Don, my soon to be husband and I devised a plan to elope. There was no reason for a rushed ceremony; just merely a way to have a small nest egg saved up before having a big wedding in the future. Don was in the Navy, and if he were married, he would get married pay. Our plan was simple. We were going to get married, not tell anyone and start saving a little extra money.
Don was on leave and due back to the ship right after the first of the year, so we decided to get married before he left. We chose December 30th. We’d worked out all the details; we would drive to Tennessee, get married, and be home by early afternoon. What could possibly go wrong?
I woke early that Friday morning as Don was supposed to pick me up by seven for our secret rendezvous. I was ready on time, but Don was nearly an hour late picking me up. This was long before cell phones and I thought maybe he’d changed his mind. Thankfully this wasn’t the case.
The delay was because a house blocked the road. That’s right, s single-story, dark brown, brick ranch - was being moved to its new location on that very morning, the owners choosing to do so early so as not to inconvenience anyone. The good news is the house is still there, and every time we pass it, we remember the day it found its new home atop the hill.
After that minor delay, we were on our way.
We told my mother that we were heading to Bardstown to see Don’s father and would be gone most of the day. We arranged for my sister-in-law to join us as a witness. We drove to her house and waited across the street for my brother to leave for work. The moment the coast was clear, we picked up her and my nephew, who was just a baby at the time. We dropped my nephew off at his great aunt’s house and were on our way to Tennessee to become husband and wife.
The drive was uneventful, and we all arrived in high spirits. There was a line at the courthouse; apparently, several other couples had hopes of getting married that day as well. When our time came, we stepped up to the desk and told the lady we were there to get married. She smiled and asked for our birth certificates. This was the second thing that nearly derailed our plans, as we’d not thought to bring them. Before you chastise us for not being prepared, please remember we were very young. I had barely turned eighteen, and Don was twenty-one. It was way before the invention of the Internet, so we had not been able to research what was involved.
After a couple of tense moments, the woman decided that we could use our driver’s licenses since they had our pictures on them. We were lucky because, at that time, Kentucky was one of the few states that required photos on their driver’s licenses.
Our identities established, she then requested the paperwork for blood test results—glitch number three. Of course, we had not thought to have any blood test taken. Things like this must happen regularly, as the lady directed us to a clinic where we could get our blood drawn.
We drove across town and finally found the clinic in a rather run-down section of the city. After arriving and feeding yet another parking meter that seemed prevalent in the large city, we entered to find a sea of patients waiting to see the doctor. As we entered the building, every person turned their head to check out the new arrivals. It was a tad creepy as they continued to watch as we checked in and took our seats.
At the time, I felt it was because somehow everyone in the room knew of our secret mission. Looking back, I believe it was because we were highly overdressed for the area. Don was looking pretty dashing in his leisure suit. My sister-in-law had donned a nice dress for the occasion, and I had on a new outfit, the first one I had ever purchased on my own.
Purchased with money from the new job I’d just started, I had on new blue jeans with a soft fur trim that lined the outside of the back pockets and a stunning black velour angel sleeve top. It was 1980, and this was the first fashionable outfit I’d ever owned. Having just turned eighteen and living a fairly naive life, it never occurred to me that fur-trimmed blue jeans and a black top may not be the best choice of wedding attire. But hey, this was our pre-wedding wedding, so it was okay.
Luckily, we were only at the clinic for a blood draw and called to the back within a few short moments. They put us in separate rooms across the hall from one another, where we sat on exam tables and waved to each other like a couple of kids. The nurse came into my room first, asking a few questions before tying the tourniquet around my arm. As she lowered the needle toward my arm, I asked her when the results would be back. As the needle approached the crook of my arm, she replied: “oh not long, we should have them back in the morning.”
I jerked my arm away and pulled the rubber vice from my arm. “But, we are getting married today.”
After a few moments of chaos, we were sent across town yet again to a blood draw center that could accommodate a same-day blood draw. After arriving and paying yet another parking meter, we made our way to a nice waiting area where a very friendly receptionist assured us it would not take long to complete the process. After only a few minutes, our blood was carted away to the testing area with the word STAT boldly labeled across each glass vile. The woman said it would take about an hour, and since it was now nearing lunchtime, suggested we take this opportunity to go and get something to eat.
I am not sure how much Nashville has changed since then, but in December of 1980, it was not easy for three hungry, highly stressed people to find something to eat. We drove for quite some time before finally finding a Burger King. We ate burgers and fries, then hurried back to the lab to get our test results. We had been gone well over an hour, and the results from our blood tests were still not back. After waiting yet another hour, the receptionist finally called down to see what was taking so long. It turns out that our blood was missing! They placed a trace on the tubes, and we had no choice but to wait for them to be located.
After nearly two hours of panicking, the blood was found, and the results finally arrived. Don paid the fifty-six dollars, and we were on our way. Unfortunately, instead of being on our way to the courthouse, we had to drive back to the clinic so the resident doctor could verify the results and declare us fit to be married.
We arrived at the clinic, walked through the gauntlet of gawkers, and spoke with the receptionist, who called the nurse to take our paperwork to the doctor. Forty minutes and Thirty-six dollars later, we exited the building, paperwork in hand that attested that we were in good health and genetically fit to become husband and wife - all signed by a doctor we never saw.
It was late by the time we returned to the courthouse, and all the judges had left for the day. Physically and mentally exhausted, I blinked to keep the tears at bay.
Seeing my distress, the clerk took pity on us and offered to call over to night court and see if there was anyone who could perform the service. Luckily she located a judge who agreed to see to our joining.
We made our way to the courtroom and opened the door, instantly surprised to be met with a room full of people who turned to stare at the persons who’d suddenly disturbed the proceedings. We quickly closed the door without entering, fearing we had unknowingly arrived at the wrong courtroom. Within seconds the door opened, and we were greeted by a distinguished man with incredibly large ears, who assured us we were indeed in the right place.
The man introduced himself as Judge Doty and beckoned us to follow him. I was a bit scared walking through the crowded courtroom and into the judge’s chamber.
Judge Doty was a sturdy, kind-faced older man with dark eyes that looked like they’d witnessed many years in the judicial system. He seemed rather pleased to be doing something as mundane as performing a simple marriage ceremony. When Judge Doty asked which one of these pretty ladies the bride was, Don clutched my hand possessively and proudly stated that I could cook too. He knew this for a fact as I had made him a spaghetti dinner only a few short months earlier when he was home on leave. What he neglected to say was that I had used boxed noodles, sauce from a jar, and he never even touched the homemade meatballs that I had slaved hours to cook.
Judge Doty began the ceremony only to be interrupted by a phone call. To our surprise, he answered and assured his wife he would bring home a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk. A few seconds later, he answered a second phone call. This call was of greater importance as it ended with the promise of a fishing trip to take place the following day. When the service continued, Judge Doty got to the part where a ring was needed, and in one smooth motion without exchanging words, my sister-in-law removed her wedding ring and passed it to Don, who then slipped it onto my waiting finger. Apparently, in our haste to get married, we had overlooked this minor detail. At long last, and without any further interruptions, he officially declared us husband and wife – which was formally certified after handing over a forty-dollar ceremony fee.
Upon surrendering the borrowed ring and returning to the hubby’s van, the first major test of our marriage was soon at hand. The van was nearly out of gas, we were over a hundred miles away from home, and Don was nearly out of money. Between all the parking meters, blood tests, doctor’s signatures, and ceremony fees, his cash was almost depleted. He had a bit of money in an account at home, but that was way before the invention of the universal debit card. I had not thought to bring any money, and my sister-in-law only had a couple of dollars on her, so we were frantically trying to figure out how we were going to get back home
As it turns out, Don had a money order in the van for the amount of six dollars which he had yet to fill out. He took the money order to a bank across the street - went into the bank, walked up to the teller, slid the money order under the window, and told her he needed money. It was at that time that the guard saw him at the window, watched him pass the note, and assumed he was robbing the bank.
Apparently, the bank had been closed for several minutes, and somehow no-one had remembered to lock the side door- I am not making this up! After a few tense moments, my new husband was able to convince everyone he was not a bank robber, had just gotten married, and needed to cash the small money order in order to get his new bride safely back home. The teller, who’d already closed out her drawer, took pity on him and gave him cash for the money order out of the money she had in her own purse.
With the funds from the money order and the small amount of cash on hand, Don was able to purchase gas which he prayed would be enough to get us all safely home. During the drive back to Kentucky, I, having reached my limit, proceeded to crawl into the bed in the back of the van and sleep most of the way home.
Needless to say, we arrived back at the aunt’s house to pick up the baby much later than initially intended. As we reached the back door, my brother greeted us, humming the hymn to the funeral march.
It turns out my nephew had gotten sick, and his aunt had called my mom looking for us. When my mother questioned why we would take my sister-in-law with us to visit Don’s dad, her aunt had jokingly stated: “maybe they eloped.”
After gathering my nerve, I called my mom, who demanded to know where we had been. There was no reason to lie, so I told her Tennessee, and when she asked why I said: “why do you think?” The next thing I heard was a dial tone. At that point, I was very glad I had taken that much-needed nap.
My brother congratulated us, we had a celebratory glass of wine, and left.
After once again gathering the courage to call my house, my younger brother answered the phone and wanted to know why mom had been crying ever since hanging up the phone with me. She refused to answer and told him to tell me if I wanted to speak with her. I knew where she lived. An hour later we parked at the church next door to my parent’s house. Feeling as if we were facing the firing squad, we slowly made our way across the yard and up the incline to the house.
My mom was still crying.
My dad, not typically known for his patience, was so calm it was frightening. He wanted to know why we had eloped. Don spoke up and simply said, “because we love each other.”
Dad then asked the million-dollar question. “Are you pregnant?”
We, of course, told them no, which was the truth. Dad visibly relaxed, well at least a little, and left the room for a moment. Many years later, I was told by my brother that he’d seen dad with a loaded pistol in his waistband before he himself had been ordered to leave the house. I do not know for certain if this was true, but I think it was a very good thing that an impending pregnancy was not the reason for our hasty elopement.
When dad returned to the room, both he and mom attempted to make us see the error of our ways, pressing us to get an annulment. They claimed that neither of them objected to the marriage, just the way we’d gotten married. They wanted us to get an annulment and then go back the following weekend to get re-married with them beside us. I was afraid if we agreed to this, they would find a way to keep us from a second ceremony. Dons refusal was because he was not about to relinquish his well-earned prize. He had nearly been shot at the bank just a few short hours earlier, and he was not about to let that experience be for naught.
After a stalemate, it was decided that I would retire to my room for the night, and Don would go home. All parties involved would discuss it further the following day when hopefully calmer heads would prevail.
I know some probably think it utterly absurd to sleep alone on one’s wedding night, but by this point, Don and I were so exhausted it seemed like the right thing to do.
The final agreement was that we would follow our initial idea to keep the marriage a secret and plan for the big wedding in the summer. As with our elopement, things did not go as intended. We never had the big wedding, nor did I get the white dress. I am happy to report that I did get a wedding band that was eventually replaced with a lovely diamond set on our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Good things come to those who wait! ;)
When we first got married, several people expressed their disapproval. They called it puppy love and told us it would not last six months. I am happy to report that their predictions did not hold true - we just celebrated forty-one years together.
I guess truth be told, one does not need a fancy dress, a shiny bauble, or even a lot of money to get married. You only need perseverance, a trip across the state line, and enough money for gas to get you home….