My husband and I married in Hawaii, where he was stationed with the Marine Corps at the time.
We had a simple wedding with nine people in the church, including the Catholic priest who officiated. Father Collins was a Navy chaplain, a captain (colonel) in the U.S. Navy who had served in World War II as a young enlisted sailor. When he survived a harrowing wartime encounter, he kept his promise to God and became a priest.
Now, at the time, in the Seventies, it was general Church policy for a Protestant like me to convert before marrying a Catholic. Since I was from Catholic South Louisiana, I knew the rules, but also knew the rules were flexible, depending upon the priest. My hub-to-be and I had settled the question of religion very easily: I wouldn't convert; he thought my religion was my business. Thus, we met Father Collins at the appointed time with bright smiles and fluttering hearts.
Father Collins was a congenial, immediately likable person, with a Boston accent and an 'Irish gift of gab', what he called an open personality to match his thinning red hair and fading freckles. However, I'm from a state where blarney has a French accent, so I knew the light-hearted conversation was separate from the issue of marriage.
Father Collins coughed lightly, placed his elbows on his desk, and positioned his hands as if in prayer. Since I'd taught in a Catholic school for a year, I immediately recognized Father Lorio's stance before he lowered the boom on a student. I knew, just knew, what was coming.
"I can't marry you until you convert to Catholicism," Father Collins said to me.
"I'm not converting," I replied.
He ignored my response and opened the large scheduling calendar on his desk. "A class will begin in two weeks."
"I won't attend."
He penciled my name on a list in the margin and resumed the prayerful position. "Once you convert, I'll be happy to marry you." He leaned forward and said to both of us, "You will, of course, be fruitful and multiply, won't you?"
Hub-to-be and I exchanged you've-got-to-be-kidding-me looks. So, I said to Father Collins, "I don't want to be contentious about this, but if you can't schedule a wedding date, we'll ask a Protestant chaplain to marry us."
As if the previous conversation hadn't existed, he shrugged and said, "Okay, I'll marry you."
And he did.
A few weeks after the wedding, we learned that Father Collins had been secretly married when he married us. Ours was his last wedding before he retired from the Navy. My first reaction was, what a hypocrite. My second reaction was to call my attorney father. "Are we married?" I asked.
"Yep, you sure are," he replied and started laughing. My father had been ex-communicated from the Catholic Church when he became a Mason.
So, flash forward five years. My husband and I are now in Virginia Beach. It's our anniversary. We go out for dinner and are walking on the rather congested boardwalk afterwards when my husband says, "Here comes Father Collins."
Mr. and Mrs. Collins were laughing and talking and very much enjoying each other's company as they walked toward us, but not seeing us.
For a split second, shoulders brushed as we walked past each other, us into our future and them into theirs. It was nice, actually, very nice.
I can still hear Mrs. Collins' light laugh and see the twinkle in my husband's eye when he squeezed my hand.
We never saw Mr. and Mrs. Collins again. I hope their robust health remains, and they're still taking evening strolls. Every June 3rd, my husband and I remember that evening when love was in the air. Yes, indeed, it really was.
(And still is.)
Happy Valentine's Day!