Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Perfect Day: September 28, 2013

We got to the church an hour early, not that we were anxious or anything.

Or maybe we were. I know I was, at the strange prospect of getting officially married by a minister, in a church, and not in a "commitment," "civil union" or other faux-marriage ceremony gay couples have invented over the years to try to legitimize their relationships in a society that regarded them with disdain if not outright condemnation. Our marriage would have the official seal of both a minister and of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. And we'd receive that and much more: The warm wishes of family and close and distant friends, and even some strangers.

New rites at an old church. 
So here we were, at the First Parish Church of Stow and Acton, about twenty miles northwest of Boston. It's one of those historic white clapboard churches in New England whose austere beauty and quaintness seem almost inconceivable outside of a Saturday Evening Post illustration. Though the present building went up in 1848, after the previous structure burned to the ground, the historic trail of the congregation goes back to 1683. It struck me as ironic that a new-fangled ceremony like a same-sex wedding should take place at such a historic venue.

Tree leaves had begun to change color. In case we lost our bearings along the way, highway signs pointed the way to Lexington and Concord, and even to an exit to Walden Pond should we have felt the need to channel Thoreau and ponder the meaning of life before or after our trip to the altar.

This is the kind of church that has its own Paul Revere bell (damaged and recast after the 1847 fire) that is activated by a rope hanging through the ceiling of the lobby. Turns out that after Revere's brief but notable career warning the locals about the oncoming Brits he set up a renowned foundry in Boston that cast bells destined for church steeples and other public buildings in many of the former thirteen colonies.

The floors of the austere, almost Shaker-like temple, were wide-plank wood that groaned softly with every footstep. Pews had small, rectangular boxes tucked underneath, decorated or upholstered in a variety of designs. "Kneelers?" I asked. Not by a mile. This is a Unitarian Universalist congregation where most members don't do kneeling and some even balk about too much talking about Him (or Her). The boxes are just footrests.

Hutchins organ, built in
1892 and recently rebuilt.
The gold-colored organ at the front dates back to 1892 and was recently restored, and an 1832 Willard clock at the back of the church still uses wooden gears to mark time, with some gentle coaxing from a member of the congregation. You can forgive this horological relic for losing about five minutes or so a week.

When we arrived at the church, past roadside stands of pick-your-own apples and mutant-size pumpkins, along with other end-of-season vegetables and fruits, two church volunteers were in the parking lot behind a makeshift table selling, yes, homemade apple pies.

The Rev. Thomas Rosiello, the minister of the church and who would later marry us, introduced us to the pie vendors who greeted and congratulated us with such warmth they could have been our own moms, except I'm not sure our real mothers would have reacted so effusively at the news of their sons marrying another man.

Perhaps they would have. My entire clan of Cuban relatives in Miami, including my step-mother, certainly treats Stew like one of the family, and we also received congratulatory e-mails from Stew's brother and his wife. Times change, sometimes astonishingly fast or slowly, depending on your perspective.

Provincetown Town Hall
Before this trip to the church, driving through this part of Americana that looked like a three-dimensional postcard, we had spent a few days in Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod, where we applied for our license, or "Intent to Marry Application," that had to be submitted and approved by the Town Clerk three days before the actual marriage.

Provincetown is beyond gay-friendly, even after the AIDS crisis killed a substantial proportion of the gay male population. Locals told us that gay women began to purchase some of the businesses previously owned by men which made lesbians more visible. Don't know if that anecdote is true but you certainly can't miss the large number of gay women and Subaru Outbacks in town.

A Provincetowner's idea of a garden water feature. 
It's certainly the place to apply for your marriage license. You'll be congratulated by the clerk in the Town Hall and anyone else waiting on line. No scowls, rolled-up eyes or judgmental glances from anyone.

No problemas except possibly from a homeless man who sat next to his shopping cart on the steps of city hall, better to evaluate the stream of passersby. "Stop holding hands, goddamn it!" he yelled at two amorous guys walking by. "You're starting to look like a couple of lesbians!"

We then spent our three-day waiting period on Cape Cod, including a side trip to Nantucket Island, just about the primmest enclave Stew and I had ever seen. The year-round population is only about ten thousand and tourist crowds were down as the nippy autumn breezes blew. Nantucket has a rough, workman history of fishing and whaling a few centuries ago but today it looks like a fantasy village designed by Ralph Lauren and managed by Martha Stewart who makes sure the flowers in all the window boxes are regularly deadheaded and puffed up.

A perfect Nantucket window box.
Stew and I had selected Massachusetts for our wedding because of the gay-friendliness of the state and particularly Provincetown, and some other serendipity. Mark and Tom, a gay couple who'd lived in Provincetown and now live in San Miguel, pointed us to the right people to call including the Town Clerk. Through a Unitarian congregation in San Miguel we had met Tom Rosiello and his partner Malcolm who offered to perform the service at the Stow church and celebrate the event with a lunch afterward.

We had thought of waiting for Illinois to approve marriage equality and have the service in Chicago but the requisite minority in the state house didn't materialize at the last minute during the last legislative session. So on to Massachusetts, which Stew had never visited anyway.

I had no notion of what to expect during the actual wedding ceremony which was small—the two grooms, the minister and a friend of the minister who took the pictures. That's about as small as a wedding party can get unless the minister is also one of the grooms and can officiate and say "I do" simultaneously.

Attire for the grooms was "snug business casual," as in suitcoats, dress shirts and pants that had been sitting idle in the closet since we retired eight years ago. It's amazing how garments can shrink while just hanging there.

A wedding candle to hold forever. 
Rev. Rosiello reviewed several options for the wording of the brief service. Stew and I settled on one that included a brief history—or celebration—of how fast the movement toward marriage equality had come in so few years, followed by a dedication for a couple that had already been in a long-term relationship, the vows and the exchange of rings. We also lit a wedding candle, which we're going to light at every anniversary from now on. I was so nervous I could barely repeat the vows or remember the actual order of service, except it was brief and beautiful. A copy of the service is coming and I will post it when I receive it.

On the way out of the church, the photographer grabbed the rope of the Paul Revere bell and gave it a few joyful yanks to let the world know that after forty-one years together Stew and Al had finally married. Rev. Rosiello and his partner Malcolm treated us to lunch at a restaurant on the site of a short-lived Utopian agrarian community established in 1842.

Rev. Tom Rosiello and the newlyweds. 
When we got back to Boston, Stew hugged me and said, "This was a perfect day."

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26 comments:

  1. Al and Stew, congratulations. I'm so happy for you. Reading about your beautiful service made me cry with tears of joy.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Billie. As one of our very best friends, your words mean a lot to us!

      al

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  2. Ah, that's so sweet, guys! The best to you, Al and Stew.

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  3. I'm very happy for you guys. Better late than never, no?

    Congratulations!

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where it was interesting to read a post about our 'hood from your perspective.

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    1. Thank you for your good wishes Kim. You've got a beautiful town there, though a bit pricey, eh?

      Al

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    2. Yes, though compared to my native San Francisco, it seems kind of reasonable.

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  4. I couldn't read the end of it because I couldn't see it through the tears of joy I feel for the two of you. I had to pull myself together and reread it!
    There are so many of us that wish you all the joy in the world in all the rest of your time on Earth.

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    1. Thank you so much for your good wishes, Barbara, but you need to stop getting so weepy...Hugs,


      al

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  5. ¡Felicidades!

    What a lovely area for your perfect day. I must say I do like the window box. Mine, never quite as perfect. But I have never come across a pond with dolls AND a pink flamingo.

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  6. Congratulations guys, and many years of happiness.

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  7. Al & Stew,
    Again, congratulations to both of you. As usual, your blog is interesting and inspirational. You are right, who would have thought that we would live to see and participate in same-sex marriage. You said it very well. The photos were terrific. Fred

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  8. Congratulations! I assume you are back in San Miguel. Will you have a party to celebrate with all of your south of the border friends?

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  9. Yes, it sounds like a day that could not have been improved upon. Congratulations.

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  10. Excellent! Enjoy the new status of your relationship.

    Cheers!

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  11. Felicidades a los dos! Have been following your posts for some time...I am gay as well and I retired to GDL about 2 1/2 years ago...best move ever...plan to officially marry my somewhat younger Mexican novio sometime in the near future...most likely in DF...take care and /be good to one another...wishing you both many more years of marital bliss! Saludos...Charles

    P.S. I am on FB as Charles Rutherford...are either of you on FB?

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  12. Not being a Unitarian, I have no trouble in using the G word. May God continue to bless your lives as he has over the past 41 years.

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  13. May your days be filled with happiness and joy, Congradulations.

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  14. Congratulations and many more years of happiness.

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  15. Holy Crap. Where did you get those ties!

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  16. A gold star for remembering the photographer. Years ago my brother, sister and decided to go to the beach in Ventura to watch he sunset. On the way we picked up a bottle of pre-mixed Manhattans. When we got there, there was a VW bug with 3 wine glasses on the roof. When I pulled out my camera, one of guys came over, and said, "this couple just got married at the Mission. Any chance you could take their picture and send it to them, in all the excitement, we forgot a camera." Then we remembered my brother had his Polaroid, so they got a couple more photos to remember the day.

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  17. Haven't been here for a while, and just saw that you had been married - congratulations! What a wonderful job you did with the planning and the time making and enjoying the arrangements. Makes me look a little differently at my own 29 year association with my pal Patrick...

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  18. I just started reading your excellent blog. Congratulations to you both, and may you enjoy many more years of happiness together.

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  19. I just started reading your excellent blog.
    Congratulations to you both, and may you enjoy many more years of happiness together!

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