Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Vignettes from Vermont: Vows and Chowda Part 2

BENNINGTON -- Jim Carroll pulled out a top hat at the top of the hour and turned Jimmy's Curbside Grill into Jimmy's Curbside Chapel of Love, Vermont's tastiest wedding spot. 

The son of a former longtime Bennington Select Board member, a rookie selectman himself, followed dad's footsteps into another public arena as well by presiding over his first marriage amid the lunch crowd that came to chow burgers and dogs and today's special.

From the grill side of the food cart, Carroll, sporting a day-glow yellow T-shirt, put down his tongs and spatula and 2-hand clutched a piece of paper. His dad, Joe Carroll, married some 400 couples. Son was about to tie his first knot. He asked the Army man and the Army woman if they'd have each other. Yes. Carroll then asked them to present their vows.

The participants stood on the side where you order New England's best chowda while Jimmy's pop stares at you from a framed back and white photo. Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" and Bruno Mars' "Just the Way You Are" played on a loop in the background. Eighteen-wheelers caused a ruckus as they rambled past the cart from the east. Cars honked from the west. It smelled like cheeseburgers and diesel fuel.

The first-time groom held an unfolded piece of paper with 129 words in his right hand, held her left hand in his left hand and looked into her eyes as much as he could without peeking at what he wrote. He promised to help her achieve her most brilliant triumphs and to be her pack mule in her darkest hours. Their love, he told her, is as perennial as the grass and he promised to provide it with the love, water and sunshine it needs to grow high.

The second-time bride, whose divorce became official 9 days ago, unfolded her piece of paper that had 149 words. In her off-white dress, fashion circa '67 or so, she started 5 sentences to her new "partner in life" with "I will respect" and "I promise" and "I will cherish" and I will fight" and I will always". Above all, she promised to be a true and loyal friend.

They slipped rings on each other's fingers.

At 12:15, the man who makes the "New England blood clot" announced them as man and wife and said they could kiss.

Their lips met.

Then Chris did the War's End thing and dipped and kissed his new wife. Jennifer loved it.


Vermont's newest married couple chose Jim the curbside cook to officiate their wedding because "when we first moved here," Jennifer said, "we thought his hot dog stand was cute."

Chris and Jennifer met for lunch at Jimmy Joe's Curbside Grill every Friday. They ate burgers and talked about where they wanted to get married. It didn't take long to realize the answer: "Why not ask Jim?"

"He's always very sociable when we're around, so why not?" Chris said.

Bennington has 15 full-time Justices of the Peace but Vermont offers 1-day Justice of the Peace passes for $100. Town Clerk Tim Corcoran said Bennington's Justices of the Peace do much more than perform marriages or civil unions. Elected every 2 years on the November ballot, they sit on the Board of Civil Authority which means they work at election polls and help settle tax appeals and work on the Board of Abatement.

Brittany Elliott's job title with the State of Vermont is Administrative Services Tech 2. It should be Woman Who's on Top of the Ball. She told Digital First Journalism today that "anyone" can officiate weddings or civil unions by filling out the form and paying $100; Chris and Jennifer paid Carroll's $100 fee. And without skipping a beat Elliott said 620 people have used the temporary officiant program in 2012. Last year 669 people, some as far away as Australia, were temporary Justices of the Peace in Vermont.


This man and woman walked into Fiddlehead at Four corners at 11 this morning.

I told them about the funky wedding at High Noon and that's when Jean said that today is her and Daron's 25th wedding anniversary.

They met in '84 while working together at a store in Connecticut. These days he's a personal trainer and school custodian in Glostenbury and she's a marketing manager for Bob's Stores. Jean thought Daron was "very handsome" and had a "great sense of humor". Daron loved that Jean was "smart" and "did for me with no problems".

They split up two years into their relationship but got back together by trying the long-distance thing. That's what sealed the deal, Jean said. She loved knowing that on the day of her 25th anniversary a Bennington couple was an hour away from tying the knot.

Why have Daron and Jean lasted for 25 years? Easy, Daron said: "Just say Yes, Dear."

Jean laughed and said "On both parts!"

She also pointed to a John DeAmicis drawing on the wall at Fiddlehead at Four Corners. It shows a man and a woman pushing a rock uphill with quote by Churchill underneath: "Never, Never, Never Give Up".


About four hours after Jean and Daron shared their story and three hours after Chris and Jennifer wrote the next chapter in their story, a man and a woman by the name of Allan and Jeanne Schiller walked into Fiddlehead at Four Corners and shared their story.

Is August 15 National Love Story Day?

There was harmonic convergence in the tune Allan and Jeanne told. She's a Jersey-Jewish American Princess from Teaneck. He's a New Yorker from Yonkers whose family fled Poland weeks before the Nazis arrived. The divorcees met on e-Harmony. 

For 15 minutes Jeanne told me how wonderful e-Harmony's matching service is. 

How couldn't it be? The e-matchmakers gave her Allan.

I told her about the friends who beg me to sign up for J-Date to find a nice Jewish girl. I've always scoffed at the notion. Told her I had my bar mitzvah and went to confirmation and that I've been a bad Jew ever since. She shook her head. She's heard it all before.

She told me about the time she signed up with J-Date six years ago. She was 55. A couple of 20-something-year-old guys tried to hook up with her.

"I wanted to slap their faces!"

I couldn't help but look at Allan's arms for the tattoo.

It wasn't there.

He was born in Katowice, in the south, close to where Poland borders the Czech Republic and Slovakia. His parents escaped before the Holocaust began, by weeks, maybe even days. Allan was 4 when his father moved the family to Vienna, then Paris, then Portugal, then Mozambique. His parents always thought they would return to Poland, go home to Katowice.

Years passed. Allan's father was a Zionist and decided to locate the family to the new State of Israel. "It was too dangerous to go over the Mediterranean," he said. "We spent 30 days on a boat around the cape of Africa."

Allan came to America in 1950 and made for himself a wonderful life. From 1964 to 1999 he played in the New York Philharmonic's first violin section. While Allan walked around the gallery, stopping at the wall of John DeAmicis art, Jeanne walked back up to the counter and whispered "Leonard Bernstein hired him." I know she loves that part the best.

Before they left Fiddlehead, Jeanne fiddled the suggestion again: e-Harmony.

And why not? It paved the way for a Yonkers-Teaneck love story for the ages.


After their favorite curbside griller married them and after they cut the two cakes, one of them carried down the street by those Crazy Russian Girls, and were glowing in the moment, and as the lunch crowd formed to order in the spot they had just promised each other forever, Chris and Jennifer explained why they decided to stick it out through good and bad.

"We can't stay away from each other," she said, "so we thought we may as well make it official and solid." No other girl, he said, possessed her dynamite combination of "intelligence, beauty and spunk. She's my complement." She blushed.

They ordered a couple of foot-long hoagies, cheesesteak for him, today's special for her: chicken with cheese and bacon and ranch dressing. While she waited for hers, she took a bite of his.

They did not go on a honeymoon. Not yet, anyway.

Chris was on lunch break. He works at the hospital in town and fixes important technologies such as X-ray machines.

But, he said, "They told me I could take as long as I wanted for lunch."

The Curbside Chapel of Love's cook, still wearing that top hat at the bottom of the hour, was happy to serve the newlyweds.