I had the loofah, now it was time to get the girl.
Because we never took note of the actual date of our first date we adopted Feb. 1. We knew we began dating in February of ’95. Because I am male, 1 is much easier to remember than 18 or 22 (just ask my wife and my daughter). Therefore we agreed that forever and always our anniversary would be Feb. 1. Conveniently enough in 1997 Feb. 1 fell on a Saturday. So after I got her father’s permission and won her over with a John Cusack moment, we set the date of our wedding for Feb. 1, 1997. So for those of you keeping score, here is the box on our relationship. Shannon and I dated for two years before we were married. We only lived in the same town for two to three months of those two years; the first two or three months of our two years of official-ness. I graduated in April and stayed in Chattanooga, she moved back home to Charlotte. In the Fall she moved back to Chattanooga, I left for Louisville. In January of ’96 I moved to Cartersville. She remained in Chattanooga. I moved to Crossville. She moved to Charlotte. Being that I hate driving long distances and talking on the phone, the fact that I somehow won the girl is nothing less than a miracle of God. Love is a mighty thing.
When the wedding weekend finally arrived I picked up all of my groomsmen and we headed to Charlotte. I remember little to nothing about our rehearsal or the dinner, but I do remember our bachelor outing. You must understand I was a pastor. My buddy Dave was studying to be a preacher. Childhood friend Chris was now my successor as youth pastor in Cartersville. Childhood friend Dell is one the greatest men of integrity I have ever known and has only sinned 12 times in his entire life. We did not have a bachelor party, we had a bachelor outing. Furthermore, between the four of us there was probably less than $30, so we had to get creative. The end result was that somehow we got into a private club/restaurant on the top floor of a downtown Charlotte high rise. We were grossly underdressed, and at $80 a plate dinner was not an option, so we bought sodas for $3 a pop. They served them in classic bottles. I ordered Sprite. I still have that old green bottle.
I was nervous prior to the ceremony, but once it began I enjoyed every minute of it. Our wedding ceremony was one of the happiest experiences of my life. Shannon and I still talk about how the nerves left us once it began and how fun the whole thing was. The experience was shared with family, a cluster of our college friends (all very poor and in desperate need of a road trip, a few dozen of them came in only a car or two), and several people who drove in from Lantana Road to see their pastor get married. They made the trip from Crossville to Charlotte in Baby Blue.
One of our favorite mementos of the occasion is the video. Not because it commemorates the ceremony, but because it is littered with religious, guttural utterances from cameraman Jeff Yankie. Jeff was a big man with red hair who had a distinct deep voice. It is as if our wedding video was brought to you by the lumberjack from Brawny. When the presiding pastor, Dr. Price, would say something that moved Jeff, he would add in a Brawny tone, “Mmmm, that’s right.” Our favorite part is when he provided baritone harmony the singing of The Lord’s Prayer.
Once the day was over we ran through the traditional wedding confetti and into our awaiting chariot which happened to be a red Pontiac Grand Am. I was still in my tux, Shannon still in her dress. I think we used a shoe horn to get her in. Her dress pretty much took up the front windshield and dashboard. As we pulled away we were quite startled to find my friend Dave hiding in the backseat. We all have those moments when we think later what we should have done, but didn’t. What I should have done was drive Dave down I-85 into the Charlotte ghetto and drop him off, tux and all. Instead, what I did was stop the car, pull Dave out of the back seat and kick him square in the butt. I was a soccer player. I kicked him hard. He said, “ouch.” He was a hockey player so he laughed and walked away. Sorry Dave.
As you would suspect our car was covered in shaving cream. We were staying in Charlotte that evening before flying out the next morning to Vermont. Just a block from the hotel we stopped to get the car washed. The whole thing was awkward. I should note that on the day we were married it was 70 degrees and sunny, highly unusual for Feb. 1 in Charlotte, NC. A sunny Saturday in Feb. means that everyone in Charlotte will get out and go to the carwash. We were 47th in line.
I got out of the car and went inside the gas station to pay, tux and all. Upon returning to my red Grand Am, littered with wedding confetti and advertising in shaving cream, “Just married” a fine man with a backwoods North Carolina accent approached me, still wearing my tux. Also remember that my new bride is literally filling the front seat and windshield of the Grand Am with her very white wedding dress. The nice North Carolina man asked,
“Did y’all just get married?”
Surprisingly that was not the stupid question.
I just smiled, glanced over his shoulder at the wedding decorated car with the happy bride inside and said, “Yes.”
Now for the stupid question,
“Umm, yes, today.”
Our February Vermont honeymoon was awesome. As Southerners we had never seen that much snow. We went on a sleigh ride. We ate Ben and Jerry’s ice cream straight from the factory. We snow shoed at the Von Trap lodge (which was the beginning of my Hollywood musicals education). I almost died in the hot tub. We built a fire. The fire smoked up our cabin. We had waffles everyday for a week. It was great.
Once the honeymoon was over another one began. We were now 20 and 23 years old, a pastor and his new wife at a new church. Wedding honeymoons usually last a week. Sometimes you don’t get much more than that with the church. We would have until the summer before our ministry honeymoon abruptly ended and there was turbulence at Lantana Road.