As our friendly Cuban barber made the final pass with his glistening stainless steel straight edge, I was happy he wasn’t a Sweeny Todd fan but then again some guys in the shop said "marriage is a death sentence itself." All the books said “Don’t get a haircut” on THE DAY but they didn’t say anything about the fresh shave from a professional. As he leans the chair back and wraps the hot towel on my 26 year old face I am transported to a world just a couple years back and remembering “the moment.” It still makes my heart flutter and my body go warm when I think about it today which I am sure is the best of all signs.
She sat across the crowded Irish Center that was filled well beyond capacity that night; but, I am certain the Philadelphia Fire Marshal named Doherty or McLaughlin, or something like that, wouldn’t visit and make a stink on a night dubbed the Donegal Ball, would he? It’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving and this Irish Dance is a tradition as important to the Donegal immigrants as the crowning of this year’s Queen. Our squad of Glavin’s and McGinley’s arrived reasonably early, in typical Irish fashion with 15-18 cousins who said “yes” to the rallying cry “Let’s Go to the Donegal Ball.” Naturally we had a few “under age” but we’re seasoned at getting by bouncers checking ID’s; one generation teaches the next how to slip thru the door. To this very day I still know my oldest brothers social security number and birth date by heart, even his zodiac sign for the specially trained doorman! BTW, his name is Michael, big surprise, and his zodiac sign is “Scorpio” if you must know!
We were at a table at one end of the hall, close to the band. Most of the older folks are seated at the other end of the hall away from the band, choosing to “visit” the dance floor instead of "spilling" on to it like us. You can mark the ages and generations in the Irish Hall by table designations, 20’s next to the loud speakers and dance floor, 40’s about halfway down so they can chat, gossip and pass judgment (a special Irish talent), 60’s close to the door, pocketbooks in hand, for the “early exit” and 70’s and 80’s smattered about the hall with their hands over their ears screaming “Padraig or Bridgid, the music is too loud!” I always find this interesting since I can usually hear them complaining above the music, go figure! Our table is filling with bodies and Budweiser’s and the laughs come as fast as the “reels and the jigs.” Everyone appreciates a young group of girls and boys doing the traditional Irish dances and the courtesy afforded these dancers is as reverent as in any Church; talk about DNA mapping.
It doesn’t take long to survey a room, especially in your middle 20’s. What did Goose say to Maverick in the movie Top Gun, “A target rich environment.” There were beautiful girls everywhere and music, beers and laughs with family made for one heck of a fun start to the evening. I often ask myself “What is it about the look across a room and the ability to know?” She was dressed in a jet black skirt, slightly above the knee, a white, dare I say puritan blouse, and a black and white hounds tooth checked jacket. I saw her when the crowds separated as one song caused the floor to empty and the next caused it to fill. It was a change from "fast" dance music to a melodious Irish waltz which had the back of the room coming to the dance floor and the "non waltzing" 20’s and 30’s headed to the bar. There she was the picture post card of the "beautiful Irish woman" and unbeknownst to me, my future wife.
It only took a few more Budweiser’s and a song that I knew wouldn’t make me look like a fool on the dance floor for me to get the courage to ask for a dance. I remember the feeling of the heart pounding, the chest a bit inflated under my argyle sweater, no Abercrombie and Fitch in those days, and the adrenaline of hope. I’d already declared that “I am going to ask her to dance” to the team assembled at the table and I knew rejection would make for a long long walk back to the table. I learned later that Ann was flanked by her mom and dad and she was, gasp, the designated driver. That information would have probably altered my approach, if not stopped it in its tracks, as I was hoping she’d had a few drinks over the course of the evening as well. I am a much more handsome man if the girl’s had a few gin and tonics! Most who know me today, know that I took the “pledge”, which is Irish for “On the wagon,” but I can tell you today that more than a few beers on this late November evening provided just enough liquid courage to chart a magnificent new course in my life. FYI, you won’t see that on any AA brochures.
I am convinced that had I lived in Greece, the Oracle of Delphi would have predicted, “You’ll meet your future wife tonight,” and I didn’t even have to sacrifice a dove or a ram. It was fate and PETA was happy. The conversation was easy, the attraction stronger by the minute, and the watchful eye of the parents less intimidating by the second. Ann, ever the smart one, shielded me from the watchful eye of her Galway dad. What started as a night of family fun ended with an exchange of phone numbers, a peck on the cheek and the seeds for the start of a another Irish generation planted. Ann moved to Washington DC and lived with her sister Mary and brother-in –law John and I was working in DC selling drugs…no no pharmaceuticals. Like I said, it was fate. I remember the first date, walking up to the door of the Olney, MD house, thinking “Nice pad”, as John Kane opened the door and welcomed me to his home. I am pretty sure I heard him sigh a familiar sigh like the one from my roommate in college; the name Maurice conjures so many images. Ann and I headed to Bethesda for Italian food, even though deep down I wanted a steak, and we talked as if we’d known each other for years. Ann says she knew that night; I was a bit more recalcitrant. I probably knew too but I’m nothing if not a bit slower on the uptake in this relationship.
The Wedding Day was announced for February 2, 1991, Groundhogs Day if you must laugh; most folks wondered “Why in such cold weather?” If you must know, college spring breaks and college lacrosse schedules made for a challenging calendar and for a guy madly in love, sooner was certainly better than later. An Irish guy can only take so much guilt. So the magical day arrived, the weather so beautiful it proved that prayers of Irish mom’s can be heard in PA and DE. I waited patiently at the Altar with my freshly shaved face and my 2 week old haircut as the doors to the St. Catherine’s vestibule opened and I flashed back to that dimly lit Irish hall in Philadelphia and thought “Where’s the Fire Marshall when you need him?” Just kidding!!!!
As we cemented our vow “To love and to honor…” this very day 19 years ago I am overwhelmed at the commitment we made to each other, even today. We have experienced so much together. There are things I won’t ever forget like the day she said “I’m pregnant…all 3 times,” the magical difference of the night the tears rolled down her face, pregnant with Eamon, and said “Maurice, I’m scared!” and the day she leaned over the upstairs railing at Weldin Ridge, expecting 180 people for our annual Christmas party Dec 16th, and said “Maurice, we need to go to the hospital, its time.” Our youngest, Pearse, was born a few hours later, a millennium baby. My brothers and sisters managed the night’s party and not suprisingly most of them were at that fateful Irish Dance not so many November’s ago. The look of “no shit Sherlock” on Ann's face when I announced “I want to quit my job and start a company” and shortly there after the look on her dad’s face when he said “Is he out of his mind?” The day we moved the business out of the house on Ruby Drive into the first commercially leased building because Eamon was coming home from the hospital. The day Ann announced that she was done working at Booz, Alan and Hamilton. We picked schools and changed and rebuilt homes; we made business decisions and established life goals together. So many memories like the day we both agreed to leave everything and travel Europe for a year with our 3 boys. We listened carefully to successfully married couples like our parents and heeded their advice when they said “Enjoy marriage and life together, it goes so fast.” Oh how true, is it Groundhogs Day….again?
Before I close, to those guys that said “Marriage is a death sentence” I say to you “oh contraire” marriage is Ponce de Leon’s spiritual “Fountain of Youth.” To my bride, the mother of our children and my best friend I say, today, the simplest of words again “I Do”, and “I love you.” Now where’s the priest that says “You may now kiss the bride?” He can even say it in “Italian” if he wants: "Lei potrebbe baciare ora la sposa!