I’d been trying to track down godson Daniel for a couple of weeks to retrieve, for a day, the golf clubs I’d given him some years back. That’s when I traded the frustration of the game for acoustic music and guitar and mandolin and banjo and other habits that have been more fun than golf but without the need to break up the occasional beer-fueled fistfight over whether Palmer was better than Nicklaus.
In this case, though, long-time friend Frances Bobbie, vice president, private wealth management of the Robert W. Baird Co., had asked me to play in a golf tournament to benefit the noble efforts of Learning Together, an organization that provides services for children with developmental and health challenges. Frances is on the board and is sponsoring a hole in the tournament Monday at Hasentree Golf Course in North Raleigh. Apparently, or perhaps I’m the exception, there is no skill requirement whatsoever.
In any case, Daniel called and said he and Ashley (long-time sweetheart) and Claire (their five-month-old daughter) would be bringing the clubs by the office. And he added, “Do you know where we can get a marriage license?”
It didn’t hit me at first, although Daniel and I have always been close and I’ve shared some big “moments” in his life like taking him to college.
I remember that day, because driving home I was afflicted by pollen making my eyes water.
So then came the bone-headed question of the day: “Why do you want a marriage license?”
Daniel: “Because we’re getting married. Today.”
He said he needed two witnesses, and so I recruited Editorial Page Editor Ned Barnett and off we went, four of us and the baby, to the Register of Deeds office in the new Wake County courthouse.
Daniel stepped up to the counter, his paperwork in hand, where he was greeted by the Nicest Person in the World, who helped Daniel and Ashley fill out the forms. When the time came for the $60 cash for the marriage license, I picked up the tab.
“It’s the first one I’ve bought,” I told the Nicest Person. “And although today’s my 62nd birthday, I hope to buy another.” I wasn’t kidding, but she laughed. A little too much.
Then it was off to find a magistrate. There was some panic, but I found one on the 9th floor and walked in and said, “Your Honor, I have a couple of people here who want to get married. When could they do that?”
To which he said, “Right now. Bring them in.”
And so we stood before the magistrate, who stood himself in front of his chair, with Daniel and Ashley looking up and Ned and me standing by. They got to “Will you take this woman?” and “Will you take this man?” pretty quickly, and then they were pronounced and the bride was kissed.
A thunderclap of memories hit me: saving the answering machine message with 7-year-old Daniel in a high-pitched child’s voice saying, “Jim, we love you!” as the family was going Christmas shopping. The glasses and the squared off haircut. Winning the Harry Potter lookalike contest at Quail Ridge Books when he was 10. Youth baseball, and the first hit and the struggle to get another. Me pounding the bleachers when he made his first basket in youth basketball in the season’s last game and being admonished by his mother, “Calm down. We’re not in the Dean Dome.”
I remembered the solo at Cardinal Gibbons, “Fly Me to the Moon,” when he sang like a young Sinatra and nobody in the family knew he could. His first guitar, something that became his passion. There was frustration with glasses and the liberation of contacts. The first dates. And looking down from the balcony at high school graduation in Memorial Auditorium, catching his eye and how he smiled and held up his wrist with the watch I’d given him.
It was off to college, and the first bank account, and the traumas and friendships and challenges. And the jobs, when I tried to coach him on getting along with disagreeable co-workers and bosses.
When he told me about the baby, I worried. But I shouldn’t have. He’s a great dad, gentle and loving, and takes joy in Claire’s every breath. No, I never should have worried, for he has a good Mom and sound values and he’ll be a grand husband for sweet Ashley and they’ll have a good life together.
I’ve been in 18 weddings, some in church palaces and others in wooden country chapels accompanied by pump organs. But this was the sweetest of them all.
Damn pollen seems to have gotten me again.