Thrice Married

Three times the charm, they say. If that’s so, then Tom and I have had a “charmed” marriage — we were married three times.

In my last post, “A Groovy Kind of Love,” I shared with you about the first time, when Tom and I were betrothed. The betrothal ceremony is, in essence, a marriage ceremony. Vows are exchanged. The only difference between a betrothal ceremony and a wedding ceremony, ecclesiastically speaking, is that the betrothal precedes a wedding ceremony – and only until after the actual wedding ceremony, should a marriage be consummated.

Our actual wedding day, (the second marriage ceremony) went off without a hitch. Well, sort of. Besides the usual pre-ceremony mayhem, the flowers were missing! The altar flowers, my orchid bouquet, the corsages and boutonnieres – there wasn’t a flower to be seen! But because I was in the Church Community Center getting dressed, I had no idea there was a problem.

Family and friends kept the missing flowers a secret from me as along as they could, fearing, I imagine, that I would fall apart and become Bridezilla personified. Waiting as long as possible – with only fifteen minutes left before the noon ceremony – they finally sent a nervous relative to break the distressing news.

But, surprisingly, I was not distressed. All the worry, all the anxiety that dogged me in the weeks just before the wedding day was gone. I no longer worried about whether my mother or uncle (both struggling alcoholics) would drink too much champagne at the reception; or whether the bride’s maids dresses all fit; or whether the weather would be too cold/hot/rainy/sunny; or even or not whether the flowers arrived on time. Getting married was no longer my focus; being married was the only thing that was important. I was at peace and missing flowers didn’t faze me a bit.

I smiled at the stuttering bad-news messenger and said, “No problem. Everything will be fine.” And it was. The flowers arrived with minutes to spare.

My most treasured “second marriage” memory (besides remembering how Tom’s knees crackled every time he had to kneel or stand!) was kneeling with Tom at the Communion rail and receiving the Consecrated Wine for the first time in my life.

For my Protestant friends, let me explain. As you may know, we Catholics believe that when we receive Holy Communion, we actually (really and truly) receive, not just bread and wine, but the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Catholic theology tells us that even one crumb of the “bread” or one drop of the “wine” IS the living Christ Himself. (Tom’s last guest post, “How Much of the Infinite Does It Take,” goes into this a little more. Check it out.)

I don’t begin to understand. It is a Mystery. But because of this profound teaching of the Church, it is not necessary to receive under both “species,” (or, both the “bread” and the “wine.”) So, until the mid-sixties, lay Catholics received only the “bread” at Communion.

Very shortly before our wedding, the American Catholic Bishops issued a “dispensation” to brides and grooms on their wedding days, that the bridal couple only (not the wedding guests) was allowed to receive both the “bread” and the “wine.” It was considered the very highest of blessings. Today, when we have this privilege seven days of the week, we forget how blessed we are!

After the ceremony, we all gathered at my home for a simple reception. Photos were taken; the cake was cut, the champagne toast was given (no one drank too much!) and well-wishes were given by all. Finally, it was time to begin our married lives. Almost.

My grandmother had suffered a stroke a few weeks before our wedding, and she was not well enough to attend our wedding. Mom (everyone called my grandmother Mom, perhaps because she was the mother of eight and grandmother of dozens) was much more than a grandmother to me – she was a friend. In some future post I will share more about Mom; but for now, I will just say that there was NO WAY she was going to completely miss out on my wedding day! If Mom couldn’t come to us, we would go to her. And that’s what we did.

After hugs and goodbyes and the mandatory throwing of rice, Tom and I drove to Novato (about thirty minutes away from my home in Corte Madera) to visit Mom in the hospital wing of the Catholic Retirement Center where she lived.

Sister Bridget Kathleen (very Irish, complete with lilting Irish brogue) met us at the door, oohing and aahing over my wedding dress. With a broad wink she inspected Tom, still in his rented tux, and teased, “You, dear lad, are lookin’ lovely, too, I dare say. But let’s not waste a minute, dear-hearts, your grandmother is anxiously awaitin’ to see you.”

With that she whooshed us through a labyrinth of halls, singing, “Here comes the bride!” at the top of her lungs.

Mom’s eyes filled with tears when she saw us. Sadly, she couldn’t speak. She held my hand and caressed the tip of my veil as her weepy eyes drank in the happy, sad, sacred moment — one that is indelibly impressed on my memory.

Sister Bridget interrupted us with a stage whisper, “I don’t want to disturb this bonny moment, but when you’ve said your goodbyes, would you mind taking just a wee bit more time to come to our Chapel? Some of Mom’s old friends want to see you in your beautiful dress. And of course, they want to see you too, Tom, dear lad.”

Tom and I looked at each other. “What’s a “wee moment” more?” And so, after tearful goodbyes (this was the last time I would see Mom, but I am glad I didn’t know that at the time), we followed Sister back through the labyrinth.

About halfway down the first hall, she stopped at a closed door and knocked. “This won’t take long, dearies. Just a wee stop for some friends of Mom who can’t make it down to the chapel. (At this point, I wondered just how many friends Mom had.)

The door opened and a very old couple peeked out. The beam of JOY that spread over their faces knocked all impatience out of my heart. Sister Bridget introduced us. Of course I don’t remember their names, but I do remember that they had just celebrated their 75th anniversary!

We talked with them for quite a long time – and least I remember it as a long time. They reminisced about their own wedding day. He was just twenty and she was only seventeen! When we left them, I had one of those moments in life that are impossible to put into words.

This couple was OLD – he was ninety-five and she was ninety-two. Yet, looking into their eyes that afternoon, as we said jour goodbyes, I saw – I can’t explain it – two very YOUNG people smiling back at us, as full of youthful hope as Tom and I. I was stunned by the living paradox standing before me – but only for a moment, because Sister Bridget bustled us on our way.

When we finally got to the chapel, she stopped at the closed doorway, and said, with just a hint of sheepishness (maybe a wee bit of guilt…), “They have SO been lookin’ forward to this! I hope you don’t mind.”

“Mind what?” Tom asked.

“Oh, nothin’ dear lad. Just walk down the aisle, you two, and let them all see how pretty you look!” Then she opened the door with a flourish.

The chapel was full. Every Irish Sister on staff in the retirement home, along with a multitude of aged residents, beamed at us as we stood at the chapel door. (I KNOW my grandmother didn’t know that many residents!)

A priest in glistening white vestments stood at the foot of the altar, which was festooned with flowers. An organ began to play, Sister Bridget pushed us forward, and we walked down the aisle – what else could we do?

It immediately became clear that this was no “showing of the wedding dress for a few of Mom’s friends.” This was a wedding! The only difference between our ceremony that morning and this one was that it was not a Mass (and that was probably ONLY because there were rules at that time about multiple Masses in a day.)

Vows were said, rings were exchanged (we had to take them off first); and, for the second time that day, we were pronounced husband and wife and Tom was told to kiss his bride. (I don’t think he minded that part….)

After the kiss, we hurried down the aisle – but Sister Bridget stood in our way. She was holding a basket of little rice packets. “This will take only a wee bit more time,” she said.

The rice packets were handed out, and we were escorted (with flurries of flying rice) out of the Retirement Center and to our car. Thrice married, we drove away a wee bit dazed.

Three times a charm, they say. Looking back fifty years, I say, “Three times blessed.”

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1 Response to Thrice Married

  1. What a neat story! I love it! God Bless!


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