When I was in college, I did work study in the English department office. This was probably a conflict of interests given that I was an English major and basically made copies, filed and ran errands for the people who, at one point or another, were my professors. I don’t think my grades directly benefited from it, but I did form a solid rapport with many of the faculty, including the two chairs of the department.
One of the strongest relationships I had was with the secretary for the department, Francine. A married mother of four boys, she was petite and red-headed, as clever as she was kind. She had her first grandchild while I worked with her, and the little girl was her sun and moon. I always thought it was a combination of Francine not having a daughter of her own and me missing my own mother one state over that brought us together (they finally got to meet, four years later, on the night of my graduation baccalaureate mass when they coincidentally stood across from each other as my class proceeded down the aisle into the church).
Francine would sometimes invite me to art museum exhibits and brunches on the weekends, such a stark departure from my normal life as a poor, immature 19-year-old consumed with studying and frat parties. It gave me a chance to be a bit classy and eat something beyond microwave pasta bowls and pizza. One Sunday, I joined her and another faculty member for brunch at a place called Valley Green Inn nestled in the Wissahickon Park area of Philly. It was dimly lit and cozy even in the late morning as I ate biscuits and scones slathered in real jam, poached eggs with a sauce Id never had, greens and potatoes and strong coffee with these grown-up ladies whose reasons for wanting to spend time with me I could not fathom. Afterwards, I returned to my books and the red, plastic cups foaming with beast beer and food not fit for anyone.
The inn presided over the burbling Wissahickon Creek, a favorite playground of local ducks. You could hike or bike and take in the mini waterfalls that spilled over the rocky ledges. That was the first place I ever smelled “creek scent,” as I came to call it. It was a spicy mix of earth and water and air that tingled my nose and made everything seem clean. In the fall, the park was a postcard of red, yellow and orange leaves kept back by wooden fences. It looked how I imagined most of Philly was before the buildings and cars and people came, before it became smoggy and congested and full of garbage and bad attitudes. In the early years of forming a career, trying out relationships and trying to make ends meet, I would come to this park for my peace.
When Brendan and I started researching wedding venues over Easter, we originally started with the Jersey Shore (we already knew we wanted to get married outside, not in a church). But none of them spoke to me. They seemed nice enough for other people’s weddings, but they didn’t feel right for my wedding. We moved the research across the Delaware River to the Philly side and I began to realize I didn’t want a uniform-looking reception venue. I wanted something almost old-fashioned, warm and cozy and surrounded by nature.
“I love that place,” he said.
I looked to see if Valley Green did weddings — they did and for a really affordable price. I looked up reviews and emailed the onsite coordinator, who previous brides had raved about. Valley Green did the ceremony outside by the creek, the catering, the wedding cake and the floral arrangements. It was exactly what I needed planning from so far away.
I hemmed and hawed for a few weeks, wanting to be completely confident in such a big, costly decision. Actually, I was 99% sure about Valley Green, but kept switching between wanting a Friday or Saturday wedding. Then an email came through from the coordinator saying there was only one Saturday left for the month of April in 2013. At 6:30 a.m. one Friday while on my way to work, I called Valley Green and put down our deposit. The wedding coordinator then told me something that made the decision seen even more right: the woman she had replaced had herself moved to Australia and then returned to Valley Green to get married while still living abroad.
So on April 6, 2013, I will get married in the beautiful Philly park I found as a teenager to the Philly boy who I found in Australia, bringing this love story — the one between me and Brendan and me and Philly — full circle.