I get a little choked up when I think about the fact that my memoir, Love’s Journey Home, will be launched into the world on May 7 this year. It would have been my 39th wedding anniversary. Ridiculously long ago. But here’s how the day went…
On the morning of May 7, 1983, I woke in the queen-sized bed in the Postage Stamp, the gardener’s cottage where Jay was living. I checked the alarm clock, set for eight. It was only seven-thirty. I felt half-excited, half-anxious, about the day ahead. Looking at my soon-to-be husband Jay, still sleeping peacefully, I felt reassured.
We were going to be married at noon, and only we knew about it, apart from the justice of the peace. We decided not to tell our children because they wouldn’t be able to be there. We wanted them to attend a ceremony that was joyful, relaxed, and celebratory, instead of a thrown-together wedding which might smack of haste rather than considered judgment.
We would have a second wedding later that year, after we’d been living in Connecticut for a while, by which time we hoped all of them would be more comfortable with the idea.
So why marry in May? Why not wait until later in the summer, by which time the children and I would be living with Jay and there’d be no need for secrecy? Lawyers.
My work visa was about to expire, and it was not going to be renewed by the US government. The company attorneys insisted that if I were already intending to marry, I should do so before the visa’s expiration date, so I wouldn’t risk deportation. I didn’t know enough about American law to argue. The only countries I’d traveled to that required a visa were communist Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary, where jail and deportation awaited anyone who violated their travel laws.
Although I found it hard to believe I’d be deported, I couldn’t afford to take any chances. Since Jay and I were planning to get married anyway, we decided to go ahead. The only date when I could get to Connecticut for a couple of nights was May 7.
Perhaps the secrecy made it more memorable for us. It was certainly a stress-free wedding.
I prepared carefully for the big day. Feeling I couldn’t wear white, because I wasn’t that sort of bride, I wore a blue-and-white frock, for something blue. The low neckline was for Jay’s benefit, and a sedate sailor collar, for mine. I’d found the dress in Chicago after several searches through the racks at Marshall Field’s.
The groom sported khaki trousers and a lightweight blazer, and he looked so handsome I could hardly believe he’d soon be my husband. We drank a cup of coffee and ate some of the sticky cinnamon rolls he’d bought the day before, to celebrate my arrival. Then we walked outside, to pick a spot for the informal ceremony.
I breathed in the fresh morning air and inhaled the scent of lilacs flowering nearby. Alongside them, huge hot-pink azaleas were blooming in the warmth of the sun, and blue forget-me-nots nodded in the borders.
We stood under a cherry tree whose blooms were just about over, and waited for the justice of the peace, Mrs. Ryba, to officiate. After we’d had the mandatory blood test, to check for sexually transmitted diseases and German measles, we went to get a marriage license from her, and she’d agreed to come to the cottage to marry us. She was tall and slim, with spectacles and flyaway hair, and as she read the phrases familiar from so many American movies, I felt as though I were in a movie myself. The landlady and her gardener acted as witnesses.
I didn’t have a showy wedding ring, since I wouldn’t be able to wear it for a while, and we couldn’t afford much, in any case. Two years later, when money wasn’t so tight, Jay gave me a gold band studded with diamonds. But right now, we were saving every penny we could to buy the house we’d found, so I made do with the narrowest ring in the jeweler’s showcase.
Afterward, we drove into New York for a one-night honeymoon at the Barclay Hotel, where we’d had our first tryst since we met again three years before. We had tickets for Showboat, to mark the occasion.
The day after, I flew back to Chicago, taking our secret with me. Only my boss and the lawyers knew about it.
We would keep this May wedding to ourselves for many years, and only celebrated that date in private. I can’t even remember how the truth finally emerged, but when the children did find out, they simply shrugged their shoulders, as if to say, so what?