Mary: “The next couple …”

August 29, 2014 in Mary’s own words …

At ten in the morning, we were sitting in school desk style chairs in City Hall, in a drab room that looked like a DMV. It was the Court of Common Pleas, the place to get a marriage license. We were waiting our turn.

I had $80 in my pocket, in sweaty crumpled bills. Cootie had an envelope with papers we needed. There was a male clerk sitting in a cubicle with a computer. The cubicle wall poster said “Fly, Phillies, Fly.” It all struck me as so very ordinary. This is what people do when they want to get married. They go to the Court House, fill out papers, pay fees and, voila, they get a Marriage Certificate. It’s not called a license in Pennsylvania.

I was so nervous, I couldn’t manage to get my driver’s license out of my wallet plastic keeper. Embarrassed and feeling like I was at the bottom of a hypoglycemic pit, I kept saying things under my breath, very romantic stuff, like “Oh, shit.”

Then it happened. The clerk stood up and said, “next couple,” and that was us. The first miracle.

I started to cry. “Next couple.” Right there, in front of God and in City Hall, we were the next COUPLE. Not friends, not companions, not significant others, not registered domestic partners. To those who have always taken the right to marry for granted, like driving across a state line or holding hands in public. I have a message: It isn’t that way for folks like me. I’ve spent my life hating the preachers, pompous asses and idiots who have insisted that membership in the marriage club is NOT open to just anyone. A silly “ No queers allowed” club, with secret decoder rings, special handshakes and rituals open only to those with “compatible genitalia.”

But, not today, by sweet God. Not today. Today the clerk stared straight at us and said, “next couple.”

I tried. I really did try to keep from crying. We were asked questions. Do you have communicable diseases? No. What is your mother’s maiden name?  What is your cell phone number? Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I don’t know!!!!   The clerk said the form had not yet been updated, so it still had bride and groom on it. Pictures of our IDs, checking to see the clerk had it all down right … I thought about whether I had put on deodorant that morning. I asked the clerk how many of these forms he did per day. ”Oh, ten or fifteen,” he replied. No big deal. Right.

Cootie looked calm. We were not dressed up, knowing that a long road trip to NC lay ahead that day. Cootie’s face betrayed her though. I know she is a storm of emotion when that vein in her temple starts twitching. She grins and laughs a nervous laugh. My beloved.

I handed over our fee money. The clerk got up from his cubicle chair and left us alone for a few minutes. I could not look at Cootie at that moment. Just trembling, my throat all seized up, thinking “Oh, lord, please don’t let me come unhinged.”   And, “Remember this day, Mary, remember all of it.”

Then, the second miracle happened. The clerk returned and in his hands, held up before us, was a large official-looking paper that said “Marriage Certificate.” Instructions for completion included. Cootie touched my hand. The clerk mumbled something about a waiting period, where to return the forms when our marriage ceremony is performed. We’ve got sixty days or the whole process has to start over. Reminded me, at that very moment, of how I always warned the kiddos they had to get their cars inspected within a certain time period.

I’m losing it about here…..I am, I am LOS-ING IT.

As we rose to leave, the third miracle happened. My back was turned and I was rushing to get out of the room, knowing the tears were building up like steam in a pressure cooker. Behind me I heard the clerk say “congratulations.” A perfect stranger, a guy in a plain white shirt, a government employee, a Phillies fan…said congratulations to US. Perhaps he says it to all the “next couples.” I don’t know. But, I heard him say it to US. The third miracle.

Three miracles that day: the next couple, the Marriage Certificate and congratulations from a clerk.

In City Hall, in the exact center of William Penn’s 1682 city plan for Philadelphia, on a warm August day, Tammerie Day and Mary Hill got their certificate to be married, legally, and the world just kept right on turning.

The certificate has a watermark that reads, “the cradle of liberty.”

We walk out of City Hall and people are passing by, workers are working, drivers are honking, the wind is blowing a little bit. And I want to scream! To shout!   To run around the City Hall steps, waving our Certificate, telling the world …

I am 71 years old and I am getting married.

Monday, September 1, 2014

6:11PM, on the train to Philly. She tries, and tries, to write her vows …

We have laughed and cried a lot this past weekend. The reality of what we are about to do has begun to sink in deeper. There have been hard conversations about revisions of wills, the kids…… those dreaded “what if you/I die first” talks. I hate it. Being 20 years older, the odds are very good Cootie will be left behind. Enough. I can’t write about this.

I am trying to write a quick vow …..not a big fullblown whole enchilada vow…..just one suitable for our civil ceremony. Here goes:

“On this day and for the rest of my life, I commit my body, my hands and my heart to you. No other will ever hold your place in my life. I am yours.”

Ehhh, not bad but not great either. I don’t really know what to say and I am certain it doesn’t matter….because I will spend the entire time crying my eyes out. Cootie says bring a towel…Kleenex won’t be adequate.


The night before

We went to the Mennonite Church to see it and to meet the pastor who will marry us tomorrow at 5PM. Cootie will probably say more about all that than I will.

Tonight I am quietly mumbling my vows under my breath, trying to practice. And wondering how it will feel to be married?

The clothes are all clean and pressed.

It felt weird today, telling a couple of people at work that I am getting married tomorrow. Almost like, in an odd way, that I was not entitled to use those big people, adult words … still. Like I was pretending somehow. The suit just does not fit … yet … but it will.

Aunt Grace, I am 71 years old and getting married. Do you hear, do you see, do you know? Will you be with me tomorrow? Will you be proud of me?

Cootie found out this morning that she got the UNC job! I was dreading another rejection, another hurt look in those beautiful blue eyes. But today, she grinned and her face cracked wide open with such joy! Those UNC people don’t know what they are getting — she will knock them all flat!   My wonderful fierce-spirit woman … so very proud of you.

Something borrowed, something blue …

So this is our last night of living in sin. God, look down here, look this way, and see us. And wrap your arms tight around my beloved. I’m giving up the single life.

September 5th, our wedding day

I’ve taken care of plans for dinner and occupied myself with work this morning. Now, the clock is ticking and within a few hours, a new life I never thought I would be living, will begin.

Lord, thank you, for keeping me alive long enough to see this day.


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