Piano Island: Getting Married is “Easier than Opening a Bank Account”

"Dear Mom, M and I got married today. My call just missed you, oh well. We just walked into the county courthouse - filled out the application, paid the money and it was done. Easier than opening a bank account...."

“Dear Mom, M and I got married today. My call just missed you, oh well. We just walked into the county courthouse – filled out the application, paid the money and it was done. Easier than opening a bank account….”

I stood in the lawyers office, beginning to perspire. I had at least six layers of clothing on: woolen long underwear, a t-shirt and a flannel shirt over that, blue and white striped overalls, a heavy hand-knitted two-layered wool vest, a thick down jacket, an oversized canvas army jacket, a yellow rain slicker, my wool babushka scarf wrapped around my head and neck, a wool scarf over that and a heavy wool hat pulled over the babushka scarf. I had so much clothes for my wedding that my arms stuck out to the sides and I walked like a penguin waddling on ice. Wind, rain and cold-proof.

We’d thought we were married LAST week, when we put an end to four years of discussion. We knew we never wanted a wedding – all that money, which no-one in either of our families had, so it would be out-of-pocket for the two of us, and WE certainly didn’t have it. Plus there’s all those people judging, thinking their thoughts, “I certainly don’t think they’re going to stay together. Not a chance.” My Seasonal Affective Disorder was kicking in, winter blues clamping down, and Michael, thinking to cheer me up, suggested a boat trip to Rabbit Island, “Let’s elope!”

We’d pounded through the stiff whitecaps and clomped into the Courthouse to announce that we were ready to get married. The lady at the window with curly black hair told us we needed to have a witness for the marriage license, someone who’d known us at least two years.

Back down the hill we tromped, stripping woolens and unwinding scarves until we ran into our friend Gregg in the wine aisle at King’s Market, the only grocery store in town. We’d been selling pot to Gregg for at least two years, so he qualified as a witness.

Back up the hill to the courthouse we trooped. Gregg signed things, we signed things. We thought we were married. When we got back home to Piano Island, just at dusk, we wrote an announcement of our marriage on the back side of a used index card and thumb tacked it on the Post Office community bulletin board.

This morning, a very large envelope had arrived in the post. I could see that it was from a government office at the state capitol. It had a paper in it, bigger than any normal paper, with seals and watermarks, all very official, and empty lines for signatures, ours, and witnesses, and the “officiant’s.” Feeling foolish, we realized that getting a marriage license didn’t mean we were married. There was one more step to go! We quickly got our gear together and headed back to Rabbit Island to get married, this time for real.

We weren’t sure how to find an “officiant,” so we went back to the nice lady at the Court House. She laughed, pushing a black curl off her forehead, “Well, I sure can’t marry you, but here’s a list of folks on the island who do that sort of thing. I’m not allowed to recommend one over the other, but the addresses are included, and some of them are right here in town.”

We walked down Court Street, turned the corner on 2nd, and trooped up the stairs to a lawyer’s office listed on the sheet of paper the lady at the courthouse had given us. The secretary in the office said the lawyer was out to lunch, could she help us?

“I have a license to marry people, if you want, I can do that for you,” she offered, hearing our mission. “What date do you have in mind?” she asked, opening her planner.

“Could we do it right now?” I asked, sweating, pulling my hat and babushka scarf off, “We need to get back to Piano Island before dark, and it blowing.”

She hesitated, then, “Sure why not? I can take a break!” She took a couple of minutes to assemble women from neighboring offices to be our witnesses, and then she turned back to me and Michael. We were standing, sweating, in our boat gear. My jackets and sweaters were so thick, I could not put my hands down at my sides, my arms protruded to either side like penguin wings, as I held my hat and scarves at my side.

“Do you have any vows or words written out that you want me to say?” she asked, with a slight laugh.

Michael and I had discussed vows a hundred times. Coming from single mother homes, we couldn’t imagine – what promises can a person really make, in full honesty? What could a person actually promise for an entire lifetime that wasn’t just a fantasy, wishful thinking, a hollow vow?

“Oh ,” I hastened to fill the awkward silence “You just ask him if he wants to marry me, and he’ll say ‘I do,’ and then ask me if I want to marry him and I’ll say that I do … and that should just about do it!” It took all of five minutes to say that we did, pay the secretary and get back to our boat for the cold, bouncy ride home.

From freewrite prompt “Newlyweds” offered by poet, promptress and  writing class facilitator, Jena Schwartz.


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