A very long engagement

Just in time for June, a member of Salon's Table Talk tells the story of a trip down the aisle postponed.

By Salon Staff

Published June 12, 2009 4:13PM (EDT)

Private Life

Getting or Newly Married: the nuptial thread.

Calamity Jeanne - 09:08 pm Pacific Time - Jun 11, 2009 - #151 of 160

Congratulations to all of the about-to-be-married couples!

Steve and I originally set our wedding date as October 11, 2003. We were going to have the ceremony and reception in the Great Hall at the old Union Depot. We'd already talked to the people there and had the paperwork. We just needed to fill out the forms and return them with a $100 deposit. Our original plans were actually very ambitious -- multiple attendants, a sit-down dinner, fancy decorations. I'd been married once before and he'd been married twice before.

Then my parents announced that they had the opportunity of a lifetime to take a month-long trip to Italy with their friend Carol. October 11, 2003, would have fallen smack in the middle of that trip. Steve and I discussed it and agreed that since my parents were getting old and in a few years wouldn't be able to be gallivanting off to Europe like that, we'd postpone the wedding for a year. We were already living together and were in no hurry to get married. We chose another date that I don't remember now, sometime in early fall 2004, contacted the people at the Depot and asked them to pencil us in, and then sort of forgot about it all.

Early in 2003 Carol discovered a lump in her breast. Her doctor didn't think it was anything to get concerned about, but she decided that she should postpone the Italy trip for a year in order to deal with it. (Things turned out OK and she and my folks were able to take the trip in 2004.)

On September 5, 2003, Steve told me, "I have cancer." He'd been diagnosed with a Stage I tumor right on top of his larynx. He was subsequently hit very hard with chemotherapy and radiation. While he is now in remission for over five years, the treatments have left him with side effects that will remain for the rest of his life. The social workers at the oncologist's office told us, "NO! Do not get married now!" Their rationale was that if Steve didn't make it (and there were a couple of occasions where his infusion nurses really didn't think that he was going to make it), all I'd be left with would be a metric buttload of medical bills.

So we put our wedding plans on hold until further notice.

He spent 2004 and 2005 recuperating. We started talking about the wedding again late in 2005. By then we had moved to a really cool old craftsman-y house in the neighborhood where I'd grown up from ages 2 to 10, and decided that maybe we should change our plans and have the ceremony in the living room, with its hardwood floors, huge fireplace and natural woodwork, and then have the reception in the back yard, which was huge. But we needed to get the house a bit more spiffed up first. So it was, "Yeah, OK, that's a great idea, but we need to work on it some more."

On May 1, 2006, Steve had a TIA, or mini-stroke. It was very scary while it was happening, but he was only in the hospital for three days. After he got out I said, "You know, if something like this happens again and you die, I will have absolutely no say in what happens to your sorry old carcass. Your sister and brother will step in and take over, and at that point I might as well have never known you." He agreed. We bought a marriage license a few days later and were married in a civil ceremony on September 1, 2006. But we didn't just drive down to the county courthouse. We took the Lake Superior Scenic Railway to Two Harbors, which happens to be my dad's hometown, and got married in the courthouse there. Good friends of ours accompanied us and served as witnesses, my daughter was flower girl, and my parents and Carol drove up to observe.

After the ceremony we all walked from the courthouse to the VFW and had sandwiches and a pitcher of beer for lunch. We rode the train back to Duluth, whereupon Steve, Adrienne and I went to the nursing home where Steve's folks were then living. His mother was by then far enough into dementia that she barely recognized us. Steve's dad, however, was very happy to learn that I'd finally made an honest man out of Steve. He's a paraplegic stroke victim, but mentally he's pretty much all there. He gave me a big hug and smooch. This is the guy who told his son forty years ago that "If I ever catch you dating a Catholic girl I'll ground you until you're thirty!"

Following that visit we drove back up the north shore to a really great new restaurant for dinner. Our witnesses, my parents and Carol joined us. I experienced a terrible brain fart at the end of the meal (it had been a long day and I was more than half-drunk) and seriously undertipped our server, but I realized it before I went to bed that night, and the following morning Steve called the chef/owner, who is our neighbor. An hour later I headed toward his house with some cash stuffed in an envelope for Annie. But I got sidetracked two doors down from our house by an estate sale that had a lot of great railroad memorabilia. So I ran back home, woke Steve up, made him get dressed, and walked him back down to the sale. He came away with a great haul for a hundred bucks.

I was 47 and Steve was 55 when this took place, and I'd already had the baby-making equipment removed, so there was no way we'd be making any babies. Instead, two or three days after the ceremony we decided to adopt the stray cat who had been hanging out at our house all summer.

It has been eight years since we met and almost three years since we got married, and we are very happy.

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