“For Better or Worse, For Richer or Poorer . . .”

By Curtis K. Shelburne: CNJ columnist

“For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health . . .”

As I write, it was exactly 30 years ago when my father stood before my bride and myself and asked us to verbally assent to those familiar vows. I assume that we both replied, “I do,” because the service went on and he eventually pronounced us “man and wife.” Actually, though I can’t speak for Juana, I know that during the ceremony I was engulfed in the fog that descends over most grooms during those moments, and I must admit, I don’t remember a lot except that I wore a black leisure suit with white thread and white buttons, I was skinny as a mop handle, and I had a head of then-stylish hair that looked very much, well, like the business end of the aforementioned mop. If you want to see what I looked like, well, I can show you a picture, or you can just go to the mall and take a look at some really stylish teens or tweens presently. Some of those garish 70’s styles are back. I find it painful and mildly nauseating. Once was quite enough.

I’m pretty sure the “for better or worse” part was in there because Dad was a very traditional type in that regard (as I guess I am, too, when it comes to weddings and vows). I like the traditional stuff. So I’m pretty sure he asked us those traditional questions and we gave the traditional answers.

I also suspect that Dad pronounced us “man and wife.” Actually, I’ve modified that some in the wedding ceremonies at which I’ve officiated myself. I now pronounce the couple “husband and wife.” I figure that in Texas, thank the Lord, the fact that the couple has a valid marriage license is “fair to middlin'” proof that at least some county clerk somewhere felt sure that the groom was male already; I’m just taking part in making him a husband.

But, as you probably remember, the old really traditional phrase was, for some reason, “man and wife.” If indeed Dad said that, it was both something of a compliment-and a pretty good stretch. “Boy and wife” was much closer to the truth. “Wet-behind-the-ears boy and wife” was closer still. I was a ripe old 18, you see. Juana, a much older woman, would turn 19 a couple of weeks after we were wed.

I graduated from high school in May, we married in July (after going through a few months of comments like, “Oh, you’re engaged to marijuana”-which was mildly funny the first hundred times or so I heard it), moved to Houston, and I started college. It was a whirlwind summer. Five years later, out firstborn came along. See, no shotgun was involved. We really were dumb and naive enough to get married at 18 on purpose!

I thank God for taking care of children and idiots. We were probably both. But thirty years later, what I wrote as the dedication to my Wing Whispers of Love book a while back has been true for all of those years: “To my wife Juana: The most beautiful whispers of God’s love in my life have always come from her lips.”