning to a dead stop in front of Lansie, from whose lips a startled expletive escaped.

She removed an earbud. “Yeah?”

“That thing you said, where maybe we could hang out again,” said Andrew. “How would we go about doing that?”

Their third date stretched into a full weekend together, starting Friday at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where Andrew, who is now 40 and grew up in Voorhees, and Lansie, now 37 and from Medford, showed each other their favorite works. “I don’t really want to stop hanging out with you,” she told him at the top of the stairs immortalized by Rocky. “I don’t, either,” he said.

On Sunday night, Lansie, then director of development at the Philadelphia Film Society and now a brand strategist and consumer researcher at MoStrategy, and Andrew, then an adjunct English professor at St. Joe’s and now a copy writer and associate creative director at Allen & Gerritsen, really had to say goodbye. She lived in Rittenhouse and he in Collingswood. Trying to delay their parting, they popped into a Catholic church near the PATCO station. It was Palm Sunday and someone handed the couple a palm frond. As a child, Lansie learned to make crosses from them, and she handed one to Andrew.

That cross has become a treasured Christmas ornament.

They hadn’t been dating a year when Hurricane Sandy aimed at the region. Fearing bridge closures would keep them apart, Lansie and her two cats, Deputy Whiskers and Miss Chairman Meow, headed to Jersey to join Andrew and his cat, Opie. The cats formed an uneasy alliance as the couple watched The Impostors together for the first of many times. When they still loved each other after several days without power, they knew this was for keeps, Andrew said.

In 2013, the two got an apartment in Chinatown. Andrew decided the adjunct life wasn’t for him and pivoted to advertising. “I had never worked anywhere but a restaurant and a college campus,” he said. “Lansie helped me choose the right clothes and learn to be around businesspeople.”

In 2016, the couple moved to South Philly, where they still live. Whiskers and Chairman have passed, but the couple and Opie now share their home with Henson, a Sheepadoodle named for the Muppets creator.

In 2018, Andrew’s father gave him stones from jewelry that had belonged to his mother, Claire, who died when he was 16. Several months later, the couple spent a drizzly, cold November night at the Philadelphia Zoo’s LumiNature light show. They rounded the corner and it was as if the zoo had erected a monument to Lansie’s personality: a two-story, blazing-pink Christmas tree made of lawn flamingos and neon.

“Babe, we need a picture,” Andrew said to Lansie, who was literally hopping up and down over the exhibit. He handed his phone to strangers, whispering what he was about to do.

“One, two, three,” he counted, taking a knee on three.

Word of their engagement beat them to the gate, where excited ticket ladies rushed the couple with congratulations and requests to see the ring.

The couple had planned to wed on Oct. 10, 2020. With the pandemic growing that April, they pushed the date by a year, but they had no idea how hard 2020 would prove to be. In June, Lansie’s father, Ed, had a fatal heart attack. “Andrew was the functioning adult in our relationship for a while,” she said.

Her grandfather, Jack, had died just the year before. Losing both in such a short period of time was beyond terrible, but they got through it together. “And that is exactly the point of getting married — to be with someone with whom even in the midst of an absolute nightmare, you can make the other person smile,” said Andrew.

On Oct. 9, 2021, they were wed at Ridgeland Mansion and photographed by Rebecca Barger — the only vendors chosen before they had canceled their original date.

“I wanted people who never knew each other sitting together; instead, we had to seat by family,” Lansie said. “We required everyone to be vaccinated. And we gave everyone wristbands — red, yellow, or green — to indicate how comfortable they were with hugging or being near others.”

Friends of the couple arranged flowers that were a gift from the bride’s uncle. Cosmo Baker — a friend from the dog park who happens to be a renowned DJ — agreed to play the reception.

Before anyone had heard of COVID-19, Lansie had chosen a fairly traditional wedding dress. In spring 2020, just before everything shut down, the couple walked by Carolyn Zinni on the way back from brunch and saw a spangled, beaded jumpsuit in the window. “Oh my God!” said Lansie. Go buy it, said Andrew.

Lansie’s brother, David, walked her down the aisle. Andrew’s father, Paul, was his best man. Friend and pastor the Rev. David Norse led them through their vows. Afterward, the couple and their guests danced back up the aisle as Snacktime Philly played “Skokiaan,” the song that plays at the end of The Impostors as the cast dances off set. Andrew made an instructional video for everyone to watch ahead of time.

Several people asked the couple to share the contact info of a person they had met during the wedding. “People walked away with new friends, and the fact that we achieved that in a global pandemic, we really had everything we wanted, even if almost none of it happened the way we had hoped,” Andrew said.

The couple hopes to one day be able to safely honeymoon in Japan. They had hoped to own a house by now, but with the real estate market on fire have opted to keep saving for their dream home, with a big garden and places to forage for Lansie, a big kitchen for Andrew’s bread baking, and a huge backyard with room for a whole bunch of dogs and other people’s kids. “We want to be the cool aunt and uncle that all of our friends send their kids to for the weekend,” Lansie said.