A Pandemic Wedding Story


At the beginning of the year Jason and I set May 30, 2020, as the date for our wedding.  We didn’t want it to be too soon and we wanted it to be special as our two families were becoming one.  It would also allow just enough time to get all the paperwork in order before his retirement date on June 22.  We sent out ‘Save the Date’ cards and started planning.  Since Shortway Brewing Co. was our first date (over a year and a half ago) and our second first date (when I finally got my act together and realized I was in love with him) we thought there would be nowhere more perfect than for us to have our wedding and the reception in the Beer Garden there.  So, we locked it on. 

Jason’s daughter, Akela, and I went to David’s Bridal the last weekend in January just to look. We walked away with a wedding dress and a bridesmaids dress. The invitations were made and they were in addressed envelopes with stamps waiting to be mailed. I even set up a page on Zola.com so that I could manage all the RSVPs.  It wasn’t going to be a large wedding.  We definitely weren’t planning anything crazy or glamorous (we aren’t fancy people).  We just wanted to make sure the kids got to be a part of it.  I was looking forward to Landon walking me down the aisle (more like rock path) to my future husband.  And we wanted to make sure there was good beer and good bbq for our family and friends.  Priorities!  

February flew by and before I knew it, it was March. Just a few short months away Jason and I would be married, Akela would graduate high school, Jason would retire and we would all head up to Wisconsin as one family.

Hello COVID19. 

First came the travel ban for active duty Marines and DOD employees.  Next, schools went into virtual learning mode from home.  Then, companies began putting their non-essential employees on telework status.  Lastly, businesses started to close and the ‘Stay at Home’ order went into effect. 

Because of all this, Jason’s retirement got pushed up to June 15.  Now we were going to have less time to get my name on all the necessary paperwork.  But I was certain we’d be able to get it done.  I made sure my last day of work was May 28th so that I could focus on getting what needed to be done after the wedding.

I realized we might not be able to get an application for a marriage license because of all the closures.  I called the Register of Deeds and they said they were taking it a day at a time and they couldn’t give me any definitive answers.  And we were still more than 60 days out from the wedding (marriage applications are only good for 60 days in North Carolina).  This is the moment I went into panic mode. 

Jason had told me he didn’t care when or how we got married.  He just wanted to be married to me.  So, on the morning of Friday, March 27th (about 1030am), I called the Register of Deeds and asked if I could come in to get a marriage license (just in case).  I had a doctor appointment in New Bern that afternoon so I was already going to be up there.  They made me an appointment at 1230pm.  That was going to be plenty of time before my 2pm appointment.  I called up Jason, told him to get the paperwork he needed and that we were going to get a marriage license. 

While I was rushing to get ready, now that I knew I had to get to the Register of Deeds office in two hours, I thought I would call the Magistrates office to see if they were offering limited services. The Magistrate answered (in a not so friendly way) and told me there was only one office still doing marriages and that they perform them until dark.

Yes!  He said dark… that is NOT helpful for a person who needs an exact time!  I digress.

When I got off the phone with him, I called Jason and said, “let’s get married after my doctor appointment.”  I don’t think he believed me because I was so adamant about waiting until May 30th.  He agreed and said he’d be over soon to pick me up so we could head to New Bern. 

Now I really needed to get ready.  Like, do my make up and do something with my hair. And I did not have a lot of time to do it in.  

I needed two witnesses. I FaceTimed Roxie. We casually chatted for a minute when I asked what she was doing at about 3pm that day (it was already 11am). I asked if she would be my witness and grab Carson (her daughter) because I knew Daniel was at work. Roxie was at a loss for words. She tried saying stuff, but she kept stammering. I wish I could have recorded her reaction. It was priceless. She of course said yes. Then asked me what she should wear. I said “I don’t know” and then she asked “what are you wearing?” CRAP! I hadn’t even thought of that. She asked “What’s Jason wearing?” CRAP again! I didn’t know. I guess I should tell him to wear something nice. I called him, told him to wear jeans and a nice shirt. Easy peasy, right? I FaceTimed Roxie back and told her what Jason and I were going to wear and that I would drop her a pin of where to meet us at for the wedding after my doctor appointment.

Jason and I headed to New Bern.  We got our application. We were hungry.  We went to McDonalds (since we couldn’t go anywhere to sit and eat) and ordered chicken nuggets and sat in the car and ate. 

We arrived about 30 minutes early for my doctor appointment.  We waited at least 15 minutes when the girl behind the desk finally called my name to take me back.  Since Jason and I were the only ones in the waiting room she got a good look at us and said “Awe, you guys look so nice.  Are you doing something after this?”  I casually answered back, “yeah, we might get married.”  Her jaw dropped.  “Are you serious!?” she asked.  Yes. Yes I was.

When my appointment was over we headed straight the Magistrate’s office (and the jail… they are in the same location). Roxie and Carson texted that they were on their way.  When they arrived, Roxie gets out of the car and hands me a bouquet of beautiful hydrangeas (they were the flowers I planned to use for the May 30th wedding).  Then she handed me her nana’s handkerchief (which I totally tucked into my underwear – I didn’t have pockets!) and said I could ‘borrow’ it.  She wrapped blue string around the bouquet (my something blue), she told me Jason was my ‘something new’ and that she was my ‘something old.’  Then she went around to the back of the car and pulled out Shortway Beer from a cooler.  She said it was for the reception after. I was completely suprised. (And impressed at how she was able to pull it all together in such a short time).

Carson, me and Roxie.

It was time.  We all walked to the Magistrate, filled out papers and paid our fee.  He let us do it outside and stood about 20 feet away from us.  Roxie FaceTime her husband Daniel and our friend Kim (who was traveling to Virginia – she stopped on the side of the road to watch) and our simple, short and sweet ceremony began.  We were Mr. and Mrs. Van at approximately 3pm that afternoon. 

The Moment it Became Official.

Afterwards we went down the street to the rest stop, sat on a picnic table and drank our beer. 

Jason and I were still going to have a reception at Shortway on May 30th and I was going to wear my dress and we’d just cut out the ceremony part. We were already married so it didn’t seem necessary.  It was just going to be a celebration with our family and friends. Plan B was a go. 

Today, a month after we got married, we had to make the hard decision to cancel our reception on May 30th. There are still too many unknowns and we’d hate to make a last-minute decision and waste money.

Plan C is now in effect.  Instead of having a reception we are going to have professional pictures taken of our family, all dressed up like we would have been for the wedding on May 30th, and instead of sending out wedding invitations, we’re going to send marriage announcements. 

The pandemic may have forced our hand in changing our wedding plans.  But it definitely didn’t ruin anything.  Our wedding day was absolutely amazing.  My friend rocked it with last-minute surprise planning (which she does best) and made our day even sweeter. 

I married the man of my dreams on March 27th 2020.  It was perfect in every way. 

The Happy Couple. Married on 3/27/20 in New Bern, North Carolina.

Signed,

Mrs. Anne Van

I’ll Love Her Forever

Me and Julie – 2014 – Beaufort, SC

November 20th, I received news that my dear best friend Julie, had passed in her sleep.  My heart sank.  Tears began filling my eyes.  I felt sick.  There was no way it was true.  I mean, I had just talked to her the week before.  The first phone call I made was to John Paul, Julie’s son.  When I heard his voice confirm, “Miss Anne, mom died” it took everything I had to stay upright. 

I was at work when all this happened.

That was a hard, painful day.  Many people reached out to me via Facebook and text messages to make sure I knew.  Being 6 hours away from each other, Julie and I didn’t get to see each other all the time, but we talked every week.  Throughout the day I would have fits of uncontrollable crying.  Jason just held me.  Just about the time my crying would subside I’d think about how much Julie would have loved Jason and how she’d never get to meet the love of my life.  She would have surely been Team Jason – an inside sentiment between Julie and I.  When I went to bed that night, swollen-faced and puffy-eyed, all I could do was wonder if Julie was happy when she passed.  Her happiness was so important to me.  She had so much love to give to the world.  And I needed so badly to know she was happy. 

The very next day as I got into my car to leave for work a little black cat came out of nowhere and jumped onto the driver’s side floorboard.  Two very important things here:  1) I had never seen this cat before and 2) Julie had an obsession with black cats.  She had two; Codie and Storm.  And she encouraged others to adopt black cats because she worried people didn’t want them because they all looked the same.  So here I am sitting in my car the day after Julie’s passing and this black cat jumps up onto my lap and starts purring loudly.  I just sat there and watched him.  When I would pet him, his purrs got louder.  He eventually curled up in a ball and started to close his eyes.  I took a few pictures, shared on Facebook and had to get the kitty out of my car because I had to get to work.  During the drive to work I thought about Julie and her love for black cats.  My heart suddenly felt better.  I smiled thinking about Julie.  Call it Devine intervention.  Call it whatever you like.  But it was at that time I realized Julie was telling me she was happy.  She was OK.  She was where she needed to be.  Julie was with me that morning.

JuJu – November 21st

When I went home at the end of the day that black kitty was waiting for me in my garage.  I named him JuJu.  (That’s what I used to call Julie.  Landon called her Aunt JuJu.)   I had no intention on keeping the cat.  I figured he would come and go as he pleases.  Landon put down a bed for him.  The next day we bought food.  He got new dishes and a litter box.  Now he has toys and a covered cat bed all for himself.  Every morning and each evening we sit together in the garage where JuJu lays in my lap while I pet him.  Sometimes I talk to him.  Sometimes we just sit in silence. 

Many people don’t know how Julie and mines friendship began.  Julie was the Catering Manager for Traditions, the Officer Club on MCRD Parris Island.  I gave a brief and provided a lunch to the Series Commander Course Marines at Traditions and made arrangements through Julie month after month.  After a while, our work relationship turned into meeting up at Traditions on Friday nights to have a beer or two.  One of those Friday nights, Julie told me something that changed the course of our relationship.  She said something like, “So many people warned me about you and said I shouldn’t be friends with you.  Since you’re pretty, going through a divorce, skinny with big boobs everyone thinks you are bad news.  But I told them I make my own decisions.”

Side Note:  Parris Island was and still is a fish bowl!  It was such a toxic environment.  If you weren’t doing anything wrong, people gossiped about you and made terrible things up.  If you were admittedly doing wrong, everyone covered it up and acted like nothing was happening.  I had people judging me left and right.  It was a terrible time for me.  Even the people I worked with were turning their backs on me.  It was an incredibly lonely time. 

What Julie told me hurt to hear.  I started crying because I hated how mean and terrible people were.  How dare someone “warn” Julie about me.  The crazy part is the people who told her awful things about me didn’t even know me.  People had zero reason to not like me, especially if they didn’t know me.  All because she gave me a chance when most other people would have easily been swayed by someone else’s opinion, Julie was literally my only friend. 

Julie chose me.  She was the first person to ever choose me.    We’ve been inseparable ever since. 

Julie and I had a special bond.  If you can believe it, we never fought.  There was never a time in our friendship when we didn’t talk to one another because of arguments, disagreements or just because we were getting on each other’s nerves.  And if it seemed like we were getting into a heated debate, I would start tickling Julie until she would almost pee herself laughing.  One time she actually did!  And then we both laughed so hard because of it!   Julie and I had no shame. 

She brought so much joy to my life. 

I traveled to Parris Island for her memorial and to say my goodbyes.  I was asked to speak.  A Marine dressed in his blues walked me from the pew up the stage and to the microphone.  I told him without him there my legs wouldn’t have been able to hold me up.  I made it without crying. 

3 weeks later….

When I close my eyes, I can still see Julie lying motionless in her casket.  Eyes closed, arms crossed, a somber look on her face.  It makes me shudder because that was NOT the Julie I loved in any way, shape or form.  She was always smiling and laughing.  She was vibrant.  She was loving.  She was compassionate.  When I close my eyes, I want to see THAT Julie.  I know I will get there one day and that this is part of the grieving process.  Everyday I miss her.  Forever I will love her.