My Mom and Dad got married at City Hall in New York City back in the 1950’s. Mom made herself a dress. I remember it from a photograph, a classic number in pale pink organza. There was a party afterwards; that is where the photograph was taken. My Dad is in the background eating a breadstick with wolfish eyes drinking my mother in, and Mom vivacious with a glass of something in her hand, red lipstick, mouth open, talking or laughing.
I don’t know how the day started. I don’t know if she wore the pink dress to City Hall. I know they had to wait in a line. While they waited Dad got cold feet so they left the building and walked around the block to talk things over. Neither one wanted to rush into anything unless both were certain. They talked and they walked and finally equilibrium regained they went back inside the building and rejoined the line.
They advanced. Slowly. Then Mom got cold feet. Again they went outside. Again they traced their path around the block. They talked. They re-resolved. They entered City Hall again and stood amongst the other couples waiting for the paperwork and their turn at the podium.
How many times this pattern was repeated I no longer remember. What they talked about and what worried them I never knew. But my youthful impression of this story was positive. There was something very human about it. They both had to feel sure. They both had doubts. They were willing to talk about it. They were patient. Their place in line didn’t matter. Their purpose in line was the thing.
It all ended well. There was a party. I saw the picture. There were children. Here I am. However many years later I had reason to doubt the truth of this story. In fact I had reason to doubt the very
truth of their marriage.
It was the early seventies. My older sister was in college. She threw a party with her college roommates and my parents and my brother and I were invited. My parents were liberals, very hip, very cool. Sitting around with those college kids my father revealed just how cool. I caught bits of conversation that surprised me.
“When I tried marijuana I wasn’t impressed. It just didn’t do anything for me.” This was my father’s voice. I had never tried pot. Clearly my father was hipper than me. Then the conversation turned to marriage, the legal contract, the social contract and the practice of living together versus social convention. “Well, I don’t know, Rose and I have never bothered to get married and it never caused us any trouble.” This was my father’s voice.
My head swiveled around quickly. I looked at my little brother with what must have been a shocked expression. They have been shacking up all these years? We are all bastards? These were my small conventional thoughts. I said nothing. I didnt have the nerve to question my mother on the statement. She had heard it. She did not contradict it. It must be true.
Some years later driving with my mother in the car, finally I asked. Her answer was swift. “Oh, he’s always saying things like that. Of course we’re married.” I felt foolish, relieved, confused. At the time she hadn’t spoken up. She let him have his fun.
In all their married life my father never wore a wedding ring. Maybe he didn’t want to wear a sign around his neck. Maybe he felt it left some options open, maybe he just didn’t like jewelry. I don’t know. But on their fiftieth wedding anniversary out he comes with it. Two boxes. Two gold wedding bands inscribed with their names and the number 50.
It had been an evening of stories, just the five of us seated around a dinner table, the kids asking questions and the parents telling the answers. How they met and how they wooed, the terrors and
pleasures of those early days. He’ll never call me again. Yes he will. No he won’t. She doesn’t like me. She likes me too much. Then the little boxes came out on the table and my father for the first time in fifty years put a wedding ring on his finger. I guess after fifty years of walking around the block and thinking about it he was finally sure. If that’s the case then I say, here’s to uncertainty.
Proposal Story by:
New York, NY