How To Get Married In Texas

Mike and I were married on 6th July – one month after my parents’ 59th wedding anniversary; Mum and Dad just missed out on an invitation to the Queen’s garden party this year for all those celebrating their diamond weddings. Mum was 18 when she got married and her outfit, a grape-coloured, pleated crepe suit, hung in the wardrobe for years before she eventually donated it to a jumble sale.
Mum had probably had a while to select that wedding outfit. In contrast, I had about half-an-hour. We were (and still are) in the thick of renovating our new home in north-central San Antonio, in a leafy suburb called Colonial Hills; and when, on the morning of the 6th, our head carpenter announced a delay in some work he was carrying out for us, Mike suggested we get married instead. (Under the terms of the emigration process, our 3-month window for getting married was up the following week!) At the time of Mike’s suggestion, I was dressed in shorts, my nail varnish was chipped and my legs needed a shave. I hurriedly glanced through my makeshift wardrobe in Mike’s ‘office’, tucked amongst all the boxes of stuff still to be sorted, and finally decided on a long silk cotton dress in pink, peach and ochre stripes that I had bought in Whitestuff the previous summer. Thankfully, the dress looked lovely on, and I added a pair of pretty cream pumps, diamond stud earrings and a silver necklace with a pink stone that Mike had bought for me in Puerto Vallarta. Whilst Mike was urging Mattie and me to hurry up, I quickly applied some turquoise nail varnish, and finally my grandmother’s Welsh gold wedding ring: my aunty had given it to me some time ago for this very occasion. Mattie then rushed down in a chic dress and leggings, and some new white-patent shoes bought for her at Walmart on the occasion of her elementary school graduation ceremony.
After checking that we had all our passports and identity cards with us, Mike drove us downtown to the San Antonio County Courthouse.
This was our second visit to the Courthouse in a week: the first had been to obtain a marriage license, a precursor to our being allowed to marry here. We had then entered a large office on the ground floor and had sat before an overweight, middle-aged Mexican woman with pageboy haircut and glasses. After checking our ID cards the bored-looking clerk asked Mike for $60 – if you want to get married in Texas, you have to pay in cash! Mike handed over the money and she handed over the license. Then, as we arose from our seats, Mike grinned at her and asked, ‘So do you think it’ll work?’ The clerk glanced up at him through her glasses and, po-faced, replied ‘I don’t know.’
On this second occasion, Mike was dressed in his navy-blue Guayabera shirt and best Lucchese cowboy boots as we arrived at the Courthouse on the main plaza of downtown San Antonio. I asked Mattie to take a picture of the handsome, red sandstone building, built in the 1890s in Romanesque style. Looking up at it, I felt quite excited; yet at the same time, I had no idea what lay ahead.
‘Where do we go to get married?’ Mike asked the security guards as we entered the building, all holding hands.
‘Up to the 4th floor,’ they responded without expression, as though they had been asked the same question a thousand times before.
‘You look like an English authoress,’ Mike smiled, appraisingly, as we made our way to the lift, along with a tall man in a sober grey suit.
‘What’s your job?’ Mattie asked the man immediately, after pressing the button to the 4th floor.
He smiled down at her and replied, ‘I’m a lawyer, what’s your job?’
‘I don’t have a job,’ Mattie announced, seriously, ‘but I want to be a lawyer when I’m older.’
‘Well, I’ll tell you something,’ the lawyer responded, ‘I’d rather be anywhere than in here right now!’
On emerging from the lift, we found the 4th floor handsomely clad with wooden wall panels and lined with benches where people sat waiting. Mike checked with reception and was told that a Judge in Room 44 was available to marry us; all the others were at lunch. It all felt quite surreal as we walked to the end of the corridor where, outside the designated room, a large Hispanic family sat with babies on laps; one of the mums beamed a big smile at me. A fair-haired, middle-aged female Judge, with long black robes covered with an array of sparkling brooches, then warmly greeted us and beckoned us into her office. It was small and packed with books and I at first found it difficult to find space for my straw hat. Mike and I stood by the Judge’s desk whilst Mattie stood at the back of the office, camera in hand. I felt as though I were in the middle of a movie whilst the Judge led Mike through his marriage vows. After I had read out mine, the Judge asked me to place Mike’s ring on his finger.
‘But I don’t have one,’ I laughed. It hadn’t occurred to me!
‘Then pretend that you are putting one on,’ the Judge urged.
Afterwards, she congratulated us. It was all very sweet.
‘So do you feel any different now you’re my wife?’ Mike said, as we all took the lift back down to the ground floor.
‘Actually, I don’t,’ I smiled. Though I did feel very content inside.
On getting out of the lift, we passed by a disgruntled-looking Mexican bride-to-be in long white dress; she was standing next to her much shorter father who was dressed in grey suit and tie and his trousers were belted around his portly belly. He looked rather agitated, perhaps because there was no sign of the groom.
To record our marriage, Mike, Mattie and I now returned to the part of the Courthouse where earlier that week we had obtained the license. I looked around for the bored-looking clerk but there was no sign of her. After making enquiries, we approached a counter where a smiling man recorded our marriage certificate.
‘Congratulations!’ he said, handing it over. ‘Do you want a certified copy of it, too?’
‘Yes, please,’ we replied.
‘Then it’ll cost you $8,’ he said, ‘though it’ll have to be in cash,’ he added.
Afterwards, we drove to ‘SolLuna’ or ‘SunMoon’, one of our favourite restaurants in Alamo Heights, just north of downtown. The restaurant has a beautiful patio and we sat at a table surrounded by terracotta pots full of lush foliage and apricot and scarlet flowering hibiscus.
‘So now I have a step dad,’ Mattie beamed, after ordering her chicken fajita taco with guacamole ‘Yes, I suppose you do,’ Mike grinned down at her, and he and I raised our Margaritas to make a toast.

On The Wagon Trail

Since emigrating to south Texas, I am reminded of the path which led to Mattie and my being here. In particular, I think back to my first meeting with Mike in 2004 in Oaxaca, when Mike brought up the possibility of our one day living together; out of the blue he suggested that I (and my soon to be adopted child) might want to move to the US. I remember the feeling of shock at his words, and inwardly I felt there was no way I would want to move away from England. But as time went by, the thought became more and more appealing, and whenever Mattie and I would travel to the US on holiday, the 3 of us would undertake a road trip to work out where we would one day like to settle. These trips included New Mexico, far west Texas and the Texas Gulf coast. Finally we settled on south Texas – and all these years later, here we are!
On departing the UK in April this year, a friend, in her ‘farewell’ card, wrote that emigrating was by far the biggest step of my life. I knew immediately on reading those words that emigration would in no way be as great as adopting a child on my own. Even so, it is still a big step to take – and perhaps like adoption it is only after the event that one realizes just how big that step is! Mattie has settled in beautifully and I doubt that she has looked back once. She spent one term at elementary school here and thoroughly enjoyed it – despite the earlier starting time of 8am. She once said to me, ‘Mum, I feel I belong here.’ I ventured that, coming from a mainly white town in the UK, perhaps that was because there are so many mixed races here (mainly Hispanic but Asian, Middle East, South American and others, too); and she agreed with me, saying, ‘Here everyone is different.’ Mattie is now on summer break, about to do a fortnight at summer camp with the girl scouts. It is her Mum who has suffered occasional feelings of homesickness! It occurred to me on writing this that the last time I experienced homesickness was in the diplomatic service – over 30 years ago. I remember, during those early months in Bangkok, writing letters home about how miserably lonely I felt and then tearing them up and throwing them in the bin! And although I have felt nowhere near as homesick as in Bangkok, I can still be taken unawares – perhaps by a letter from my mum, or a shot of the English countryside on TV. My hairdresser, a young girl with a strong southern accent and tattooed arms who recently moved to Texas from South Carolina in order to marry her fiancé, out of the blue mentioned how homesick she had felt here at the start. From talking to her, I realized that her move was bigger than mine – at least my accent is adored here!
And there are so many positives to our moving here. Not least, the fact we are a family and living together, finally. And there is the weather – today it is only in the early 90s and this is the hottest time of the year; even when it is hotter, there is usually a breeze and cloud cover blowing in from the Gulf coast. The rest of the year it gets cooler and in winter it is not unknown to light a fire – nearly all the homes have fireplaces. I also love the sounds – the sound of birdsong (I have seen painted buntings, humming birds and blue jays in the garden); the mesmerizing sound of crickets echoing around the garden from late afternoon onwards; the sound of the freight train as it wends its way northwards to Oklahoma. I love the leafy boulevard-like streets, the huge live oaks that spread their long branches to give us shade, and the blossoming myrtle trees – pale and mid-pink, cyclamen and purple. And then there is the friendliness of the people. When I walked Mattie to school for the first few days I noticed how even the teenagers smiled at me – an unknown back home! And last, but not least, in this state that once belonged to Mexico and where 60% of the population of San Antonio is Hispanic, one enjoys some of the positives of living in Mexico – but happily without the poor plumbing system!

Feedback: The Joy And The Unexpected

If, before writing ‘Dear Mummy, Welcome’, I had been asked to document the stages in writing a book, I would have mentioned the editing, of course, seeking a publisher, dealing with rejections, the publishing, the PR – but I would not have included ‘feedback’. And yet this has proved to be such an unexpectedly joyful, sometimes poignant, and often thought-provoking part of the whole process.
I now realise that readers of my book have been impacted in so many different ways – and when I talk about readers, some of these are adopted; some were fostered; some have adopted themselves; some are birth mums and dads; some have no children.
The emails, letters (what a luxury to receive a handwritten note!), phone calls and people seeking me out to pass a comment – all have been overwhelming, and I take pleasure in publishing some extracts below:
‘It made me cry and laugh in equal measures and I had to write and say how much I enjoyed it as I made the journey with you …’
‘I just wanted to write and tell you how much I enjoyed your book. I was totally gripped from beginning to end. It struck a chord with bringing up my two – they may be my flesh and blood but their personalities are still very much their own!’
‘Thanks so much for sharing your uplifting story so honestly.’
‘I have read the book cover to cover and found it un-put-downable. It was very moving in parts and also very personal…It is well written and bodes well for your novel.’
‘We think this book is marvellous and uplifting as well as extremely helpful to many …’
‘It’s great! I read it right through on Saturday, didn’t get anything else done. Congratulations!’
‘I have enjoyed how your book has evoked the most wonderful memory of my parents … a Christmas blessing.’