My parents were married to each other twice, in the same month of the same year.
Dutch Catholic practice meant a couple would start their life together first with a civil wedding followed by a religious ceremony a short time later. Both days are captured in my parent’s photo collection, each revealing in comparison and in the details.
The civil wedding took place on April 10, 1958 at the city hall in Tilburg. My parents would mention this occasion, bringing attention to the date each year, but never pretending to celebrate, just acknowledging its existence. They treated the day like the mere formality it appeared to be, a necessary step to ensure the legality of the marriage. Not even the bride and groom removed their winter coat indicating the brevity of the whole process.
The four photos in my parents collection documents the moment as if an official record. One shows an officer of the city, suitably dressed, standing behind a simple desk in a meeting room with rows of chairs, presiding over the pronouncement. There are two pictures, one each of Mom and Dad signing the document. And finally a fourth one of another civil servant handing a copy to the newly married couple. There are no smiles to be found. My Dad’s face is expressionless; my mother looks scared in two of them.
I recall seeing these pictures before but did not heed them any attention. Now, in the process of scanning, I noticed how the two sets of parents were in attendance; and in another photo, the two younger siblings from each side were seated, perhaps the designated witnesses. Given it was a Thursday, I expect the ceremony took place later in the afternoon enabling everyone to attend without losing a day of work. A careful examination also reveals a ring on the right hand of both my Mom and Dad. Whether the ring was placed there during the ceremony or they came to the service wearing them already is unclear. My mother never had an engagement ring so the wearing of the rings on the right hand may have been the sign of commitment.
The day always struck me as a curious process: Was the event celebrated in some manner? Did everyone go to my father’s home for coffee afterwards? At the end of the evening, did my parents go their separate ways or did they begin to cohabitate?
The second wedding took place in Kaatsheuval at St. Josef Kerk on Wednesday, April 30, 1958, the day my parents celebrate as their anniversary, the one forged in memory. The invitation announced two simultaneous events: the celebration of my maternal grandparents 40th wedding anniversary and the marriage between Piet de Cock and Riet van Rooij. My parents would be married by my Uncle Herman, one of Mom’s older ordained brothers, at 9:30 am followed by a mass which also commemorated the anniversary. All were invited to a reception from 1:30 to 2:30 across the street from the van Rooij home at a local bar/eatery.
The day also coincided with Queen Beatrix’s birthday, a national holiday. Coupled with the poverty of the van Rooij family, I expect it made sense to combine the two celebrations into one on a day when people could attend without missing any work time and the family saved the cost of two separate events.
Nevertheless, it was the big day, the one to remember. A professional photographer was hired as numerous staged shots are part of the picture collection. The rings from the civil ceremony are not evident until you see them on each of their left hands by the end of the ceremony. The handful of amateur pictures at the reception reflect some celebration and toasting of the new couple, a marked contrast to the earlier proceedings. Only years later did my Mom talk about some of the stresses of the day, particularly an ongoing friction with her mother.
As I sort through the pictures, the day also raises numerous questions. For example, the invitation lists the address of my Dad, not at the home of his parents, but rather at another place, on the same street, in what appears to be an apartment above a business. Was he living in his own place at the time? Is that where my parents retreated after the reception and began living? Did they go to work the next day or were they in the midst of preparing for their next move?
I expect when our kids look back at our wedding photos, questions will arise for which they can only speculate. There are always stories behind the pictures which unless unveiled in some manner will remain a secret or a mystery. I am reminded of a passage from The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson:
Reality never changes. Only our recollections of it do. Whenever a moment passes, we pass along with it into the realm of memory. And in that realm, geometries change. Contours shift, shades lighten, objectivities dissolve.
Memory becomes what we need it to be.
What we do know about my parents is that less than a month later, the newlyweds boarded a plane headed for Canada.
Their flight landed in Montreal, May 28. They passed through customs after midnight before joining a train headed for Woodstock to meet a “girlfriend” who would ferry them to the small town of Belmont. Their time there was short as was the relationship with this woman given there is no evidence of her after that summer. My parents eventually ended up in London, Ontario.
They arrived as landed immigrants, acquired permanent resident status and attended English classes at Clarke Road Secondary School in order to help meet the test for passable English proficiency. Eight years later, with four boys in tow, having moved four times from one rental place to another before finally buying their home on Kostis Avenue, my parents became Canadian citizens on Thursday, May 19, 1966. There are no pictures to mark the day but they walked away with their papers and a congratulatory parchment from the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire.
The most memorable story which my mother fondly repeated, however, was about the ceremony itself. At the beginning, the judge asked each of the candidates their reason for choosing Canada. Mom responded by saying they came here for their honeymoon and never left. After the swearing in, the judge handed each person their certificate. When he got to my parents, he presented the bible as a gift and welcomed them to the country with the unforgettable greeting,
“I hope your honeymoon lasts forever”.