By Bob Ciminel
January 04, 2007
We set a wedding date for June, despite my suggestion that we drive over to West-by-God Virginia, have a couple of beers, and find a Justice of the Peace. I'm not sure why I suggested West Virginia; they have perfectly good Justices of the Peace in Pennsylvania. Perhaps West Virginia's JPs offered 24-hour service and weekends.
At the time of our engagement, I was living with my parents near Pittsburgh, having recently said "Adios" to the U.S. Navy. The West Virginia state line was only 28 miles away and I knew the route well having made the trip many times as a teenager. West Virginia allowed eighteen-year-olds to drink "3.2 beer," but they rarely checked for identification. So, you get your driver's license at 16 in Pennsylvania, and you're only an hour from West Virginia where you can drink beer at 18. Road trip!
When my bride-to-be's father, who had been injured in an industrial accident, took a turn for the worse in late February 1971, she came back to the States early. After spending a few days with me, she went on to Rock Hill, SC to be with her family. As soon as she arrived in Rock Hill, she called to tell me that her father was in the hospital and that she was going to stay home until they determined his prognosis.
February turned into March, and I remember this very clearly: About 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 9, my fiancé called and asked if we could move up our wedding date. I said, "Sure, when do you want to have it?" She said, "This Saturday?" After a moment of silence while I picked my jaw off the floor, I asked her why. She said, "Papa is terminally ill, and his doctors aren't sure he will survive until June."
You know, there are certain things in life that define a person; events and incidents that reveal the real "you" because you don't have time to posture or play games. This was one of those moments for me. In less than a second my brain rationalized all the pros and cons of marriage, but my heart came up with the answer. I said, "I will leave Pittsburgh Thursday morning and be in Rock Hill Thursday night. I'll give you my measurements and you can order a tuxedo. I'll call Dick and ask him to be my best man, and I'll bring my sister along in case you can't find a bridesmaid. What about reserving the church?"
To make a long story short, we were married in the Rock Hill General Hospital, in a small waiting area outside my father-in-law's room. He was too sick to go to the church, so my wife rearranged everything and we brought the wedding to him. It was a great ceremony, and everyone we would have wanted at our wedding was able to attend. Many of them had to drop everything to be with us, but they did it. My father-in-law passed away one month later, and I never went back to the Rock Hill hospital again.
Almost 25 years later, we were living in Atlanta when my mother-in-law was hospitalized for a stroke. My wife and her sister immediately drove over to Rock Hill, and my son and I would drive over the on the weekend. I spoke with my wife several times during the week to check on Granny's condition, and she said her mother was improving every day.
We left Atlanta early Saturday morning and arrived in Rock Hill around noon. I drove down Ebenezer Street to the hospital, pulled into the parking lot and found a spot close to the building. I was surprised at the small number of cars in the parking lot considering it was Saturday afternoon and the peak visitation hour, but I assumed it was because Rock Hill was a small town and the hospital didn't have a lot of beds.
As I turned the car off, I looked at my son and said, "Well, Scott, this is where your mother and I had our wedding almost 25 years ago." Scott looked out the windshield at the building and said, "I could have guessed." Puzzled by his comment, I followed his gaze, looked up, and saw the sign on the building. It read, "York County Mental Hospital." And that was another one of life's defining moments. I learned that my son had acquired my sense of humor, his mother's intelligence, and the art of understatement.
Turn about is fair play. Last
night my son came over for dinner and to wrap his wife's Christmas
presents. We let him do that because he brought our 21-month
old granddaughter along. That is the worst form of bribery,
but it works. We see my son for dinner quite often since he
married. After dinner, my son asked for suggestions on where
he could hide the presents so his wife wouldn't find them. Straight-faced
and without batting an eye, I said, "In the kitchen."
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He assumes informed readers will be able to tell the difference. Bob lives in Roswell, Georgia, and works for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations. He is also a conductor on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway.
Contact Bob at email@example.com