I’ve told this story so many times over the years it has begun to sound to me as if I'm telling it about someone else. But it is about Sally and me.
On December 31, 1968, Sally and I, who were engaged but had not set any plans for a wedding, went to a New Year’s Eve party with our friends, Dick and Lynda. The party was boring, but I’d had a few drinks and a wild idea: “Let’s drive to Wendover and get married!” Wendover is a town that straddles the border of Utah and Nevada. The Nevada side was the destination because at the time Utah required a blood test and a three-day waiting period from getting a marriage license to having the ceremony. Dick and Lynda thought it was a good idea. Sally thought it was a good idea. I thought it was a good idea until we arrived in Wendover a couple of hours later, and by then we were all sober. When I found out there would be no wedding in Wendover, that I would have to drive on to the county seat I tried to back out. My friends were having none of it. The county courthouse was in Elko, which meant I had another long drive on icy roads in my '67 Dodge. We got to Elko at about 5:00 AM. At that hour the casinos were cleared out except for some drunks and a few people pulling slot machine handles. Two cops came in and hauled out a drunk. Lynda, who took it upon herself to be in charge of the whole affair, asked the cops for information. She told them we wanted to get married. She found out from them the courthouse would open at noon, and it would cost $15.00 for a wedding license. Ulp. I didn’t have $15.00.
One of the cops said to Lynda, “Tell them to go upstairs and practice up.”
Dick had been playing nickel slots and winning, so I joined in. We had a long row of slot machines at our disposal, and when I played I won. By the time I was finished I had $65.00 in $2.00 rolls of nickels, bulging my jacket pockets. More than enough for everything, a wedding license and gas to get home.
Sometime after noon on January 1, 1969, after being up all night and looking like people dragged through the desert behind horses, we stood in front of the judge and said our I do’s. Dick and Lynda signed as witnesses, and we were ready to leave when the judge said, "I accept tips.” I asked, “Will you take it in nickels?” He came back with an answer I assumed he’d given countless times before: “If the bank will take it, I’ll take it.” I not only gave him a tip in nickels, I paid for gas home, the room in the Motel 6 for Sally and me on our wedding night (Motel 6 really did cost just $6.00 for a room in those days. Hey, nothing was too good for my bride!), and breakfast the next morning, all in rolls of nickels. In those days $65.00, even in nickels, went a lot further.
A couple of weeks later my mother-in-law, Virginia, held a wedding reception in her house. Above is a photo from that reception, Sally and I are sitting on Ginny’s sofa, laughing about something. The picture was taken by Sally’s sister, Sharon. I don’t believe it has seen the light of day since 1969, until Sharon posted it recently on Facebook. I don’t recall seeing it before. My son commented that I look like Ron Burgundy, Anchorman, and Sally looks like an assistant on The Price Is Right. The suit I’m wearing in the picture was from my high school graduation, three-and-a-half years earlier.
Sally looked cute. She still does.
Looking back on it all it seems that had I thought about it and not been so impulsive I probably would not have mentioned eloping, and we would have left the party. I would have taken Sally home, then gone home myself and slept off the effects of the party. Another auld lang syne. It’s useless to speculate because what happened that night did happen, whether because of my immature impulse or by cosmic design. In 1974 I broke off my friendship with Dick because it was the Watergate era and we argued politics every time we got together. Dick and Lynda broke up eventually. Dick died a couple of years ago. I don't know what has happened to Lynda.
Sally and I went on to build our lives together and today it’s been 44 years since we eloped. We're parents and grandparents. So Happy New Year to you, happy anniversary to Sally and me.