A church in the wildwood

Author’s note: Dear reader, please suffer me one more trip to New England. I promise to get local again next week. You’ll likely see the importance of this story being told on this particular date.

For Stephanie and I, one of the first stops on our spiritual journey, the geographical part anyway, was a little “church in the wildwood” at West Woodstock, Conn.

These tiny New England villages typically resist the tackiness of modernity and thus seem lost in time. Though Stephanie and I were married there on this date 36 years ago, it almost feels as though we were married during the 1940s. I’ll try to explain. We first started to notice this anomaly as we sat in heavy upright oak chairs before the town clerk in the old town hall, applying for “the license.”

As we sat, we examined the dark, ornately carved wooden trim and the off-white plastered walls adorned with large framed portraits of stern-looking patriarchs. The town clerk, a woman a generation older than us, sat behind a sensible old oak desk with dark metal filing cabinets and an American flag behind her. She had hair like Patty Andrews. She asked for clarification regarding the fourth letter of my last name; “Is that V as in Victory?” she asked. I felt like I was getting ready to ship out for the Pacific.

The church, of course, dated from a century long past and as alluded to in the title, was in a rustic setting. Those qualities, along with the fact that it was conveniently situated near Stephanie’s cabin, were the only requirements that we had for such a facility at that time. The preacher could have delivered his sermons from the Sunday funnies for all we cared as long as the building was old and stuck back in the woods.

The preacher, the Rev. Lind, was a very old and well-spoken gentleman. He had a doctorate in something, divinity perhaps, but it may have been in another field related to a past occupation. He didn’t seem to have a first name — just Reverend. The Rev. Lind informed us that it was customary just prior to the wedding for couples in our situation to visit him at his home to discuss a few things.

The day of our visit was bright and sunny but windy and bitter cold. We couldn’t imagine what advice he could possibly give us — at 23 and 21, we had the complexities of life all figured out.

As we turned down the farm lane to his home, I took in the scene over the dull blue hood of Stephanie’s 1949 GMC pickup. The house was (what else?) over 100 years old in the typical “telescope” style so common there. These houses would start with the original settler’s cabin dating from the 1700s or even the 1600s to which increasingly larger additions are attached over the centuries.

A little grove of large old pines grew to the north of the house to break the wind. The house was otherwise surrounded by farm fields with rolling wooded hills in the distance.

Wood smoke, issuing from a stone chimney on the small end of the house, was caught by the swirling gusts and danced wildly above the flue.

As we sat around the green enameled Jotul wood stove, the good Reverend delivered his advice, to wit: “As individuals, if you feel like you’re doing it all then you’re probably just doing the required amount.” This was followed by a tale about two stubborn mules in a pasture that were yoked together but had separate ideas. I could understand the mules being yoked together for work but thought that their owner must have a sadistic sense of humor to turn these independent minded animals out to pasture with the yoke still on. Whatever — the old standard pre-wedding preacher talk, I supposed.

We didn’t know quite what to expect when we were summoned to the Rev. Lind’s home. What was it that he couldn’t tell us at church? Neither of us were churchgoers so we feared the worst — a candid discussion of the physical aspect of marriage. We were quite relieved when he concluded his lecture after the mule tale.

The wedding day finally arrived and, true to the weather in those latitudes, it was cold. The wedding was held at the church, after the sermon. I dropped a $50 bill in the long-handled wicker collection basket as it was being purposefully thrust at me by a pious old deacon.

Our families had come from out-of-state for the event and anyone present was invited to stay for the ceremony. A surprising number of local folks did stay while a few staunch churchgoers in their scratchy looking woolen suits stomped out noisily in protest of the tiny bottle of champagne stashed in the church community room downstairs to toast the bride and groom.

This was 1977, at the height of the Back to the Land Movement just before fashionable society realized all of the work that was involved and went disco. The groom wore new blue jeans and a red plaid woolen shirt with a string tie as a nod to formality. The bride wore a long white dress, which made her look like some kind of fairy wood nymph. She made the dress herself.

The ceremony was unrehearsed with us repeating after the Rev. Lind. This went fine until we got to “doth plight thee my troth.” I stumbled here and asked that these lines be repeated. The witty old preacher said something that smoothed it all over but I didn’t quite make out what it was over the sound of my fiendish younger brother cackling behind me.

I don’t recall our footwear during the ceremony but photos taken immediately after show us wearing our customary knee-high gum boots. We may have been making a “back to the land” fashion statement but to attempt the walk back to her cabin on the icy path would land anyone more formally shod on their stylish tush.

The couple honeymooned in New England, the mid Atlantic, the Midwest and West Virginia — so far.

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