Updated: May 20
Many couples have a “meet-cute” story about how their relationship began and in honor of the 34th anniversary of our wedding, Chris and I would like to share a story from our wedding day journey with you.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I was classmates and friends with Karen Ocana and on occasion would go to her house on Lee Street after school to hang out with her and other friends. Sometimes we’d play games at the dining room table, or go down to the basement to play foosball, but more often than not, Karen would play the piano. Sometimes Jason or Stacy or some of the other musically talented kids would sing while Karen played. Not having the voice to sing or the skill to play, I never joined in, but it was always a very pleasant time and it made me happy to sit, and watch, and listen.
One day, sitting on a high-backed yellow chair across the room from the piano, my world changed. A beautiful young girl whom I had never seen before came down the stairs. She stopped a couple of steps from the landing, looked at me, and I looked into her eyes for the first time. Those eyes, those beautiful deep brown eyes, reminded me of a Hersey Kiss melted on top of a Christmas cookie – soft, warm, sweet, inviting. My heart skipped a beat, my breath caught in my throat, and I instantly fell in love with Karen’s younger sister Chris.
For the next several years, I loved Chris from afar, never telling her how I felt about her. I watched as she dated other boys, and I dated other girls, but never stopped wishing that the one
I was with was Chris. She and I became friends, perhaps even best friends, and spent a lot of time together. Even on rare occasions when we went together to the movies or shared a meal together on what I hoped she would think was a date, we were always platonic. While I wanted so much more than just a friendly relationship with Chris, just being with her, even if it could only be as a friend, was very fulfilling. She understood me. She saw that even though I was quiet and introverted, I was intelligent, funny, and much deeper than the surface revealed. But what she didn’t see was that I was head over heels in love with her.
Eventually we graduated high school, me in 1982, her in 1984, and because I had to work a while to make money for college, we both entered UMaine as freshman the same year. By then I was dating Cathy and spent every weekend travelling to see her, since she and her family had moved to Eastport. In March, the first day of our spring break from UMaine, I had gone to spend some time with Cathy in Eastport, but she broke up with me since she wanted to make new friends and have new relationships in her new school and new town. Since I had nowhere else to go, I headed to my parent’s house in Lincoln.
As I was driving by the Ocana’s house on Lee Street, I noticed the lights were on so stopped in to talk to Chris, to cry on her shoulder and to ask my best friend for advice. We talked for hours – about my breakup with Cathy, about our first semester at UMaine, about my upcoming track season, and about life in general. We were sitting in the same front room where I had spent so much time listening to that beautiful music; in fact, I was sitting in the same high-backed yellow chair in which I had so often sat. Chris was sitting on the floor with her back leaning against my legs.
I noticed the sun coming up through the front window and was surprised that we had talked the whole night away and stunned at how beautiful the sunrise was. I told Chris “You’ve got to see this” and pulled her into my lap. She’d never sat in my lap before, but she did now. As we watched the sun come up, the rays of light filtered through her auburn hair and made it look like it was on fire. My breath caught and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. There was electricity in the air, a tension that I couldn’t explain, and Chris turned to me and said “Did you feel that? And we whispered in perfect unison “wow”, and we kissed. Then we both started to cry, tears running down our cheeks, tears borne of overwhelming joy. My joy from the kiss marking the culmination of years of love and longing, and her joy at acting upon a love for me that she later told me she had felt for a long time but never understood.
We spent every moment of that long-ago spring break together, and when we went back to UMaine, we were nearly inseparable, except for attending classes and going to track practices and meets. Of course, young love is not perfect love, and much like a carpentry project, the first wall of a building can be very fragile until supports and reinforcements are added. We made our share of stupid mistakes and did or said things to hurt the other while we learned more about each other. At times the first few walls of our relationship waivered, but as the circle of love grew to include our families and friends and experiences we shared together, we gained strength as a couple. We moved from our respective dorms to an apartment on Bennoch Road. We “borrowed” the high-back yellow chair and got into a habit that anytime we had something serious to talk about, we talked about it while sitting together in that chair. We still have the chair, and even though it is mostly hidden underneath laundry or quilts or an occasional bird-dog, it has come to symbolize that first sunrise together, and we will treasure it always.
By the time we were in our senior years at UMaine, we were engaged. I graduated in December, and my first job out of college was with the now defunct Ames department stores. My first assignment began in January as an assistant manager at the store in Calais. Chris was still at UMaine as a grad student, so we rented an upstairs apartment in Red Beach and she would come over on weekends. We planned a May wedding and because I just started a new job, didn’t have any real vacation time, though my new boss did adjust my schedule so I could have the weekend of the wedding and the next two days off in exchange for working straight thorough the following weekend. But that left very little time for a honeymoon.
We did what research we could in the age before Siri or Google and decided to travel to St. John New Brunswick for a long weekend honeymoon. It was only a little more than an hour from Calais and had a bit of an “international flair” for a honeymoon, so we made a reservation at the fanciest hotel we could afford. However, since we didn’t have a credit card we were told that we needed to get to the hotel by 7:00pm or they wouldn’t guarantee a room to us.
Saturday, May 20th, dawned to a perfect sunrise and blue-bird skies. It was a beautiful day. And the wedding was beautiful. Chris had never been so stunning, and those eyes that hooked me from the very first moment shone bright with love and life and hope for the future. The wedding went off without a hitch, and we held a reception at the KC Hall in South Lincoln. We knew we needed to leave Lincoln no later than 4:00 in order to get to the hotel in St. John’s on time, but we weren’t sure we would be able to make the deadline.
We were surrounded by family and the friends who mattered most in the world to us.
Chris had asked her sister Karen to be her maid of honor, and Mike, my best friend and track team co-captain, stood with me as best man. Stephanie and Loree, dear friends of Chris since childhood were the brides maids, and KC, another of my track buds and my little brother Bill served as my groomsmen. Niece Tabitha and nephew Nick were our flower girl and ring bearer.
And other dear friends were there too: Ann, another childhood friend of Chris, read during the ceremony; Hugh and Sue, our downstairs neighbors from Red Beach, though newly met were already dear to us; Mark, a fellow triple jumper from UM with whom I had worked out with at least two hours a day for the last four years showed up; Melissa, a high jumper from UM who had become like a sister to me came; and of course, Theresa and Helen. Not only were they Mike and KC’s better halves, they were team-mates and dear friends with whom we had shared so much. Needless to say, with so many of our friends helping us celebrate our day, time slipped by too fast. With a three-hour drive looming, we talked and danced and enjoyed each other’s company until past the time we had hoped to leave, well beyond when getting to St. John with time to spare was over.
As graciously as we could, Chris and I scurried from the KC Hall, smiled and waved as we climbed into Chris’ Nissan Sentra, now festooned with a “just married” shaving-creamed windshield and balloons and streamers trailing from the bumper. We zipped across town for a quick stop at my mother’s house to change out of wedding gown and tux. Chris wore a pretty white dress, far less elegant than her gown but still very sophisticated. I changed into dress pants and a new shirt. The wedding might be over but we still wanted to look nice when we got to the hotel. A quick glance at the clock confirmed our fears – we were going to be late unless we really made good time on the road.
If you’ve ever made the drive from Lincoln to St. John, or from Lincoln to Calais for that matter since we were going to cross the border in Calais, you likely know that making up time on that stretch of road is really just a hope and a prayer. Route 6 out of Lincoln is not necessarily heavily travelled, but even though the roads are decent, they are in fact simple two-lanes for the most part. Luckily the drive to Springfield was uneventful and we began to hope that time was still on our side. But of course, when you are in a hurry, hope can be quickly dashed. Just past the schoolhouse in Springfield, we got stuck behind a camper trailer slogging along at forty miles per hour. Every time there was a straight stretch on which we could pass, there was oncoming traffic. For what seemed an eternity, we saw nothing but the annoying brake lights and “I’d Rather Be Camping” bumper sticker, until finally we had an opportunity to pass.
Now, a Nissan Sentra is not a race car by any means. But I got those four cylinders humming as we ripped through Carrol Planation. We chugged up the face of each of the Carrol Hills, felt our stomachs churn at the crest of each, then barreled recklessly down, gaining as much speed and time as we could. After the hills, the terrain flattened a bit and we roared on through the afternoon. As we approached Musquash Lake, I was doing the math in my head. Only a few minutes to Topsfield, about an hour to Calais, a few minutes to get cleared through the border crossing, then a little over an hour to St. John’s. We were still behind, and I didn’t see a chance we would get there in time unless we really pushed hard, so I stomped on the gas.
Two miles after Musquash Lake, a four-way intersection marks the crossing of Route 1 and Route 6. Turn left, you end up in Danforth. Go straight and eventually you end up at the border crossing between Vanceboro and St. Croix. Of course, we had just come from Lincoln, leaving only the sharp right hand turn on Route 1 to take us to Calais and on to St. John’s. But, first, there is a stop sign. Which, to a young man who has just been freshly married, who is running late, who has had Jerry Reed’s “long-way-to-go-short-time-to-get-there” running through his mind for the last forty-five minutes, is interpreted more as a suggestion than as hard and fast rule of law.
I tapped the brakes just enough to drop our speed from the neighborhood of sixty down to what I figured was a survivable speed to make a ninety-degree right hand skid, glanced quickly left to see if any catastrophe was bearing down on us from Route 1, and seeing none, cut the wheel sharply. I felt the back-end shudder and fishtail in a sweeping arc behind us, felt the satisfying grip of the front wheels spitting gravel from the shoulder as we completed perhaps the only Nissan Sentra drift in history onto Route 1, and then my heart sank as I began to straighten the wheel.
In those days, there was a gas station on Route 1 about two hundred yards from the intersection. On my many trips between Calais and Lincoln previously, I had on rare occasions seen a county sheriff or state trooper in the lot. Today, apparently there was a law enforcement convention being held in the parking lot of the Topsfield Texaco. Two sheriff patrol cars, a trooper vehicle, a tribal officer’s patrol car from Indian Township, and a couple of game warden trucks were assembled throughout the lot, with officers in uniforms of all colors gathered in a loose circle in front of the store.
As Chris and I came tires-squealing around the turn, cops, troopers and wardens looked up, then began running. One, already sitting in a patrol car, pulled into the road, blue lights flashing. Others hurried to stand roadside and one, the largest state trooper I’ve ever seen, positioned himself in front of the patrol car with his right hand hovering over his holster and with his left hand held aloft in what could only be interpreted as “stop now or else!” As we barreled toward them, I could see the fire in this large troopers eyes and the stern look on his face; it only took a fraction of a second to completely grasp the gravity of the situation and jam my foot as hard as I could on the brake pedal.
It seemed to take forever to come to a stop, but the car gave a final lurch that ended with the front bumper mere feet from the trooper. I had barely begun to crank the window down when we were surrounded by officers on both sides and in front of and behind us. They were all on high alert, poised to take whatever action they deemed necessary. The giant of a trooper was looming over me and barking through the slowly opening window.
“What are you doing driving like that? Didn’t you see that stop sign?”
“Yeah, I saw it” I meekly replied.
He nearly sputtered at my admission. Apparently, he expected a denial, or at least an excuse for such dangerous, reckless driving. He barked again, though this time the window was all the way down and his face was inches from mine:
“Well, what the hell is wrong with you? Where are you going in such a hurry?”
“Listen, I’m sorry. But we just got married and I’ve got to get her to a hotel quick!"
The trooper’s mouth fell open, he yanked his head out of the window like he’d been slapped, and for the first time, the stern, scary look on his face disappeared. He might have even blushed, just a tiny bit – but perhaps that was my imagination. He glanced back in at us, young, fresh faced, very well dressed. He saw Chris, still radiant. He noticed the last smudges of shaving cream that were still slightly visible on the windshield, the suitcases tossed on the back seat. He grinned, then smiled broadly. He looked in at Chris, tipped his cap slightly – “ma’am” – then stood up tall beside my window, waved the patrol car off the road, and nodded to the officers who began falling away from the vehicle. He leaned back down to the window, put both hands on the widow sill and spoke quietly so only we could hear him. “Congratulations to both of you. Slow down. Be safe. Be happy.” With a last warm, sincere smile, and a parting grip on my arm, he stood up, waved us on, and we were on our way. He never even asked for our license or registration.
As we pulled away, I glanced into the rear-view mirror and I saw them smiling and laughing and even slapping each other on the back. It was then I realized what I had said, and how he must have interpreted it, and why he had reacted as he did. I reached over, took my new bride’s hand in mine, and together, we laughed all the way to St. Johns.