One result of the recent visit by friends from the early years of our marriage was a jarring of our memories. During conversations about our mutual histories, our friends mentioned the name of the man who joined my wife and me in marriage. His name was Webter Lardner Kitchell.
We came to know Web through our mutual friend and work colleague, Nancy Mottweiler. At the time, she and Web were dating. My wife and I were looking for someone to formally join us together in matrimony, but we did not want a “church” wedding, because our views of religion were not aligned, nor were they “traditional.” Nancy suggested her “boyfriend,” Web. It was ideal; he was a Unitarian minister, known as someone very broad-minded and unafraid of dealing with spiritual matters utterly disconnected from the church and religion in general.
With my soon-to-be wife’s permission, I wrote our wedding vows, incorporating a Shakespeare sonnet and avoiding any mention of a deity, yet acknowledging the sacrosanct nature of the relationship of marriage into which we were about to enter. Web Kitchell was perfectly happy to read the vows I had written. I forgive him for, but will never forget, his mispronunciation of ‘fix-ed’ when reciting Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116…he said “fixed.” I believed then, and I believe today, he should have said “fix-ed.” The error, or disagreement if you will, did not wreck the marriage. It is still going strong after 34 years.
We did not know Web, but we deeply appreciated his willingness to step in to make our union in marriage “official.” We might have been satisfied with a Justice of the Peace, but we wanted something a bit “above” a purely civil ceremony, yet we did not want any hint of religion. Web satisfied us with his ceremony. He married us happily and forever after.
We had long since lost contact with, and track of, Web Kitchell and his wife-to-be, Nancy Mottweiler. Our friends informed us that Nancy had died after a long marriage to Web. This afternoon, after looking for information about Web, I discovered that he, too, has died. He died in 2009. And he left a partner, a woman who stood in the shoes of our friend Nancy Mottweiler, another Nancy. One of the obituaries I found online says he is survived by Nancy Driesbach. I don’t know who or where she is, but I hope she might one day come across this post and realize how much I appreciate Web’s role in formalizing my marriage to my wife. These ceremonial experiences should not matter, perhaps; but they do. I am a sucker for ceremony and tradition, provided it is a humanist tradition and not something enmeshed in a religious mush.
Thank you, Webster Lardner Kitchell, for being there when my wife-to-be and I needed and wanted someone to acknowledge and affirm our love. I hope you and our friend, your long-time wife, were happy during the time we knew, and didn’t know you.