Recent history: new life in big small town
Mark Roy Long
It was June 6, 2003, a Friday. I was at work — teaching in the English department at Texas State Technical College — when my girlfriend/fiancé Melody called me to say that she had set up an appointment for us that afternoon with Justice of the Peace Billy Martin down at the courthouse.
Okay, I said. I'll be there, I said. I told my boss I was taking the afternoon off — and can't remember if I told her why or not — and then headed out.
I had never spent much time in Waco before I moved here in the fall of 2000. I had been through it on I-25 heading either south to Austin or north to the Metroplex but other than stopping for gas on those trips every once in a while but other than that, no time here at all. I had always had the impression from my trips driving through that Waco was a small city. But when I moved here it turned out to be a lot more like a really big small town.
Melody had gotten our marriage license in May. We'd each been married once before — you know, the big-church type of wedding — so we knew that we wanted to do something more low key with just the two of us. I mean, after all, invite one person, invite a thousand. So we had planned to invite no one. We were both in our late 30s. On the one hand, our families certainly wanted us to be happy. On the other, no one really wanted to travel across the country. It was just going to be the two of us — plus the JP.
Back then we lived in a rent house on Ferndale, a block off of Highway 77 just north of Robinson and a little south of the (in)famous traffic circle.
I knew the people I worked with but that was about it. We were regulars at Trujillo's on the Circle, did our laundry at a laundromat next to a Skinny's a few blocks away, and every once and a while would go drink a few beers on a Friday afternoon over at George's and eat some good ol' fried food.
We also lived just half a block from GQ's, a liquor store at the corner of Ferndale and Highway 77 that apparently had been there about a million years. Two guys worked there nights a lot: Tony and Sammy. Tony was the old hand who'd seen it all and was always cracking jokes. Sammy was the new guy — married with kids — who was working while going to school. He always looked really tired of hearing Sammy's jokes — we only heard them every once in a while; it was all night every night for him — and always wound up doing most of the work while Sammy was shooting the breeze with customers either at the counter or at the drive-through window. For a long time they were just about our only friends in Waco.
That afternoon we met up at the house, changed clothes, and headed out. On the way down Valley Mills Drive we pulled in to the HEB near the Baylor football stadium. I went in and got a bottle of champagne. We were planning to go to Cameron Park after the ceremony and drink the champagne while sitting at the edge of the Lover's Leap overlook. Other than that, we didn't really have any exciting plans scheduled — except for a trip to the county courthouse.
Inside the courthouse, we had to wait for a while outside of Billy Martin's chambers. He was doing another wedding before us and when that couple came out with a few of their family members they all looked really happy. Inside the courtroom he performed the ceremony.
I remember looking into my soon-be-wife's eyes and did my best to be in the moment and remember every little detail as well as possible. He threw in some nice flourishes with the wording — "What God has joined, let no man tear asunder!" — and Melody was crying a little and I was choked up as well. We kissed each other and outside of the building kissed each other for a long time again.
It was sort of a big deal as to what we were going to listen to on the car stereo as we went to Cameron Park — you know, the first songs after we were married — and she had that Beatles collection One with all of the hits on it queued up.
One place we hadn't had any knowledge of before moving to Waco was Cameron Park. It turned out to be one of our favorite places: walking the trails along the Brazos, eating picnic lunches at different spots, and just driving slowly through it at various times of the year to see how it looked. Back then you could walk right out to the edge of Lover's Leap so we went off to one side and sat on a rock outcropping and drank our champagne.
Like I said, it was June and so it was pretty warm that day, but not hot, and just did our best to look out over the view and to each other and enjoy the moment as long as we could.
As we drove away from Cameron Park Melody said she had about enough of the limpid pop stylings of the Beatles. She went through her CD case and put in AC/DC's Highway to Hell. We turned it up really loud with the windows down as we cruised along.
I felt like we were starting some new and exciting. It was like the world — typically made up of moments that beat you down and wear you out — was full of infinite promise and possibility.
After a few big O's at George's, we stopped by GQ's on our way home to let Sammy and Tony know the big news. They didn't believe us at first but got really excited when they realized we were telling the truth.
Tony made us wait there while he went home to get his digital camera. Sammy congratulated us, shook my hand, and gave Melody a big hug.
And so, today, those are our official wedding photos: the two of us standing in front of a Jack Daniel's liquor display. On the TV in the background is a shot of some guy clutching the bars of his jail cell from an old episode of Cops. We look like the two happiest people alive. We were the two happiest people alive.
I never thought we'd have been here this long. Or, really, I'd never given any thought to living here at all before I wound up teaching at TSTC. But my wife and I will always be tied to this big small town. It was where we got married. It was the best day of our lives, the first day of our committed shared life together.
Mark Long teaches graphics at Texas State Technical College.
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