The Marriage License

The Marriage License

From Chicken Soup for the Grandparent's Soul

The Marriage License

I think sometimes a person’s spirit is so strong that it never completely leaves the Earth but remains scattered forever among all those who love them.

Chris Crandall

Grandpa was a practical joker. He was a successful businessman, farmer and entrepreneur, but his most memorable trait was his sense of playfulness. He made you want to be around him, and if nothing else, you wanted to see what was going to happen next.

Grandpa Eric, at eighty-seven, needed to renew his notary license and called upon his friend and partner Terry Parker to drive him to the Sacramento County recorder’s office to complete the task. Terry and her father had worked with Eric in the real-estate business for years and were well acquainted with his shenanigans. They knew to look for the twinkle in his eye, which was their cue to go along with anything Eric said or did. The payoff for going along with the practical joke was a guarantee of a good belly laugh and a terrific story to tell anyone who came into the office.

Terry and Eric must have been a comical sight together. Eric’s mobility was questionable, his sight was undependable, he was sporting a big Stetson hat, two hearing aids and an unlit cigar. Terry supported his arm walking up the steps of the county recorder’s office, but it was challenging for the two of them to maneuver through the door. Terry was nine months pregnant with a sixty-inch waist, swollen feet and a bladder reduced by pressure to the size of a small cocktail olive. They just barely made it through the office door only to notice the long, long line up to the records and licenses window. Eric didn’t mind waiting because he was already working on how to turn the wait into a little fun.

It was a busy day in the recorder’s office and the staff were working as quickly as they could, fielding many questions, some ridiculous, handing out numerous forms and directing people who were completely lost to other offices.

After about a thirty-minute wait, Terry and Eric made it to the front of the line only to be coolly greeted by an exasperated state employee. Sighing impatiently, she asked, “How can I help you?” From her attitude, it was clear that she was thinking that this old man had probably come in with his daughter to get a power-of-attorney form and could have saved everybody a lot of time if they’d just called ahead and picked one up at their local stationery store. In spite of his age, Eric was a very sharp guy and figured out the woman’s impression of him at first glance and couldn’t resist the chance to have a little fun. He was thinking, Let the games begin!

“We’re here for a marriage license!” he demanded loudly as he pounded his fist on the counter. “And speed it up! We’ve been waiting in line for a half an hour and as you can see my bride-to-be here can’t stand much longer.” The look of total shock (and negative judgment) on the clerk’s face as she processed this bit of surprising information could have stopped a speeding locomotive in its tracks. She was so befuddled that she couldn’t even muster up enough composure to cover her shock and said, “Why I thought I’d seen everything in my thirty years of working here, but this takes the prize!”

Eric pulled himself up to his full height, puffed his chest out, looked her in the eye and said, “I’m not getting any younger here, so let’s not take all day about it.” Terry had a decision to make: let this gal off the hook or go along with the joke. She was also doing everything in her power not to burst into laughter at the ridiculous request, not to mention the hilarious look on the clerk’s face. She went for it. She put on her best game face, one that resembled a desperate gold-digging bride who’d found her sugar daddy at the eleventh hour of the game. She also looked very uncomfortable—which was not part of the joke, since she was afraid she was going to laugh so hard that her “tears” would run down her legs.

Eric let that poor clerk run all over that office looking for a marriage license. She was so disconcerted that a simple daily task turned into the search for the Lost Ark. The clerk stopped at each secretary’s desk, soundlessly whispering to them, shaking her head and pointing to Terry and Eric. Shocked stares and rolled eyes refocused on the odd couple.

At long last the clerk came back with the necessary paperwork and with an incredulous expression asked Eric if he knew that in the state of California he needed blood tests to get married in case of infectious diseases. “I don’t know where she’s been before I got hooked up with her, but at my age I guess I’m ready to take the leap of faith. What do you think?” An unrecognizable sound came out of the clerk’s mouth as she shoved the paperwork in his direction. Eager to go to the ladies’ room, Terry was wondering just how long Eric was going to keep the clerk in suspense when suddenly he smiled and said, “Gotcha! We’re really here to renew my notary license!”

At this point Terry was sure the practical joke had run its course and dashed to the ladies’ room, not a moment too soon. When she returned to collect Eric and his renewed license, the entire office was laughing with him, including the clerk who was a good sport considering the joke was at her expense. After that day, whenever he had any business in the recorder’s office he asked for her by name.

Meladee McCarty

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