When We Went Hither–and what we swore

“Don’t even think about it,” Tizi said.

We were walking down to the local market the other day, a two-mile round trip on foot. It was a bright morning in October, perfectly autumnal. I was telling her about a professor of mine who used to say au-TOOM-nal, a pronunciation I liked and tried on for a while, only to be interrupted and told to say au-TUM-nal instead. I looked it up. Au-TUM-nal, said the dictionary. So the TOOM was idiosyncratic. Still, I thought it seemed poetic and would return to it occasionally for effect.

“What do you say?” I asked her.  


In places the sidewalk was spotted with rotting walnuts, which meant we walked single file at those points, dodging the black smears under foot. 

Well I was thinking about it. 

It was a simple question. We’re getting older. We walk to the market and back to stay young, but it’s not really working. We’re still getting older. Eventually, we will be old. We’ve been married a long time. What if, I wondered, a few years from now, when we arrive at our 50th wedding anniversary, we celebrate it with an exchange of vows? 

And she said, “Don’t even think about it.” 

“Once was enough,” I said.

“It worked, didn’t it?” 

I thought about it last Saturday, at Anthony and Allyson’s wedding. Like ours decades ago, it was an Italian Catholic wedding. Unlike ours, their processional was Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” a tune anyone would recognize, stately, dignified, played on the church organ much too loud; a piece of music I like even more now that I know the title. Man’s desiring.  Hell yeah.  What was the processional at our wedding? I do not remember. I do remember Tizi was adamant–she is almost always adamant–that there would be no Here-Comes-the-Bride at her wedding. (Note the possessive pronoun.) Somehow we got down the aisle, to what music I don’t remember. 

Then Anthony and Allyson vowed the conventional vows. I, Anthony, take you Allyson… What were our vows? I do not remember those either. After vows and communion, Anthony and Allyson exited to the music of Henry Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary, again easily recognizable, played on the roaring organ. It was grand, triumphant. At Tizi’s wedding I would have been happy with the traditional Mendelssohn exit with its big organ fanfare. Corny, I know. But you only get married once. Theoretically, at least. Tizi was adamant about nixing that conventional There-Goes-the-Bride exit, da da dah-dah da da da. We retreated up the aisle to the tune of “God’s Blessing Sends Us Forth.” 

It was a good send-forth, I admit. We’ve lasted.  

Since then, especially in the last twenty years, as we’ve grown together, at every wedding we attend, when the couple exchange vows, I feel myself sinking into a slough of unashamed sentimentality. Sometimes I reach for her hand, which she will hold and lightly squeeze. It’s more than humoring me. It’s a sincere squeeze. We listen, and I feel a twinge of regret, baffled at the memory gap. What did we say?    

“Do you remember our vows?” I ask her.


“Doesn’t that bother you?”


“I wanted to plight my troth. Didn’t you want to plight your troth?” True to form, she does not respond to my nonsense. I don’t blame her. But that solemn language. Those joyful, solemn, forever words that you remember. We never said them.

Right now she’s a few feet in front of me. We’re almost to the market. She points at the fallen walnuts, both green and black, at the edge of the sidewalk and says, “It looks like someone swept here.”

Since then, especially in the last twenty years, as we’ve grown together, at every wedding we attend, when the couple exchange vows, I feel myself sinking into a slough of unashamed sentimentality.

It was the priest’s fault. We sat across his desk from him in the rectory office. “A lot of couples these days,” he said, “are writing their own vows.” We must have shrugged.  “Or–,” he pointed at the red book on the desk–”or you can just go the conventional route.” 

It was 1977. The sunshine of the 60’s still shone upon us. There were garden weddings, river bank weddings, meadow weddings, along with oddball ceremonies, sky diving and scuba diving and mountain climbing weddings. In our case, there were distinct family expectations. I’m sure it happened, but we didn’t know of any Detroit-area Italian Catholics who got married in a corn field. Besides, it was November. Ours would be a very conventional St. Ives ceremony, San Marino Social Club reception wedding. 

But the vows. Sitting there in front of Father Grandpre, I looked at Tizi, she looked at me, and we thought, Well, yeah. We could write our own vows.

We had just finished “marriage encounter,” a workshop for soon-to-be newlyweds offered by–in some parishes required by–the Catholic Church. Think driver’s ed–rules of the road, important road signs, how to avoid fender-benders and head-on collisions. We were in our mid-twenties, arguably still babies. The workshop intended to address our knowledge gap. It was hosted not by a priest but by a deacon, who was married himself. He and his wife and five volunteer couples, ranging from newly married to old experts with 35 years of accumulated wisdom, conducted 4-5 sessions for six candidate couples, on topics such as how to communicate, how to resolve conflict, how to share, how to compromise, how to be sexual. How to be faithful, both to the church and to each other. 

The basics: How to stay married.  

(In the years after, two of those couples, those with the least and those with the longest tenure, were divorced.)

We graduated a few weeks before the ceremony. In the days that followed, we went down the get-ready checklist–rsvp’s, tables and seating and centerpieces, clothes, shoes, flowers, hair, rehearsal dinner menu, reception menu, beverages, ceremony music, music at the reception. There was the issue of what Tizi called bomboniere; when I didn’t get that, what she called favors; when I didn’t get that, what she called little presents to lay on the table at the reception for women who attended the wedding. Not a convention in the small-town, mainly Protestant weddings I had attended. I was learning.

We didn’t forget about our vows. We just actively put the issue out of mind, thinking perhaps: We’ll trust inspiration. Trust love. Rely on spontaneous eloquence in the moment. 

When the time came, when the priest held a microphone in front of my face, standing there in front of the altar I babbled something in the promissory mode. Then it was Tizi’s turn to babble. I remember none of her words either, except for her saying near the end of her vows that she would give herself to me, all of herself. A short silence followed. She had run out of inspiration. That all really stood out, for me and for all to hear. I felt my ears getting warm, probably turning a little red. Of course I wanted her, I wanted all of her, just not in front of 100 people, and especially not in church, and not in front of a priest. 


Troth be told, the language of wedding vows lends a kind of majesty to the proceedings. They are old words, dating from the 11th century. A sample:

Behold, brethren, we have come hither in the sight of God, the angels, and all his saints in the presence of the church, to join together two bodies, of this man and of this woman…that henceforth they may be one in flesh and two spirits in faith and in the law of God, at the same time to the promised eternal life, whatever they have done previously.

So sayeth the priest. Behold! we have come hither. Hither!  We’re not just stopping by to get hitched. We have come hither.

And, seeing it now, I really appreciate the “whatever they have done previously.” Your wedding day was a day of grace, a plea bargain, a reduced sentence. Get into heaven free. 

Even to this day, ceremonial wedding language sounds much like the above. Back then, the man and woman about to be officially joined uttered these words:

I (Name) take thee (Name) to my wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to be bonnair and buxom, in bed and boord [board? ] till death us depart, if holy Church will it permit, and thereto I plight thee my troth. (my emphasis)

And there we go. “And thereto I plight thee my troth.” I wish I had said that. 

And wouldn’t the grooms of today love the “buxom in bed and board” part? They said that in church? Though further inquiry reveals that back then those words pertain to obedience, “to behave properly and obediently through night and day.”

In 1549, with the Protestant Reformation, that ceremonial language, from the 11th century Sarum Rite, based on the Catholic liturgy in Latin, became part of the Book of Common Prayer, informing wedding tradition in the English-speaking world for the next 500 years. It’s the language I heard at every wedding I attended, from childhood into adulthood. Till death do us part.

Then Rick and Tizi rewrote the script.

In contemporary times we are not big on oaths. I can’t remember the last time I was asked to swear an oath. On a passport application? But I didn’t actually swear it. I read it, I thought it, I checked a box on the State Department website.

I learned the pledge of allegiance in elementary school. That felt like an oath. A few years later I memorized and recited some tidbits of Boy Scout law, “a scout is thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent…” Actually not an oath, but it’s oath-ish. A boy in church, I recited the Apostles Creed. In Methodist confirmation classes with Mrs. Hilton and Mrs. Bell, I memorized the 23rd Psalm, Revised Standard Version, with its thys and thous and verbs ending in -est (thou anointest my head with oil? Ew, but cool).  Solemn stuff. In the ninth grade, I memorized the Gettysburg Address in civics class with Mrs. Davison. I thought I might swear an oath when I got my driver’s license. Q: Dost thou know how to drive? Wilt thou obey the law? Stop at all stop signs? A: Verily I do promise to do so. 

Short of being brought up on charges (Do you promise to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth…), we have little opportunity to swear an oath these days.  Maybe less is more.

After their vows, before the Trumpet Voluntary processional, Anthony and Allyson were pronounced man and wife–not husband and wife or man and woman–and introduced in the church as Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Monaco. At their reception, it happened again. The leader of the band invited us to put our hands together, to make some noise, he said, for Mr. and Mrs. Anthony…”  An asymmetry embedded in the language, still embedded in our culture. 

We didn’t forget about our vows. We just actively put the issue out of mind, thinking perhaps: We’ll trust inspiration. Trust love. Rely on spontaneous eloquence in the moment. 

I asked a local monsignor one time, after he’d officiated at a wedding we attended, when they had stopped saying, at the end of ceremony, “What God has joined, let no man put asunder.” 

He looked at me, bewildered. “We never said that.”

Someone said it. I had always heard it. He shook his head. “You’re thinking Anglican, or you’re thinking Protestant. Those words are not part of the Catholic ceremony.”

When’s the last time, the last wedding we attended and I heard those words?  “Let no man put asunder.” I now know they were not said at our wedding.  They should have been.


Half our walk home from the market is uphill. Yea, I say unto you, the path of the righteous and the wedded is sometimes uphill. We always walk the same route there and back, a foolish consistency. We shop light at the market, only one or two items. The shopping is an excuse to go for the walk. This morning I carry a pound of ground turkey, a low-fat meat we eat in the interest of longevity. If we have to get old, we would like to do that together.

I ask Tizi, “I wonder if Anthony and Allyson did the garter and bouquet toss.”

“Don’t tell me you’re still thinking about that.”

“I’m still thinking about that.” 

We did it. Everyone did it at their wedding back then, almost 50 years ago. At our reception, after dinner, after the toasts, relatively early in the evening, the Bill Meyer band played some woozy, jazzy striptease music while I knelt in front of Tizi seated in a chair on the dance floor and reached under her gown for the frilly garter she wore on her right leg. I then tossed the garter in the direction of unmarried men, and she then tossed her bouquet in the direction of unmarried women. All part of the fun, with historical antecedents and symbolism. The bouquet, the deflowering. The garter? In weddings in 18th century England, they played a game called “flinging the stocking.” Further back in history, family and friends actually accompanied the couple to their bed on their wedding night, where the newlyweds were expected to consummate their union. That would be a bit much.

We’re in the walnuts, single file. I say to her back, “I don’t suppose you would be up for a garter toss on our 50th.”


It’s all just a thought experiment. We’ve lasted this long. Do we really need to plight our troths? I need to let it go. What God has joined, let no man–especially the groom–put asunder.

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous says:

    I love this story! Reminding me of our vows and music, just like you totally forgotten!

Leave a Reply