The phone rang at nine o’ clock. “Fifteen,” drawled an unfamiliar voice at the end of the line, “If you make it here in fifteen minutes, he’ll try to fit you in.” We were there in less than ten.
‘Payne County Courthouse, Stillwater’ read the sign above the entrance, and inside men wearing Stetsons scurried about in sharp designer suits – nobody batted an eye. This was, after all, Oklahoma, the Sooner State – cowboy country.
“Getting’ hitched?” enquired the man at reception when we asked for directions. “Down that corridor, turn left. But you’d better make it fast, y’all.” And off we went to get hitched wondering why, in what was probably the most laid-back state in the US, everyone should suddenly be in such an almighty hurry.
The room was hard to miss. Enormous brass handles and bold gold letters on the door told us that Judge Ray Lee Wall resided there and we entered a scene reminiscent of the set on Bonanza. A shotgun hung ostentatiously over an elaborate stone fireplace, its shaft shiny and smooth from years of snuggling easily under a hunter’s armpit and as if to prove a point, several of its apparent victims, stuffed and unseeing, stared out at us from their final resting place up on the wall. Judge Ray Lee Wall was clearly a man of some endeavour over and above his legal skills.
The delicate perfume of summer jasmine wafted through open windows to compete with harsher more consuming scents of buckskin and cigar smoke. A clock ticked. Typewriter keys connected to rapid fingers in the adjoining room and there, propped up in a corner looking rather lonely and out of place, was the source of all the kerfuffle – a fishing rod. The realization that our nuptials were to be usurped by a fishing expedition was finally beginning to sink in.
Then, like the dust that blows its way across an Oklahoma plain, the great Judge Wall himself made his entrance. At first, I was too stunned to speak. I had half expected a gowned version of Perry Mason and instead got Indiana Jones meets Clint Eastwood.
“Ready?” he boomed, and the ceremony began. Witnesses were sought. A secretary. A courthouse clerk. The two closest people available at the time. We got hitched in five minutes flat, something of a record, we were told later. A clock was chiming the half hour as Judge Ray Lee Wall extended a hand in congratulations and grabbing his rod with the other, departed on a fishing trip he, at least, has probably long since forgotten.
We picked up the marriage certificate and made our way back to the car park and our faithful rusty old Ford Galaxy. My newly hitched husband started up the engine and we sputtered and heaved towards the expressway that would lead us unwittingly into the oncoming path of Hurricane Elisha.
But that, as they say, is another story.
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