Pictured Above: The Author & The Missus, On that Fateful June Day
By Tim Kelly
“And what is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days.”
Who doesn’t know that James Russell Lowell quote? Ah, June, the fulfillment of winter and spring longings for green leaves, poppies and peonies, late sunsets and shirtsleeve climes.
June, a month for wedding white, vows and covenants, tears and laughter amid new beginnings. Yours truly was a June groom and the day The Missus became, well, The Missus formed vivid, vibrant memories that time can never erode.
Damn it all, how I wish I could forget!
On June 21 it’ll be 44 years since we exchanged rings. Unlike so many TV husbands, I never, ever forget our anniversary. When asked for the date, I invariably quip, “It’s the longest day of the year.” You think I’d have learned my lesson by now since The Missus invariably fires back with “You mean the shortest night of the year.”
Women. You gotta love ‘em, right?
The day, and the whole nuptial experience, actually, was, um, how can I put this? A nightmare? Nah, didn’t quite rise to that level.
Challenging? No, more than that.
Maddening? Yeah, sorta.
Bizarre? Yes! That’s it! No, no Bridezilla here. Simply a series of absurd, unexpected and, um, unfortunate events.
We a had hint that ours might not be a picture-perfect wedding several months before. We secured the services a family friend, a young priest considered a rising star in the diocese who was only too happy to say Mass and perform the ceremony. (Have I mentioned before that I grew up in a large Irish Catholic – emphasis on Catholic – family?)
In March, just three months shy of the big day, he called and quite apologetically begged off marrying us, because he was getting married.
Hoo boy. Were that we knew what that would portend.
Thankfully, another family friend, a priest much closer to our parents’ ages, agreed to pinch hit. Problem solved.
Ah, but then came time to seek our local church’s permission to marry there, which meant a trip to the rectory. The Kellys had strong parish ties so it seemed a pro forma performance.
I’d never set foot in the rectory, and by evening’s end I wished I’d kept that streak alive.
The chief priest of my youth was by then a pastor out to pasture, I mean pastor emeritus. As grumpy as he was, he seemed a Falstaffian fellow compared to his replacement, a very, very conservative Irish priest of a dour and sour temperament.
Knowing the reason for our visit, he dispensed with conversational pleasantries.
Immediately he launched into a diatribe about how America was “all about sex, sex, sex.”
Hey, don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it.
Then he went for the throat.
“I know your type,” he sneered, jabbing a finger at me. “After this I won’t see you again until your children are baptized.”
Yeah, so? What’s the problem?
While I babbled “Yes, Father” and “No, Father” like a seminary parrot, my non-Catholic STB (spouse to be) got right in his face. “I can’t believe you’re talking to him like this. He comes to you to do the right thing and this is how you act?” she said, more forcefully than I thought appropriate at the time. My outlook changed to, “My fiancé, my hero!”
Over the years I’ve come to learn that misogyny was long a not-so-hidden element of Irish culture. I’m sure no woman ever stood up to him like that in his life.
Still, we got the OK. As the day approached, a very indifferent curate told us we really didn’t need a practice. Uh, what? Upon hearing that, the maid of honor freaked and declared that unless the practice was on, she was out.
Ok, a practice it is then.
Then on the day, as my pre-bride was home, alone, the rest of the family out doing pre-wedding stuff or whatever, the flower guy arrived early demanding payment in full. Her mother was to write the check, and in her absence the already nerve-wracked STB had to dip into our rather modest honeymoon fund, all in big bills. The delivery guy said he couldn’t make change and if she didn’t fork over the cash no flowers would he leave.
Word is he kept the extra $$$, but lost his job when all was straightened out. Some kind soul covered our honeymoon, but neither of us can recall who.
Don’t ask about what happened in church. By then the two kids facing each other on the altar were all but brain-dead from stress. A handful of photos give rise to muddled memories of kissing, walking down the aisle as newly minted husband and wife and navigating the front steps through a shower of rice.
Then came the reception, a lively gathering of happy people singing, drinking and dancing when suddenly a famous singer came by and… Wait, no, that was “The Godfather.” Ours was mostly subdued and uneventful, with a few obvious exceptions.
It seems the boys in the band were out all night the night before, and so had a huge head start on the party, as their playing proved.
D-Day produced fewer decibels and more pleasing tones. It was enough to shatter champagne glasses and shimmy the garter right off the bride’s lovely leg. Um, I forget. Did we do the garter thing? Never mind. I really don’t want to know.
Later, when catching some air outside, I spotted a female leg up on the top of the back seat of a parked car, apparently belonging to one of the bridesmaids or the maid of honor. Don’t think she was napping.
How do I know? Earlier I spotted someone in one of those ugly-ass dresses snatch a bottle off a table and head for the exit.
Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.
After toasts and cake – I assume we had both – came our departure. Me Ma gave us the use of her Chevy Nova for our modest, financially, anyway, Mystic, Conn., honeymoon. As me bride gathered up her dress, I opened the passenger side door to an inch or more of water on the floorboard, courtesy of the previous night’s rain. Then, a silent turn of the ignition key indicated a dead battery, the result of a brother’s driving around post-wedding with the lights on and forgetting to turn them off at the restaurant.
Nobody had jumper cables, of course, but praise be that’s not the only way to start a car with a standard transmission. (You millennials may need to Google that.)
With the bride’s feet perched on the dashboard and the groom at the wheel with the ignition key on “on,” I put the three-on-the-column in gear, but with the clutch engaged. Then, a gaggle of guys in suits and tuxes pushed the Chevy down a side road to build as much speed as possible.
After one of the pushers shouted “Now!” I popped the clutch and the car lurched to life.
With the two of us as drained as that damn battery, we headed to Orient and boarded the ferry just in time.
T’was quite pleasant on the upper deck in the warm glow of an early summer solstice evening. We sat there, mute as mannequins, staring out over calm water, not a thought in our rattled heads. Nearby, a bubbly young couple, arms entwined like grape vines, cooed and kissed.
Before the vessel turned to port and into Plum Gut, the young man asked, “Is that Shelter Island?” I could have said, “Actually, Shelter Island’s back to the west, just south of Greenport. What you’re looking at is Gardiner’s Island. Interesting story. It was purchased by Lion Gardner from…”
But I didn’t, couldn’t. “No,” is all he got.
Yes, no marriage is perfect, ours included. But despite its turbulent launch, it couldn’t last two score and four unless we’re doing something right.
In six years, which will fly by in no time, it’ll be our 50th, the Golden Anniversary. If we’re still around I suspect we’ll have a quite a hooley. (That’s Irish for party.)
But should anyone ask beforehand if we’re thinking of a ceremony to renew our vows, they’ll get a rapid response, in stereo.
Tim Kelly is a former congressional press secretary and award-winning reporter, editor, columnist and photographer. He has lived on the North Fork for 30 years. For his mid-life crisis, he became a bagpiper.