Our Story

by SARAH RAY | 2nd Place, student prose contest

This story is dedicated to my dad. Through his telling the story of how he met my mom, I feel like I got a glimpse into my parents’ own awesome love story.

When Fr. Tom invited couples to come up to the front of the church for a marriage blessing at the end of Mass, no one expected first graders Matt Polska and Susie Anton to walk up there.

“As it’s the first Sunday of the month, any couples who were married in the month of April can come up here by the altar to receive a marriage blessing,” the tall priest said. He picked up his copy of The Priest’s Book of Prayers for Special Occasions, which had been a gift from his parents when he was ordained, and walked around the front of the altar to stand facing the congregation.

Several pairs of men and women stood up from various places around the circular church and made their way towards the front. The pews were laid out in a half-circle facing the altar, which stood on a slightly raised platform, and the crucifix that hung on the wall behind it. On a table beneath the crucifix stood the gold tabernacle, where Fr. Tom had just put the Eucharistic hosts that had been left over after Communion.

Susie’s mom saw her daughter stand up and start walking out of the pew. She reached over and grabbed her hand.

“Oh, Susie honey, it’s just for adults,” she whispered, careful not to wake up the baby girl shifting in her arms. “It’s a marriage blessing.”

“Yeah, Mommy. I gotta go be blessed,” Susie responded complacently, pulling her hand out of her mom’s grasp and walking confidently down the aisle towards the front. Mrs. Anton was about to stand up and run after her but didn’t want to cause a scene in church. She looked over at her husband and shrugged as their daughter walked away from them and toward where the priest was gathered with several married couples.

“Don’t worry,” he murmured, patting her hand. “I’m sure Father will send her back.”

On the other side of the church, Mrs. Polska was trying to get her youngest son to stay in his seat.

“I know you want to walk around, but Mass is almost done. You’ve been very patient.” She patted his hair.

“That’s right, son,” said Mr. Polska, who was sitting next to his wife. “Just one more song, and then we’ll get to go have lunch.”

All Matt said in reply was, “I’ll come back, ’kay, Daddy?” Then he turned around and ran out the other end of the pew, past his two older brothers.

“Wow,” muttered John, the oldest of the three. “He’d make an awesome running back.”

Mr. Polska leaned over to his wife and whispered, “Want me to go after him?”

She suppressed a smile and shook her head. “Just wait, dear,” she said. “I’m sure someone will send him back here.”

As the whole congregation looked on, Matt and Susie made their way toward the front from opposite sides of the church. When they met in the middle, Matt took Susie’s hand, and together they bounced along (Matt skipping, Susie kind of galloping) to where people were gathered at the front if the church, facing the altar. The adults standing there in pairs looked at them in surprise. So did Fr. Tom. Luckily for him, he’d taken an improv class eight years ago when he was in the seminary. He’d figured it would help him with answering people’s questions about the Catholic faith and the priesthood, and it had. But he’d had no idea that he would need it to give a marriage blessing!

Thinking on his feet, Father stroked his short beard and said, “Before we begin this marriage blessing, I’d like to start by asking each of the couples how long they’ve been married, where they got married, and if they have any other details about the ceremony they’d like to share. Mrs. Hubbard, can you start us off?”

“Certainly, Father,” she replied, with her characteristic toothy grin. “George and I were married in Raleigh, North Carolina, sixteen years ago. Isn’t that right, George?”

“It sure is, honey,” Mr. Hubbard said. “It was right before I accepted my job here in the Midwest and we moved halfway across the country.”

After hearing about the Wyatts’ wedding during the Vietnam War (“I still have my lace veil,” Mrs. Wyatt proclaimed), and the Youngs’ wedding last year (“Fr. Tom officiated, and it was held right here,” they said), it was finally Susie and Matt’s turn. Everyone looked at them curiously, most of all their parents.

“So, where’d you young ’uns get married?” Fr. Tom asked, though he wasn’t really expecting an answer.

“Here,” Matt said, bouncing from foot to foot.

“In the church?”

“No, it was at the playground,” Susie responded.

There was mild laughter from the congregation.

“Yeah,” Matt continued. “On Friday we learned about the Sacrament of Holy Macaroni in religion class.”

“You mean Holy Matrimony?” Fr. Tom asked.

“That’s what I said!” said Matt.

“Yeah,” said Susie. She took hold of the sides of her purple sundress and began to swish it around her legs as she talked. “See, after we learned about Holy Alimony, we had recess and I…I picked some flowers. Well, they’re those little purple flowers that my mom says are weeds but I think they’re pretty, so I picked them and I found a napkin that blew out of the big trash can behind the cafeteria, so I put it on my head like a…like a…” She turned to face her parents’ pew and cupped her hand around her mouth as she hollered, “Mommy, what was that thing Aunt Lily put on her head at her wedding called again?”

“A veil?” Fr. Tom suggested as Susie’s mom put her hand to her forehead and shook with laughter. Much of the congregation was reacting similarly. One fifth-grade boy in the back row laughed so hard he bumped his head on the back of the pew and had to be led out into the vestibule by his father, who checked to make sure his head wasn’t bleeding. It wasn’t.

“Yeah, a veil!” said Susie. “It had some ketchup on it.”

“Well, were there any witnesses at your wedding?” When Matt and Susie just looked at him confusedly, Fr. Tom tried again. “Was anyone else there?”

“I was!” Everyone looked around to see who had spoken. Six-year-old Lacey Parks stood up from the back pew, waving her hand. “I was there! It was a be-youtiful wedding. I gave them two sticks and a leaf as a gift. And I hope I get a thank-you note in my mailbox soon,” she added pointedly to Matt and Susie.

“Hi, Lacey!” hollered Susie, jumping up and down. Matt started waving so wildly that Fr. Tom thought his hand might fall off.

By now, most of the adults in the congregation were trying to prevent their chuckling from turning into full-blown laughter.

“Well, I’m glad you had a witness,” said Fr. Tom. “That does make it more official.” He thought for a moment, then asked, “Did a priest do the ceremony?”

“Uh-huh,” said Susie.

“Really?” Fr. Tom raised his eyebrows.

“Yep,” said Matt. “Evan Priest. But he doesn’t wanna be a priest when he grows up, even though it’s his name. He wants to be a vet.”

Fr. Tom chuckled. He couldn’t help it. “Well, that means your wedding was technically officiated by a Priest.”

“Yeah,” Susie said. “We learned about that in religion class.” She held up her left hand. “And see my ring? Matt made it for me in art. It even has a jewel on it!”

“So it does,” said Fr. Tom, smiling as he leaned over to examine the piece of purple paper wrapped around Susie’s fourth finger.

“The jewel is blue ’cause that’s my favorite color,” said Susie. “I drew a T-rex on Matt’s ring.”

Matt waved his hand around excitedly. Fr. Tom could just catch a glimpse of an orange piece of paper with a green, dino-looking shape on it.

“We know they’re not ’fficial,” Matt said as Susie nodded. “That’s for when you’re grown-ups.”

An older lady in the front pew wearing a stiff, knee-length maroon dress adjusted the hat atop her poufy white hair and muttered, “It won’t last.” The woman sitting next to her frowned as she whispered, “Mom, they’re little kids. Let them have their fun.”

Back in the Polska pew, while Fr. Tom asked the other three couples about their weddings, Matt’s dad whispered, “Matt got married? I’m sad I wasn’t invited. You two boys better invite me to your weddings, all right?”

His older sons rolled their eyes. “Sure dad, whatever.”

Across the church, Susie’s father was making a dad joke of his own: “Why wasn’t I asked to walk my daughter down the aisle? She’s my oldest, you know. Already married, I can’t believe it. Honey, did you have any idea?” Mr. Anton dabbed at imaginary tears with a tissue he’d found in his pocket.

“No, dear, I had no idea,” replied Mrs. Anton with a dry chuckle as she shifted her one-year-old daughter in her arms. “Now would you hand me that bottle, please?”

“Alrighty then,” Fr. Tom smiled. “Now that we’ve heard from everybody, please bow your heads for the blessing.” As the couples joined hands and bowed their heads, he picked up his prayer book and prayed, “Lord, please bless these couples that were married in the past, whether it was five or fifty years ago, and the ones to be married in the future. Help them to be faithful partners and companions in leading each other to holiness. In your name we pray, amen.” To the couples he added, “You may now seal this blessing with a kiss.” Whipping his head up to look at the kids, who he’d almost forgotten were there for a second, Fr. Tom was surprised to see Matt scrunch up his face and kiss Susie’s hand, which she held out to him tentatively with her eyes closed. The congregation had another good laugh as they clapped for the couples.

“After Mass that day,” Matt said, his eyes sparkling, “Susie’s mom came up to my mom and jokingly said that if their kids were going to get married they should probably get to know each other better. That Sunday was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between our families. We spent a lot of time together after that, and Susie and I became friends—good friends. Our families had picnics together in the spring, exchanged presents during Christmas break, and got together for supper often. We all took a vacation to Rome one summer, and Susie’s little sister, your Aunt Annie, was a flower girl at my oldest brother John’s wedding. You know, Lana and Ellie’s dad?”

His son and daughter nodded raptly from their beds on either side of where Matt sat, cross-legged, on the floor.

“Susie and I started dating during our senior year of high school,” he mused, “and when we got married after college, we gave each other real rings to replace the paper ones from first grade. Although they are similar—hers has a sapphire on it, and mine has part of a dinosaur bone that I found on my first archaeological dig. We got married in the same church where we’d had our marriage blessing back in the day, the same one where we go to Mass every Sunday. Fr. Tom was pretty surprised when we announced that we were engaged—for real this time—and asked him to officiate our wedding. He teased us a little bit, but was also our biggest supporter. He retired the year after that. And, well, that’s the story of how your mom and I got married.” Matt smiled at his son and daughter, who looked as if they’d just been taken on the rollercoaster ride of their lives.

“You mean you and Mommy knew each other when you were our age?!” Tommy asked incredulously.

“That’s right, son,” Matt laughed. “Your mom and I met when we were the same age that you and Julia are now.”

Susie peeked in through the open bedroom door and smiled at her husband and their six-year-old twins. “How was the story?” she asked.

“It was great, Mom! Really great!” they responded.

“Just fine, honey,” Matt said as he stood up to give his wife a kiss on the cheek. “How’s your story going?” The twins began bickering about whose stuffed animal was whose.

“Okay,” Susie shrugged. “I’d like to bounce some ideas off of you once these two are tucked in.” She gestured to their kids who were now tossing stuffed animals at each other from their beds on opposite sides of the room.

“Of course.” Matt put his arm around his her. “Would you be able to look over the grant proposal I wrote for the Thomson dig?”

“If I have time.” Susie sighed and leaned into her husband. “This manuscript is due tomorrow.”

Suddenly Julia glanced up. “Mom, did Dad really give you a paper ring?” she asked.

“Yeah,” said Tommy. “What happened to it?”

“Oh, I still have it. It’s in my jewelry box,” Susie replied.

“Really? Can I see it?”

“I’ll show it to you tomorrow, okay? For now, it’s time for you two to get some sleep,” Susie said. She and Matt leaned over to tuck their children in.

“Goodnight, kids! Sweet dreams!” said the parents who were once kids.

“Goodnight Mom! Goodnight Dad!” said the kids who would one day be parents.

Author’s Note: This story, like most of mine, is semi-autobiographical.

The description of the church is based on Saint Pius X Catholic Church (and school) in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I grew up attending Mass every Sunday like Matt and Susie. And Father Tom in the story is honorarily named after Father Tom Hildebrand, who was the pastor of Saint Pius from 1996 until his death in 2004. Though I never met him, Saint Pius School established an award in his memory (it includes a $500 scholarship to Tulsa’s best Catholic high school), which I received when I graduated from eighth grade.

Saint Pius Church also offers marriage blessings once a month towards the end of Mass, with a similar setup to the one in the story (couples who celebrate their anniversary that month come to the front, the priest asks how long each couple has been married, and then says a prayer over them). But where the similarities to real life end, the story begins. In all my years attending Mass, I can honestly say that I’ve never witnessed a marriage blessing quite like Matt and Susie’s!


Sarah Ray is an English major at Tulsa Community College. She enjoys reading and writing, and has kept a journal on and off since the age of seven. She also recently discovered a passion for historical fashion, and (with a teacher’s help) sewed her own medieval gown for the Renaissance Faire last year! Sarah hopes to work as an editor after graduating from TCC and getting her bachelor’s degree.

Jamie Cunningham is an accomplished artist in several mediums. “Reflections at the Pool of the Blue Whale” is part of a series of paper collages depicting cultural landmarks from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and surrounding areas.