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TOM DORSEL: A wedding unlike any other

TOM DORSEL: A wedding unlike any other

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“One for the ages” is what sportscaster Jim Nantz might have called it – that is, our 1970 wedding that led to our 50th anniversary this past month.

Amazing that we made it this far, considering how it got started.

Multiple-choice proposal

Sue and I had been dating off and on for 17 months, starting on Valentine’s Day, 1969, with no intention of marriage on either of our parts. We weren’t even “going steady,” as a committed relationship was called back in the ’60s.

Instead, we were young 20s, finishing school and trying to find our place in the world. Sue had just finished nursing school, and I was between my master’s degree and Ph.D.

The preceding couple of months had seen me take an unusual strategy for finding a Ph.D. program: I flew around the country, from Boston to San Diego, on military hops and personally appeared at university psychology departments and handed them copies of my application materials. The effort had proved fruitless, so much so that on the evening of July 8, 1970, Sue and I were discussing my fate, and it was decided that I might as well go in the army and get my 2-year ROTC obligation out of the way.

Not a welcome choice, particularly since the Vietnam War was still raging. But I was relieved to some extent that a decision had been made. However, upon returning home I found an envelope from the University of New Mexico in the mailbox. The letter inside read, “You have been accepted into the Ph.D. program at UNM starting in August.”

August! It was July 8! I was in, but how could I tie everything up in Cincinnati, make this move, find a place to live, get a part-time job and be ready for classes by August? I called Sue after midnight with the news and suggested we talk the next day.

It might help to understand that moving from Cincinnati to New Mexico in 1970 might as well have been like moving to Australia today. It was almost certain our lives, Sue’s and mine, would go different directions and never the twain would meet again.

So, with all of the romance that I could muster the next day, I suggested three options: (1) I could go alone, and that probably would be the end of us as a couple; (2) we could go together unmarried, but that would be against our mutual Catholic beliefs; or (3) we could go married. So, putting together our best irrational processes, we said, “Well, what the heck, let’s get married.” Such was life in that crazy era.

Whirlwind engagement and wedding

With the proposal out of the way, next came the 10-day engagement. As an aside, one thing Sue and I have always been is task-oriented — good at getting organized and doing things efficiently. A 10-day engagement and wedding was one of our first assignments.

No time to mail out invitations, so we and our parents just called friends and relatives. The church was easy, right up the street from Sue, a magnificent basilica overlooking all of downtown Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. I got my favorite tenor to sing the Panis Angelicus, my brother the priest flew in to say the Mass and perform the ceremony, and cousin Billy flew in from New Jersey to be the best man. We had four witnesses on each side, all simply wearing their best outfits.

Accordingly, on July 18th, the wedding went off without a hitch — ceremony, music, pictures and all. After the wedding it was a noon reception at Sue’s parents’ house, a family dinner at a local hotel and then a backyard reception at my parents’ house, which we didn’t leave until after midnight. Cousin Billy and I provided the entertainment with our guitar/vocals, so we really had to stay!

Around 1 a.m., Sue and I, still in our traditional wedding attire that we had worn all day, piled into the backseat of Billy’s car for the ride to our hidden car and 4x6 U-Haul trailer, which contained all of our belongings for the new life ahead. Thank God for Billy, who served as best man, entertainer, chauffeur and even took me out the night before the wedding for a bachelor-party beer, just the two of us.

The ‘honeymoon’ and second ‘wedding’

Down the road we went to New Mexico, planning to find a motel around Indianapolis. It never dawned on us that it would be 2 a.m. and there would be one “no-vacancy” sign after another.

Thus, we drove all night and finally found a motel in Terra Haute, Indiana, around 6 a.m. Whew! We were finally here, married and our first place to ourselves.

But, wait a minute! It was Sunday morning. We had to go to Sunday Mass. Remembering seeing a Catholic church on the way in, we dashed down there, Sue still in her big, traditional wedding dress and me in my tux. Down the center aisle of the church we went, looking every bit like a flash wedding was breaking out.

The priest had already begun Mass, the little old ladies were assembled and everyone, particularly the priest, was in a mild state of shock. Anyway, we explained everything after Mass, and about that time, we just wanted to get some sleep and whatever else might go along with that after a 10-day engagement and wedding.

The Albuquerque surprise

The third night of our “honeymoon,” we were in Tucumcari, New Mexico, in a $5 motel pulling two twin mattresses onto the floor, saving our money for the unknown expenses that lie ahead.

The fourth morning we stopped in little Santa Rosa, New Mexico, for breakfast. From there onto Albuquerque, entering from the eastern heights with Sue shocked to see such a sprawling metropolis. I had failed to mention much about the city she was going to live in. She said she thought it was going to be a small town like Santa Rosa. Now, I was the one who was shocked and felt really loved to think that she would marry somebody whom she assumed was taking her to a little New Mexican village in the middle of the desert.

So, that was the beginning. We are still waiting to take the real honeymoon, and we can combine it with a real 50th anniversary extravaganza that isn’t going to happen in the middle of a pandemic.

Our golden anniversary was a nice, quiet celebration, though; and maybe one day we’ll take that last, great, ’round-the-world adventure, like going to Albuquerque seemed to be back then.

I know what we’ll do. We’ll go to Australia!

Tom and Sue Dorsel are “residents emeriti” of Florence, now permanently honeymooning and celebrating their 50th anniversary on Hilton Head Island. Both can be reached on Facebook.

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