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MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF

A Love Story by

Diane Stark (McConnell) Sanfilippo

 

Chapter 6 – We Get Married

 

 

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  2003 Diane Sanfilippo

 

Foreword             Prologue            First Chapter

 

 

Chapter 6 – We Get Married

 

As if those 24 hours had never happened, our routine picked up where we left off and never missed a beat. Once again we were playing cards in the canteen, making out in the stacks, and spending long afternoons at the copper mine.

 

Billy decided he wanted us to be married before we confronted our parents so they could not interfere, so obviously, we had to make plans, and we had to make them quickly. Billy contacted a friend of his who had eloped the year before and asked him what we had to do, where we had to go, what we needed to take with us, and any other details necessary to become man and wife. Relieved and satisfied we would be able to get married without our parents or the college finding out, we finalized our plans.

Every girl has dreamed of her wedding day, and even though I knew, in reality, my parents could never afford it; I have to admit, that I had always imagined myself walking down the aisle in a billowing white silk gown. Plump white crinolines shaping the skirt like an upturned champagne glass, and my husband-to-be would be able to put his hands completely around my small waist, encircled by silk ribbons of lavender and pink. Garlanded with my much-loved gardenias and pink roses, with sprays of lavender, in the same pastel hues as the ribbons around my waist, the church would be filled by friends and family, and the front altar would look like a garden overflowing with the same flowers. Stained glass windows would be aglow like the crown jewels creating a kaleidoscope of color that danced off the walls of the sanctuary and the white silk of my gown. I could clearly envision my handsome groom waiting for me at the altar, his eyes misted over by tears of love and awe when I began my slow walk down the aisle. All of our guests would gasp when they first saw me on the arm of my father. My dark blonde hair streaked with gold and piled high on my head with a sparkling tiara adorned with rhinestones and pearls dancing amid the soft curls that softened and highlighted my sparkling green eyes. The long white veil, so fine that a needle could not pierce the netting, would stream behind me as I floated down the aisle in white silk slippers, while white silk gloves, fastened with delicate pearl buttons, covered my hands and rippled to my elbow. I would be carrying a magnificent bouquet of the same gardenias, pink roses, and lavender that adorned the sanctuary while silk ribbons the same colors cascaded from the lush and fragrant flowers almost to the floor.

 

My bridesmaids some dressed in pink and some in lavender, each holding her own identical, but smaller bouquet would precede me. My little sister and my even younger cousin would be my flower girls all dressed in white organdy with a lavender sash tied high above their waists. A circlet of the romantic flowers woven into a halo rested on my sister’s blond curls and my cousin’s dark ones. As they slowly walked down the aisle, carrying small white woven baskets tied with ribbon, they would cover the carpet in front of me with flower petals so fragrant that when I stepped on them their perfume would fill the church. An organist would play our special songs of love, and after the ceremony, we would entertain all our guests, family and friends at a lavish reception.

 

Of course, we would honeymoon in the islands, following a long romantic sea cruise with the sun sparkling on the azure blue of the ocean, and we would make love by the light of the moon streaming in the window of our deluxe cabin.

 

Oh yes, this had always been my dream, just as so many other young women in love have dreamed, but in actuality, my groom had a face more handsome than I ever imagined, and our wedding would be far different. In spite of our haste and the lack of ceremony, I knew I would remember every moment, and would be just as married without the silk gown and long veil.

 

Monday, the 21st day of March in the year 1961, once again I skipped my afternoon Spanish class and Billy and I began our wedding week by driving to Atlanta to City Hall. After we had our blood tests, we were finished with phase one in a matter of minutes, and they would be ready for us to pick up by Thursday afternoon. From there, we drove to Buchanan, Georgia, in Haralson County near the Alabama border, where we applied for our marriage license at the home office of the local Justice of the Peace, Ordinary Rufus F. Brown.

 

Some years later, accused in the Atlanta Journal of running a marriage mill, Ordinary Brown said, “Well, if I don’t marry them, they will just go on over to Alabama, and Georgia needs the money as much as they do.”

Billy and I personally sent three couples to Ordinary Brown to get married, and they sent more, so no one knows just how many North Georgia College students he married over the years. 

 

Since I was ‘of age’, 18 for girls, but Billy was not, 21 for boys, since he had just turned 20 in November, our banns would be posted in the Haralson County Journal and if no one objected we could be married. Of course, we knew that no one who knew our parents or us would read the Journal, and the timing coincided with the date our blood tests would be ready.

 

After securing our future, we drove back to the college, not without an amorous stop along the way, and we both went back to our dorms as if nothing extraordinary was happening in our lives. I don’t know about Billy but my heart was beating so wildly and my tummy filled with butterflies at the thought I would be Mrs. William Eugene McConnell in just a matter of days. Surely, would not be able to eat a bite until this week was over.

 

My pregnancy was also playing a large part in my lack of appetite since all fried foods made me retch. With the largest portion of our meals comprising of fried food, I was eating far less than usual and, amazingly, I was losing weight, not gaining it. I was also keeping up the rigorous exercise as far as climbing the three flights of stairs to our room, and even playing softball, as if I had a choice.

 

Tuesday and Wednesday seemed to drag on forever while Billy and I continued our rendezvous in the library stacks. Our kisses grew even more frantic in anticipation of our soon-to-be legal status of ‘man and wife’. We did not change a facet in our normal schedules for fear someone may become suspicious, and finally Thursday, the 24th day of March in the year 1961, arrived.

Once again, I skipped my afternoon class, and for the first time I traded library duties with another student. Once again, Billy drove to Atlanta and City Hall where we picked up our blood tests with no more difficulty than picking up the mail.

 

Realizing this would be the only wedding day I would ever have, I used my first paycheck from the library to buy a new skirt, blouse, and vest. My wedding ‘outfit’ was a pale aqua wool pleated skirt with a vest in a pastel plaid that emulated the same color as the skirt, with the addition of lavender, white and pale pink. At least if I could not have my ‘dream wedding’, I would come as close as possible and wear my favorite colors. The entire outfit to include the white blouse with aqua piping around the Peter Pan collar was made by a popular manufacturer of girl’s clothing during the early ‘60’s, ‘Bobby Brooks’, and more expensive than most of my other clothing, but this was a special day. Even Billy liked my choice, and particularly the colors. Although I had worn bobby socks and loafers to class as usual, I changed to stockings and my Sunday shoes when I got into the car, and I was ready for our wedding.

 

Billy stopped at a service station on our way to Atlanta and changed out of his uniform, just in case someone might recognize the patches of the college, and he now wore his only suit, a dark gray with a white shirt and plain tie. We looked like two college kids out for a night at the movies, not two parents-to-be on our way to make it legal!

 

Our next stop was Fort McPherson, where using my dependents ID card, which I could no longer legitimately use after I married, we bought plain gold wedding bands in the Post Exchange. I think mine cost about $9 and his about $16, and even that stretched our meager hoard of money.

Another hour on the road and finally we were back in Buchanan where we arrived at the home of Ordinary Brown just after suppertime. 

 

When he answered our knock, the balding, rotund gentleman with kind eyes who had already asked the pertinent questions, like was I pregnant, and to which I had lied, said, “Well I didn’t think you two would make it back. You know only about 1/3 of the young couples I talk to ever come back, but come on in and let’s get on with the wedding.”

 

Without an organ, bridesmaids dressed in filmy pastel dresses, or a white silk gown, but with Mrs. Brown, wearing fluffy bedroom slippers and her hair in curlers, as our only witness, ‘Gunsmoke’ playing on the television in the background, I became Mrs. William Eugene McConnell. We looked into each other’s tear filled eyes as we repeated our vows, slipped the narrow gold bands onto each other’s fingers, and we both promised no one would ever come between us, and our vows to God. Like most young couples, we just did not realize how difficult some of the vows would be to keep, but if determination was a factor, we could not help but succeed. We were both very determined!

 

When the Ordinary finally said, “You may kiss your bride,” we kissed long and deep as if no one were watching, until Ordinary Brown cleared his throat several times and our lips finally parted.

 

Billy then leaned over and whispered in my ear, “I love you more than life itself Mrs. McConnell,” and I replied, “me too.”

 

Nowhere in the vows did it say ‘in lust’, although that was very much on both of our minds, but once more we were on the road, rushing back to Dahlonega to make curfew. We knew without stopping for a ‘quickie’, as Billy called our hasty couplings that we would barely make it, and we needed to stop for a quick bite to eat since having skipped lunch and now supper, Billy had to be starving. The only thing I wanted was to be in his arms, to be his wife, to bear his children and live happily ever afterwards ‘till death us do part’. On our wedding night, that part of our vows was the last thing on my mind; we were so young, and so in love absolutely nothing dreadful could ever happen to either of us!

 

Many years later the country singing duo of Johnny and June Cash made a hit record with a verse that went something like this…, “We got married in a fever, hotter than…” something or other, but when I first heard the song I laughed as that was exactly how Billy and I got married! Many years later at a club meeting as part of the February Valentines Day program, members shared stories about our wedding day and brought photos, and in my story, I used the words of the song, which got a good laugh out of the middle-aged ladies, most of us with grandchildren. It was fun to remember how in love we had been, but while others brought their photos wearing long white dresses, the only one I had was taken at the Sweetheart ball shortly after our wedding. Although the photo is in black and white, I am wearing the lavender dress I wore to a dance at G.M.A. with Alex when I was in high school. I have a lavender ribbon in my hair, long white gloves and pink sweetheart roses pinned at the top of the dress between my breasts. At least I got the colors almost right! Billy is dressed in his white dress uniform, and his shiny gold wedding band is obvious as he has his right arm around my waist and his left hand holding my left hand. Even in the black and white photo, there is a glow on my face that reflects the glow in my heart. Billy looks a bit frightened and in awe of it all, although he told me that he had never been any happier.

 

Even without the wedding finery, we were just as married, and probably more in love, than most other newlyweds and it shows on our faces.

 

We drove back to school in the dark, finally stopping in Dallas, Georgia at the A&W Root Beer stand since, as I thought, Billy was very hungry. When he said that he was starving more for food than for sex, I KNEW he was not kidding. I could barely swallow for the lump in my throat, and instead of glasses of champagne, I managed to drink a chocolate milkshake, although Billy made much of the fact, I was depriving his son.

 

We absolutely did not have time for even a short amorous interval as we were running really behind time and were worried about getting caught coming in so late. It was far more dangerous for Billy since he still had to turn in his car after he let me out. Instead, all the way back to the college, he kept his right arm either around me as I rested my head on his strong shoulder, or he held onto my hand, often kissing it, while I kissed his. The love I felt for my new husband was almost unbearable, my heart so full it filled my chest.

 

Married! I was a married woman at eighteen years, three months and eight days of age, and I knew we had mountains to climb, but with our love building the ladder, I also knew we would make it work. I never thought it would be easy, not much in life worth having comes too easily, but I knew with both of us as determined and stubborn as we were, and both of us not wanting to hear, from anyone “I told you so,” we would make it work. What’s more, we would love every second of it!

 

We arrived back at North Georgia very close to curfew and Billy quickly changed back into his uniform in the cemetery behind Lewis Hall. I had arranged with my roommate to unlock the back door to the dorm so that I could slip in unnoticed since I certainly had not signed out. Where would I have said I was going? To Buchanan to get married! Anyway, true to Lucia’s word, the door was unlocked and I was safely in my bed even before Billy parked the car and made his way to his dorm, also having his roommate unlock a basement door so he too could slip in just as taps sounded across the campus.

 

We spent our wedding night in separate dorms, but I was wearing his shirt with his aftershave sprinkled on my pillow, and my tiny gold band pushed securely into the wax that filled up his class ring so it fit on my finger. Billy’s wedding band was nestled between his military dog tags that hung around his neck, “as close to my heart as possible,” he said.

 

How long could we keep this a secret? How long before I began to show. What would happen when we finally had to tell our families? In addition, would once again my grandmother’s heart be broken by first a daughter who ran away to get married, and then a granddaughter? Those were the big questions, but we had no way of knowing we would find out the answers long before we were prepared. All I knew now I was no longer Diane Elaine Stark, rather my name was Mrs. William E. McConnell, Diane Stark McConnell – oh, what a nice ring it had, and how proud I was to be my handsome cadet’s wife! Perhaps not the way I had always dreamed, but just as married, and pregnant.

 

 

 Next Chapter to be Published Soon

Foreword Contents Prologue Chapter 1