Yesterday, I informed you of my drivers license woes, and several people commented on the trouble with our marriage certificate. Do I have a story for you!

Let's rewind to 2003.

It wasn't until 1:30 pm, the afternoon before our wedding day, that I remembered to pick up a marriage license. I knew that most states required a waiting period between the obtaining of the marriage license and the actual marriage ceremony, so my forgetfulness prompted a slight panic-attack. Jeremy and I rushed to the county clerk's office to pick up our paperwork.

The motherly woman behind the counter expressed her felicitations at our wonderful event, and told us we had to wait twenty-four hours before getting married as stated in Illinois state law. I looked at the clock. It was 2:04 pm. Our ceremony was scheduled to start at 2:00 pm the following day.

The woman joked with us about watching the clock and being sure to wait, then she handed me two papers. One made of card stock, beautifully printed in rainbow colors with a Bible verse embossed in gold at the bottom: Mark 10:7-9 "‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” And the other paper, a flimsy, smallish, square, badly-photocopied, ink-missing-in-spots note stating that the bride and groom had been married on a certain date at a certain place. It had blanks for all of the pertinent information to be filled in and places for witnesses and the marriage official to sign. The lady firmly told us that the pretty copy was not official. It was only for our viewing pleasure, and meant to be framed and hung on a wall of our home. People frequently were confused because the non-impressive looking paper was the real certificate. She instructed us that we needed to have it signed by the pastor and witnesses, then return it to the clerk's office within seven days so they could record it and stamp it, then I would need to mail it to the social security office for a new SS card in my married name.

Other than the rehearsal dinner, I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening running various wedding errands, and then my bridesmaids and I white-gloved my apartment, since I would be moving to Iowa with Jeremy immediately after our wedding. I tucked my papers into a special folder in my suitcase so that they would be easily findable the following morning amid all the chaos of my not completely packed up apartment.

In the morning, the bridesmaids and I all finished packing my car with odds and ends, including my honeymoon suitcase with the important file folder. At the church, I pulled the folder out so the pastor could sign our marriage certificate. I handed him the fancy one, and he reminded me that it was not official, but when I checked the folder for the pathetic photocopy, I could not find it. A mad search ensued, but no document came up. We delayed the ceremony slightly because the pastor was helping me search. Finally he said, "Never mind. I'll go ahead with the ceremony, but remember, you won't really be married until I've signed that paper." Then he walked towards his spot at the front of the church.

Can I give you readers a word of advice?

If you are ever a pastor marrying a couple, NEVER joke like that to a nervous, panicky, did-not-sleep-last-night bride.


It was not humorous. All of the scenarios I had had nightmares about for the past three weeks did not measure up to the idea that after waiting this long (Jeremy and I had dated six years) and after all this trouble (several things had gone crazily wrong at the last minute with the wedding plans -- for example, when I had called the florist the day before to verify the time that our flowers would be delivered, I discovered that no one there knew who I was. It turns out, the sales-person who had sat down with us and pain-stakingly researched flower colors, meanings and seasonal availability, the woman who had stayed in contact with me over the past several months, the woman who had given us a signed copy of our flower bill quote had been fired the week before, and she took all of her client files with her. When I presented my copy of the quote and the list of flowers, they told me that over half of those flowers were not available during this season; the sales-person had been dreadfully mistaken in both her floral listing and her quote-price; the flowers on my list would have to be drastically substituted or flown in from some distant climate - but none of that would happen because the shop had decided to refund my money with their apologies because they were already completely swamped with weddings that WERE on their calendar.) Yes, after all THAT trouble, we would STILL not be married. Even my nightmare about "The Unity Candle Falls On The Wedding Dress And Engulfs Me In Flames And I Have To Be Rushed To The Hospital And Our Wedding Is Canceled Because I'm In The Burn Unit" did not prepare me for the panic that flooded my blood-stream at that moment.

With wide eyes, I looked up at my dad standing next to me. I knew I was about to sob hysterically. He shook his head at my un-asked question, "No," he whispered, "he was just joking." But his voice rose slightly at the end of the sentence, giving me the impression that my dad -- MY DAD -- was unsure of the facts.

If that won't shake you to the core, then I don't know what will.

As I sedately walked down the aisle, arm in arm with my father, my mind lingered on the possible whereabouts of that document. While Dad gave his giving his daughter away speech, I mentally searched every nook and cranny of my almost empty apartment. During the singing of the song Jeremy and I had picked out for this occasion, my brain checked clothing pockets of every garment I had come in contact with over the past twenty-four hours.

Only Jeremy's extreme stage-fright brought my mind back to the present, and I had to whisper encouragement to him during the rest of the ceremony. He told me later that it was not nervousness about getting married; it was the fact that he had to stand in front of everyone. If only he had known then what being married to me would be like, he might have been more nervous about the proceedings.

He's a riot, that guy.

During the reception, my sister Hannah went back to my apartment to search for the missing document, but she came back over an hour later, empty-handed.

"That's alright," the pastor told Jeremy and me, "You have an entire week before the license expires. You'll find it in a day or so, and I'll sign it then. No problem."

"D-do you think it's okay for us to go on our honeymoon without it being official?" I whispered anxiously and feeling dumb.

The pastor laughed heartily, winked and said, "I think it's okay," at the same time that Jeremy declared, "We're GOING on our honeymoon!" with a bit of a growl in his voice.

I began breathing again. Good. So long as we're all in agreement!

Jeremy and I headed to the Poconos for our honeymoon. We got stranded in Cincinnati when several flights were cancelled on account of torrential downpours, and we did not reach our Pennsylvania destination until the wee hours of the morning. We wandered the airport, trying to find a taxi to take us to our hotel, but every vehicle was taken.

Except one.

A lone man dressed all in black stood leaning against an airport column, listening to us as we walked from counter to counter, reciting our tale of honeymoon woe, and he took pity on us. He lurched away from the pole, and asked, "Yous need a ride?"

When we nodded, he jerked his head, "Follow me, I can take you."

Jeremy and I glanced warily at each other, but neither of us were receiving odd vibes from the friendly man. We allowed him to take our bags for us, and we followed through dimly lit back hallways until we finally stepped out of the building into the pouring rain. The man waved us back under the building's overhanging roof, while he put our suitcases into an old, black hearse.

I am totally not joking, you guys.

When we hesitated, he explained that the limo company he worked for had refurbished the interior of the hearse so that it was now a limousine. He opened the door for us, so that we could examine the inside. Sure enough, it boasted mirrored walls, leather bench seats, gorgeous light sconces, a refrigerator stocked with miniature soft drink cans (a selling feature for my new husband). We hopped in. You didn't really think Jeremy would pass up a hearse with a fridge in it, did you?

We chatted happily with our new friend (I can't remember his name now) about our wedding and his wedding and our airport adventures and our future plans. He told us that normally, the charge for this car was pretty high, but the party that requested it had been delayed even longer than we had, and he thought it would be nice to give us a free ride as a wedding present. Jeremy played with buttons on his side console, accidentally turning the sconces on and off, accidentally turning the floor lights on and off, accidentally lowering and raising the windows and drenching the two of us in the process until I turned to him and said, "Stop it. What are you doing?"

"I'm trying to find the wall between us and our driver," he muttered. Our friend laughed and said, "I was wondering when you two would get around to that." Then he pushed a button in the front and the wall went up. He then proceeded to drive like a maniac for more than an hour through the rain-slicked, winding mountain roads. I had to stop kissing Jeremy because I needed a receptacle for my car-sick stomach. (How romantic.) The ride continued.

In order to get some relief, I finally had to lie face-down on the coffin-shaped floor where I begged God to make the ride end before Jeremy changed his mind about me, while Jeremy removed ALL of the tiny Mountain Dew cans from the fridge. When we stopped, and the courteous limo driver opened the door for us, I remained on the floor unable to move because of the dizziness. He and Jeremy stood outside the open car door in the slight drizzle that was now falling from the sky and chatted. Jeremy offered him a Mountain Dew, and the two of them chugged away. I heard him offer to pick us up and drive us back to the airport when our honeymoon was over, and I heard Jeremy accept his offer while my entire being silently screamed NOOOOOO, but I couldn't speak.

I'll fade to black for the rest of our honeymoon. We did have three more hilarious adventures, however, two of them do not involve clothing, so you'd have to ask me in person for those details.

On our fifth morning of being married, I rummaged through a suitcase pocket for some article of clothing, and my fingers met a paper-like object. I pulled it out. An envelope. Hmm. I opened the envelope.

"Jeremy! I found our marriage certificate!!! The real one!!" We counted the days, and realized it would expire within forty-eight hours. We filled in the blanks and signed our names. (Only, I filled in my maiden name instead of my married name. Didn't know I'd done it wrong.) Then we rushed to the concierge office. She listened to our crazy story and agreed to over-night the document to my parents for free! She also placed a long-distance call from her desk phone to my parents for us, and we explained the situation. My parents needed to sign as witnesses (our maids of honor and best men had witnessed the decorative one), and my dad needed to take it to the pastor for his signature. Then my parents would need to take it to the county clerk's office so they could record it in their books and do some kind of special stamp on the back of the document.

My parents received the certificate the following day and signed it. Then my dad took it to the church for the pastor's signature. The associate pastor told him that the senior pastor had gone home early; he was about to start his family vacation. Dad drove out to the senior pastor's house, only to find that the family had already departed and would not be back for at least a week.

Dad drove back to the church and explained the situation to the associate pastor who sympathized but had no solution. My dad asked if the associate pastor would sign the document, but he refused since he had not married us. After much debate, the associate pastor finally agreed to sign the senior pastor's name to our document, and that is why we are the proud owners of a FORGED marriage certificate. The associate pastor jokingly swore my dad to secrecy.

Which is why my dad told us, and which is why I am now telling the internet.

(But you will notice the names have been withheld to shield the guilty.)

Jeremy and I returned from our honeymoon, stopped off at my parents' house to pick up our infamous, official marriage certificate, and moved directly to Iowa. I mailed my certificate to the social security office, and they called to inform me that I had filled it out with my maiden name. I needed to send a certified letter showing what my married name should be. I did so. They mailed the official certificate back to me along with a new social security card reflecting my name change.

Jeremy and I went to the DOT (Division of Motor Vehicles) in Iowa to obtain our driver's licenses. The officials there frowned at my certificate and told me it was just a photocopy. They wanted my real one. Jeremy and I argued and argued with them, but finally we went home to our new apartment and gathered up the "pretty" certificate, the mailing envelope from the social security administration, all of the various and sundry pieces of government papers showing my name change, and the phone number for the county clerk's office in Illinois in case all else failed. We returned to the DOT, and stood in line for the same worker. After more arguing, some very close perusal of our paperwork, and a phone call to Illinois, he finally gave me a license, but he still expressed doubt about my marriage certificate.

Whew! Jeremy and I have joked about that paper several times over the years.

Until this past Saturday.

Today, I called the State of Illinois, and inquired about the nature of their marriage certificates. The lady verified that their certificates do not show any numbers or codes at all to prove that they have been recorded. I asked for a certified letter from the State of Illinois listing this to be true so that I could take the letter to the Indiana BMV as they had requested. The lady told me that the State could not do this for me, but that if I called the clerk's office of the county where I was married, they could probably help me out.

I called the county clerk's office. That lady told me that they could not write a letter for me, but that if I showed the special raised stamp on the back of the paper to the BMV workers, that should be proof enough.

I turned my certificate over. "But there is no special raised stamp on the back of my certificate," I told her.

"There isn't?"

"No. Are you telling me there should be?" A sinking feeling began in my tummy.

"Yes, there should be. You must be looking at the decorative certificate. That is not the official one."

"No, I know that. I'm looking at the official one," and I described it to her, "plain white square of paper, looks like a bad photocopy..."

She interrupted me. "No, our official certificates are multicolored and have a stamp on the back. You must be looking at a photocopy of one."

I paused, not even wanting to finish this conversation. "No," I said dully, "this is not a photocopy. I mean, it IS a photocopy, but it is the original of what I was given at your office seven years ago. The signatures are originals."

"Huh," she thought about it. "I'm not even sure what that could be."

You know what?

I don't even care if we're legally married or not. This is ridiculous.

"Ma'am, can you do a favor for me? Would you look in your computer system and tell me if I am listed as married in there?"

"Oh, honey, I wish I could, but I'd have to see your current photo ID before I'd be allowed to check for you."

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5 Responses
  1. LOL.

    T and I have been joking for YEARS that something like this would happen, and that we'd find out that we weren't actually married.

    Good luck!

    (Call back to the County Clerks office and ask to speak to a supervisor, sometimes they can do things that the regular peeps can't)

  2. Suanna Says:

    I remember that you couldn't find your license at your wedding and that I had received an e-mail from you after your honeymoon that everything was okay. I hope this all gets worked out soon for you. I understand about how frustrating this can be. Praying that this situation will work itself out.

  3. Amy H Says:

    Hey, Tony and I can stand up for you at your wedding and we know a place you can get married for real:) lol I might even know someone who can do the ceremony :)
    Love following this story!!

  4. DeAnn Says:

    Sounds like it's time to renew your vows! :)

  5. Spencer Park Says:

    I'm glad that it worked out in the end (hopefully!).

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