A True Story of a Shotgun Wedding
It was 1963 on a warm, sunny November day in Devon, England, six days before President Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas. The ceremony, if you could call it that, was pre-booked for noon. The bride was allowed to sit in the front passenger seat of her father's car just for the drive from her flat to the registry office, while her mother sat in the back with her two younger brothers.
They had travelled from Sussex for the weekend especially to attend their only daughter's marriage to a boy they didn't know. The girl had been rather a handful growing up; misunderstood, she thought, but for whatever reason, her father sent her away to stay with relatives in the deep, dark depths of Devonshire down in the West Country, two hundred and fifty miles away from her home, family, friends, and all things familiar.
The girl's father must have been desperate to get rid of her because the relatives she was sent to stay with ran a public house. A spit and sawdust pub. It's speciality was cheap cider known as scrumpy, which the local men quaffed prolifically. It was rare in those days for an unaccompanied female to go into a pub, and when they did, with their husband, older brother, or male friend, they went into the lounge bar as opposed to the common saloon bar. Pubs did not sell food or coffee back then, only peanuts and booze. The salty snacks were to make the imbibers more thirsty so they would consume more alcohol. At closing time nobody left these pubs in a sober state. On the contrary.
The girl had only been staying there for a few days when the inevitable happened. She was a guest, but treated as a barmaid both by her uncle and the punters, one of which asked her to meet him out the back at closing time. She does not know why she went, even to the extent of taking the dogs with her, an adventure, she later supposed, but one thing led to another and she ended up in a clinch, on the veranda of the cricket pavilion, to be precise.
After that first night, the boy would not leave her alone, he even told her he was looking for a wife. Going steady, getting married and settling down was the last thing on her mind. She had just escaped from her strict father's clutches and was enjoying her new found freedom, but she couldn't shake this boy off. Besides, she fancied him and it was a mutual attraction.
One thing led to another, and the next month this girl thought she must be pregnant. She found a lady doctor who examined her and confirmed her fears. The spinster doctor gave the girl a lecture and told her, I presume you're going to marry the father. Not asked her, told her. So the girl thought this was her only option. It was a very common remedy for this particular problem back then, the easy and legal option where nobody needed to feel ashamed, and their love-child would not be called illegitimate.
The wedding was a simple affair in a bleak back office. They wore their best clothes and it was all over in less than twenty minutes. The father's were the witnesses while the mothers and brothers sat on the wooden chairs at the back of the small room. No music, no flowers, no photographs as the girl had a belly bump, no cake and no speech. The gold band and the certificate was evidence enough, according to her father. Afterwards, the families drove to a local restaurant where the bride's father paid for dinner and one bottle of champagne. He told the boy, she's your responsibility now, I wash my hands of her.
After the dinner her parents and two brothers drove back to Sussex and the girl, now a married woman, was not to see them for another six months when they drove the baby back to her hometown to visit her family and show off their baby. The best part of that visit was her German shepherd dog recognised and remembered her; he put his paws on her shoulders, wagging his tail and licking her face in greeting. He showed her more love than the humans did.
I am writing this fifty-three years later to the day. That girl was me. We were married for fifty-one years but I am a widow now with only my memories to dwell on. But guess what - I'd do it all over again - from start to finish our life together was never boring.
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