Today marks the 37th anniversary of my marriage to my wife Becky. The interesting thing is that it almost didn’t happen at all. And, after it did happen, no one gave us a chance of staying married for even 37 days, let alone 37 years. Here’s how it all went down.
It’s Father’s Day 1981. I’ve been divorced for exactly four days. My future wife has been divorced for nearly four years. A mutual friend invites each of us to a Father’s Day picnic. Becky agrees readily. I agree reluctantly (kind of the story of our lives together). I show up with my two sons (after all, it is Father’s Day). She shows up with her son and daughter (after all, it is Father’s Day). All of us are introduced to one another (two adults, four kids), we learn all we need to know about each other (she’s in sales; I own a small sporting goods store) and six weeks and two days later we are married.
The way it occurred (the actual wedding) was not according to plan. Nossiree, not even close. I have a small apartment, and Becky and her children are living in a second-story apartment in her mom’s house. Because Becky’s children usually spend August with their dad, Becky and I decide to try living together for a while during that time as a kind of “trial marriage.” We figure if it works out, we’ll probably “do the deed” in October or November. I’m getting my things together, and waiting for Becky to come help me make the move, when the phone rings. It’s my future mother-in-law, Arminè Giragossian (I actually learned how to spell that moniker in very short order). She explains how she and her late husband, George, had married after only a very short courtship, and wouldn’t it be a terrific idea if we “just go ahead and do it!” Makes sense to me. After all, my mother and father met and married in just 10 days!
So, when Becky shows up at my apartment, I suggest we follow her mom’s advice. We toss the idea around for a few minutes and finally concur: What the hell, why not?! It’s a Saturday, and I immediately start to research places we can marry without a blood test and a three-day waiting period (there aren’t many). If we have to wait three days, it will mean that we’ll be getting married on the same date of Becky’s first marriage. Not gonna happen. It has to be no blood test and a 24-hour wait—and not a minute longer. At the time, I have an aunt living in Maine, who is “politically connected,” so I call her and inquire about the waiting period in Maine. She says it’s three days, but she knows a judge who can waive that requirement. Works for me.
I call the airlines to book a flight. Naturally, I just have to tell the woman on the other end of the line about our reason for flying to Maine. “Why Maine?” she asks. I explain about the problem with the dates and how we just have to get married on August 4th. “Why don’t you go to York, South Carolina,” she suggests. Apparently, York is “the place” to go for couples who just can’t wait. “Are you sure there’s no blood test or three-day wait there?” I ask. She replies, “Absolutely!” I thank her profusely, and immediately call the county courthouse in York. It’s all perfectly true! Goodbye, Maine. Hello South Carolina!
Not so fast. All the flights into Charlotte (NC), the closest airport, are booked solid. “The best I can do for you,” explains the reservation specialist, “is to put you on standby.” I agree, and even get us put on standby for two flights (why not?). The next morning, I put a sign on the door to my store that reads: “Gone married!” I pack a few belongings and drive to Becky’s Mom’s house. We all pile into “Mommy’s” car (by now, we’re “family”) and she drives us to Newark Airport. We take positions at two different gates, just within shouting distance of each other, and wait . . . and wait . . . until finally our names are called. We say goodbye to Becky’s mom and board the plane.
Charlotte, North Carolina, then, is barely a city. In fact, the airport is so small that there are no luggage carousels; our bags are placed on a series of rollers by hands that magically appear from beneath a bunch of hanging rubber strips. We check into the hotel I’ve reserved, but I hate the place (it’s designed for business travelers, and it’s not at all romantic), so we find another hotel that’s much more inviting, and settle in. We could really use a drink, but it’s Sunday, and, at the time, Charlotte’s blue laws prohibit alcohol sales on the Sabbath.
The next day, after I jog my usual five miles (through the nearly empty downtown streets of Charlotte), we pick up our rental car, drive over the border into South Carolina, and find the county courthouse in York. We fill out the necessary paperwork to obtain a marriage license, promise to return the next day, and return to Charlotte. Rings! We have to buy rings! We inquire at our hotel about a place where we can buy wedding rings, and are given directions to a shop that they assure us is “just the place.” Wrong. “We’re not buying our wedding rings from any place that also has sports tropies in its window,” says Becky. Eventually, we find a more appropriate place and buy our rings.
That evening, we have a scrumptious dinner at the hotel, and enjoy a few drinks and a couple of dances. Someone at the next table remarks that we sure do look happy, and we explain that we are on our honeymoon. “When did you get married?” they ask. “Tomorrow,” we reply in unison. We laugh. They do not (remember, we are in the buckle of the “Bible Belt”).
The next morning, on our wedding day, we have breakfast in our room, get dressed up, and head back to York—to our destiny. On the way to the courthouse, we spy a church—we have no idea what its denomination is, nor do we care—and we go inside. Together, we enter a pew and kneel down to pray. (I can’t remember what I prayed for, but suffice it to say my prayers must have been answered.) Then, it’s back to the rental car, and off to the courthouse. Our justice of the peace is a woman. Really? Really. Okay, she’ll do. She ushers us into a tiny room, no bigger than a large walk-in closet, and explains that it is the records room, containing all the records of all the people who have ever been married there in the courthouse. She asks us to join hands, bows her head, and recites a beautiful and thoughtful prayer. The necessary legal words are spoken and then repeated by each of us, and like that, we are husband and wife. Now we can relax. Well, not quite.
This evening (yes, on my wedding day) I am to be installed as the president of the chamber of commerce in the town where I own and operate my sporting goods store. So, back to the airport we go, hop on our flight, and make our way back to the Garden State. None of my friends have even met Becky. The evening is filled with introductions, congratulations, and lots of drinks.
Several months later, we take a three-day, whirlwind camping trip in the Catskills, as I introduce my new wife to all my favorite fishing spots. The tent is canvas, and we don’t even have a ground cloth—but we’re in love. It’s not the ideal honeymoon Becky deserves, but it’s something. From there on, it’s a saga. Blended family, jobs, houses, life. You know the drill.
So, here we are, 37 years later, more in love than we’ve ever been, with two granddaughters and four children—all older than we were when we took the plunge. There’s been Becky’s breast cancer (she’s a nine-year survivor), my stroke (still here), and all kinds of life events. But we’ve perservered and survived. Oh yeah, and we renewed our marriage vows on our 30th anniversary, and I finally gave Becky that much deserved honeymoon on St. Simon’s Island, GA. But that’s another story . . .
Happy anniversary, my love. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat, and I know you would too. You are my reason for living.
Ain’t love grand? We think so. Do you have a love story you’d like to share? We’d love to hear about it.
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