"Will you marry me?"
As it was my assumption that Bob was down on the floor because he dropped his fork, the question caught me by surprise. They say you often don't recognize the most important moments in your life while they are happening. But I knew that decision would set me on a path unlike anything I had known. For not only was I getting married, but my betrothed was a career firefighter.
When you are the baby of the family, there is a certain kind of joy that blesses your wedding day. You are the final line in the first chapter of your family book. I closed the door on the years when my parents and siblings resided together and it felt like each other was all we would ever need. I gave up the last holding on the family name and assumed a new one, along with a new family.
I think my sisters were bittersweet about their thirty-something sibling finally tying the knot. Though it was hard to sort the tears from the smiles. Especially when they exclaimed to my only-child fiancé, “We would be happy it was anyone, but we are really happy it’s you!”
Apparently, they had been harboring the fear that I would end up an old lady, eating TV dinners in an unheated third-floor walk-up and lusting after Alex Trebeck’s moustache, without a husband.
So, with high hopes they awaited the details of the wedding. I found a dress I loved at a bridal shop in Elmira that promptly went out of business before our first anniversary. (My sister suggested that once I was hitched, they figured that was the end of the single market and it was time to fold their tents.)
We were forgoing many of the bridal traditions that we didn’t like. No head table and formal introduction, no garter or bouquet toss, no force-feeding cake to each other. This was not Gidget marries Moondoggie. We were very grown-up people.
Two days before doing the “I do”s, Terri, exercising her right as eldest sister, asked if Bob had reserved a limo for the ride to the reception. “No, we’re just using the truck.” The mortification on my sister’s face could have dropped a crow out of the sky. “The truck” was a Dodge Ram, faded blue with cloth seats that had a stain from every condiment known to man and a few others upon which we were still awaiting DNA results.
“Robert! You are not taking my sister—in her wedding gown—in that...thing!”
“It’s all washed and waxed and ready to go!”
I stayed out of it. My sisters and my future husband were going to have to work out their own relationship, and I knew to keep my head down until the ride came to a complete stop.
Besides, I still couldn’t believe this guy wanted to marry me. If he had suggested exchanging rocks in the forest and riding off on a tandem bike, I would have been in.
The day itself was a dream. The dress would have made Peppermint Patty look elegant, and I could see the love shining in Robert, so handsome and proud at the altar.
Everything went smoothly—until it was time to light the unity candle. Bob’s parents and my nieces had lit the two family candles. But, when we tried to share those two flames into one, there was nothing but sizzling and crackling. No flame. We tried again, raising our eyes slightly to each other in a silent moment of growing panic. Snap, crackle, pop. The half dozen firefighters in the church, guys you can always count on to do what everyone else is thinking, began to giggle.
Finally, Father Mark could stand it no longer and leaned in with a classic stage whisper: “Turn them around. You have the wrong end!”
The congregation roared.
Correct ends applied, the new, combined candle for Maggie and Robert burst into color and warmth. Bobby gave me an apologetic shrug and said, “I can put them out. I can’t start them.” I laughed out loud.
In the video of the receiving line, you can now see two things that were not evident to me on that magic day. While greeting our guests, Robert spent much time looking at two things: the train on my dress and his watch.
Upon leaving the church in a hail of rice and well wishes, our chariot was at the curb, gleaming as Robert promised. The passenger door was open, a white cloth was across the seat, and a firefighter waited to help me into—the cab of a 1994 KME aerial ladder fire truck.
Terri, her mouth unhinged, stared at the fire truck and then slugged her new brother-in-law in the shoulder.
“You rat!” she said.
It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Yes, we did need to apologize to the mayor for boosting one of his fire trucks, and yes, the country club hosting our reception did start to evacuate when we pulled up, but it all worked out. We danced and sang and drank champagne and, as midnight transformed today into yesterday, we rode that faded Dodge Ram into our future.
More than two decades later, we still know that all you need are the right ends and the means will take care of themselves.