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Eloping in Alaska

Posted: July 26, 2014 - 11:01pm
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Todd Mace dips Melissa Griffiths during a small celebration after their July 3 elopement.   Kaley McGoey - Becoming Images
Kaley McGoey - Becoming Images
Todd Mace dips Melissa Griffiths during a small celebration after their July 3 elopement.

“When you know, you know,” is what many people have said in response to my sudden marriage, but only after they’ve sputtered out: “What? Really? You’re joking.”

It caught everyone by surprise.

I called my mom five minutes after signing a document cementing one of the biggest decisions of my life.

“Hi, what are you doing?” I asked my mom. Sitting with my step-dad? Perfect.

“So, I sort of just got married,” I told her.

She was surprisingly calm, considering she didn’t remember the name of her now-son-in-law.

“You know, I sent you the picture of him making me dinner,” I prompted. “His name is Todd.”

I don’t blame anyone for being surprised. We surprised ourselves.

It wasn’t so long ago that I ended a fairly long-term relationship, and Todd and I certainly haven’t been together for very long. Admittedly, neither of us was even certain marriage would be a good idea in general, let alone only months after beginning to date — we have a lot of divorce in our family histories.

An unromantic proposal

On a Sunday evening, just welling with love — I think Todd had made dinner again and I guess it must have been delicious — I said as awkwardly as you can imagine: “I had this terrible idea. We should just elope.”

I laughed it off, uncertain why I would have even said such a thing, except there was a part of me that thought it wasn’t a terrible idea. As the evening wore on, that part of me grew more assertive. The only reason it would be considered a terrible idea, after all, was because it seemed too soon.

In the history of impulsive decisions, mine have turned out amazingly well. At 19, I told my parents, “I’m over 18, I can make my own decisions,” and spent a year in Germany, rather than abiding by their wishes. At 21, I called my mom to tell her I’d be moving to Alaska two weeks after college graduation.

It was impulse and gut instinct that told me Todd was the person I should be with, and it was impulse and gut instinct that told me I wasn’t crazy to say, “Actually, it’s not a terrible idea. I think we should do it.”

I must not have been crazy because he agreed.

Really?

Alaska, probably for the best, doesn’t allow one to make a brash decision and follow through all in one day, at least where marriage is concerned.

Waking up on Monday morning, we looked each other in the eyes and nodded. Yep. We were going to elope. We went to the most romantic of state office buildings, the Bureau of Vital Statistics, at mid-morning.

At first, we filled out the wrong form. On a poorly photocopied blue sheet of paper, things got weird when it asked why we wanted the marriage license: Personal records, Legal records, etc.

“What? Can’t we just say love?” I cried out.

That was the form to request a copy of a marriage license, though. The actual marriage license application doesn’t ask you why you’re doing it.

People get married for a lot of different reasons. Some because there’s a baby on the way or already there, some for citizenship, some because they’ve been together for so long, some because it’s been arranged, some because it’s what is expected culturally — we did it because it felt right, because we’re in love — societal norms about engagement periods be damned.

We didn’t do it on Monday, though. That’s not allowed. There’s a three-day wait period for marriage licenses to be effective, which may be a perfect amount of time to plan a wedding.

Making plans

I’m a deadline driven person, which is why I didn’t start writing this all down until my editor gave me one. Planning a wedding in three days fed off that procrastinatorial rush of energy that comes with a looming deadline.

While I have built some positive relationships with local clergy, neither Todd nor I participate in organized religion, so a traditional church wedding wasn’t for us. Juneau doesn’t have the option for a courthouse wedding with a Justice of the Peace either. Getting married here does take a bit of planning.

A list of marriage commissioners can be obtained at the courthouse. There are just shy of a dozen people who can officiate a wedding. Many people have friends or loved ones appointed marriage commissioners for a day, but that is estimated to take two weeks, and we were enchanted with the idea of getting married as spontaneously as arrangeable.

I had heard Arts Editor Amy Fletcher talk about Mary Lou Spartz, who was on the list. That was good enough for me. I called and left a tremendously awkward message about needing a marriage commissioner. Later, I engaged in an even more tremendously awkward conversation about needing a marriage commissioner on July 3 (yes, three days away).

“Does the groom know?” asked Mary Lou. I realized I must have sounded crazy, rattling off vague plans for a three-day-away wedding with no set time. I also had the conversation in Fred Meyer, trying with all my might to never mention the words “wedding” or “marriage.”

Secret weddings make real life like a game of Taboo.

Mary Lou was available, we could get married, now we just had to figure out things like location and witnesses and, you know, wedding stuff.

We discussed having it be just us, Mary Lou and two witnesses, but we both have a lot of friends and are not particularly good at keeping secrets, it turns out. We didn’t invite a large amount of people, just 10.

One of these friends, Rosie Ainza, happened to be planning a cocktail party for the night of July 3 and, when she received a message from Todd with the news, she reportedly started crying in the snack aisle of Super Bear. She also changed the party from a patriotic theme to something brides-to-be would be pinning like crazy (if you’re a bride-to-be, I know you use the site Pinterest).

Rosie also asked me if she could make me a bouquet, which meant there were two major things off my plate in terms of planning a wedding. She had a banner and made a cake and put together the most perfect little post-wedding party I would discover later.

Picking a spot was another thing many people stress over. One afternoon, I took my dog on a walk and picked a spot right off Basin Road, near the Mount Roberts Trailhead. Perfect.

Though it wasn’t meant to be traditional at all, I also found a dress. I spotted it in the window at Boheme and somehow managed to buy the cream-colored lace frock without eliciting suspicion from owner Ann House.

Getting secret-married

As each day started, we grinned and nodded. We were going to get married.

We only had to explain to a few people that we were going to elope and that it wasn’t some elaborate joke. We definitely had not told our parents — not because they wouldn’t approve, probably, maybe — or our employers. I didn’t, anyway. Todd was less good with the secret part of eloping. He did tell his employer, mostly so he could get the afternoon off. He also gave in and told his mother, sister and step-father.

I didn’t even tell my roommate, so after finishing work early I went to prepare for the big day at my friend Sarah Arntson’s apartment, located conveniently near the proposed wedding location.

Some of us gathered before hand, possibly to drink some champagne, but we all met at the Mount Roberts Trailhead at 6:30 p.m. on July 3.

Wearing a cream-colored, lace dress with a flower in my hair, I spotted my future husband and more of our friends. At this point, the whole evening became surreal. When everyone had arrived, we all walked down to the scenic spot, with Mike Paris taking Mary Lou’s arm.

Once we had all settled into our places in front of Gold Creek, Mary Lou read vows that seemed to perfectly exemplify our love, even if we were the only three who could hear them over the rushing of the water.

That’s it. We were married. We kissed. Our friend Kaley McGoey, with Becoming Images, took photos. Then it was time to celebrate. Well, after I called my mom.

The aftermath

After the wedding, Todd and I dropped my dog, Beau, off at home. My roommate was home, so I told her too — and that I would probably be moving out at some point, you know, to live with my husband. She was excited, despite having to replace me as a roommate.

I also called my two-years-younger sister to tell her the news. She had just gotten a root canal and was on vicodin. She insisted on talking to my husband and promptly asked him when she would get a niece or nephew — there are some decisions I won’t make impulsively, though.

Beyond family and closest friends, our news was shared in true Millennial fashion: Kaley took a photo on an iPhone, which was Instagrammed and shared on Facebook with the hashtag “#married.” That photo garnered almost 350 “likes” and 94 comments, including a lot of “What” and “Are you joking?” and one “Are you pregnant?” — again, there are some decisions I won’t make impulsively.

Rosie’s party was wonderful, with a small group of our friends — plus some of Rosie’s friends whom I didn’t particularly know, but it was Rosie’s party, really, and they were all nice. I’m thankful she let us hijack it.

We had a champagne toast and danced to “Swept Away” by the Avett Brothers, though our real song is “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher, which we recognized when we both heard it on the radio separately and reported back giddily later. We ended the night watching the fireworks from the Wings Airways docks, then walked back up the hill to go home. His home. We are going to move in together, eventually.

When we woke up in the morning we were married — and many people were very confused. I’ve been telling the story a lot. I’ve told everyone from my roommate’s 8-year-old daughter to my 89-year-old friend, neighbors, friends’ parents and my colleagues at the Empire. I went to tell Ann at Boheme, but she had already heard. Now you know, too.

One thing that has struck me, after telling so many people the details about eloping, is that a lot of people told me, “You did it right.”

My step-dad was apparently disappointed that nobody asked his permission (and nobody would, because this is the year 2014, dad, sorry), and my grandma warned my 20-year-old sister that she’d better not take a page from my book and elope too, but most everyone else seemed almost envious that they hadn’t eloped or that they were already neck-deep in planning an elaborate wedding.

The perks to eloping are obviously the cost (under $300), the lack of planning (some people spend years) and the very short period of time during which one inevitably has butterflies in one’s stomach. There are drawbacks, though. There were family and friends who couldn’t be there who would have liked to be — but we won’t worry about that in our marital bliss, while we hum along to “I Got You Babe” and try to figure out moving in together and meeting each others families for the first time as a married couple.

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. Shannara
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. Shannara 07/27/14 - 06:42 am
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congrats!

congrats!

Elva Bontrager
360
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Elva Bontrager 07/27/14 - 08:05 am
1
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Congratulations!

I believe that the spot you chose to be married in? on? is the place I have always called 'the magic place'. Glad to have it confirmed. :)

Melissa Griffiths
186
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Melissa Griffiths 07/29/14 - 02:48 pm
1
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Thanks

Thanks, Shannara and Elva. And I think there's definitely some magic there.

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