It was a beautiful, crisp October morning in 1976 as Jim and I headed for Bayfield, Wisconsin, in my parents Buick on our honeymoon. We had just gotten married the night before. I was 20 and he was 26. We had met in February, hardly enough time to get to know each other very well. I was working at my first ‘real’ job at a clinic in Wayzata and Jim was a lab courier who dropped off lab results and picked up blood samples from our office. He was shy and quiet. We exchanged several nods and smiles before either of us spoke to one another. I started scheduling my breaks around the time he would arrive and eventually we started talking.
Heading out of town Jim laughed and said, “Remember the day I first saw you and how I went back and told my boss, ‘I saw the girl I am going to marry today.’ He fist bumps my shoulder and laughs again, “I was right wasn’t I?” “Yup, you can’t get out of it now” and I leaned over to kiss his cheek.
Taking the scenic route on Highway 8 we stopped in Taylor Falls at the road side rest area and sat on the rock railing overlooking the St. Croix valley and river below. The fall colors were magnificent, reds, yellows, oranges. The sun was bright, the air was slightly cool but it was a magical scene. Every breath of fresh air we took in was like a drug, and aphrodisiac maybe, making things seem more surreal, exaggerated, and more alive. We had someone take our picture, proudly telling anyone that would listen that we were on our honeymoon. Even the kisses shared on the rock ledge were sweeter in the cool sunlight, the anticipation was visible as we headed towards our destination.
The night before we had celebrated until the wee hours of the morning. Our wedding had been a small church wedding followed by a party in my parents’ basement in Dayton, Minnesota. Because it was the hunting opener weekend, many of our guests had cake and coffee at the church and went home. The diehard partiers in my family celebrated while dancing to the oldies, drinking beer and whiskey at a makeshift bar and eating sloppy joes and beans made by neighbors and friends. By the time we left for home, several people had already found their place for the night hanging over an arm chair or splayed out on the couch. It was a familiar scene for me. My parents liked to party. Jim and I returned to our new apartment full of shower and wedding gifts and unpacked moving boxes. We had only the weekend to call our honeymoon and were anxious to get started in the morning.
Once we hit Ashland, Wisconsin, we talked more seriously about what kind of place we should spend the night at. We had heard the motels in Bayfield had awesome views and since we were only staying one night we felt the urge to splurge. A pool would be nice. A great restaurant would be good, too. We had not noticed, however, that the motels and hotels we were passing along the way all said “no vacancy.”
The sunset over Lake Superior was mesmerizing. The colors of the leaves, tipped with fading sunshine mirrored off the water, created a picture impressed in my mind I never wanted to forget. Holding hands, we walked along the streets of Bayfield towards the water as the sun went down. It was at the Bayfield Inn, crowded with people, large parties of them waiting to be seated for dinner, where we learned the bad news. This was the weekend of the annual Apple Festival in Bayfield, Wisconsin. It was a huge event. The main street and sidewalks had been full with vendors selling their crafts and art all day and now that the sun was setting they were relaxing in the bars and having dinner. Tomorrow they would do it all again. The bartender told us we would be lucky to find a place to sleep within a 100 miles of Bayfield.
As the dream of a honeymoon night in Bayfield started to deflate like a punched balloon, so did my spirits. Having just come off weeks of planning a wedding, starting a new job, finding an apartment, and trying to stay calm, I was irritated that Jim did not know about the Apple Festival. Every Bride’s magazine I had read since April listed the honeymoon as the man’s responsibility. It seemed common knowledge to me. He should have known that we would need a reservation. Traveling all this way and having nowhere to sleep was not my idea of a honeymoon and I told him so. As always in his quiet, reassuring way, he would pat my knee, then squeeze it firmly in the spot where he knew it would tickle and make me laugh. My laughing was how he knew I really wasn’t mad at him.
It was dark when we left Bayfield, headed towards Duluth on Highway 13, along the shores of Lake Superior. Surely there must be one room left somewhere, it didn’t need to be fancy at this point. We passed through the small towns of Cornucopia, Herbster, Port Wing…. no luck. Everything said “no vacancy.” In Duluth, still passing “no vacancy signs” we made the decision to drive north on Highway 61. Jim’s family had visited the North Shore often as a kid and he remembered there being a lot of small little log cabins along the shore; maybe we could stay in one of them though by now it was getting pretty late to check in anywhere. I was tired and crabby. We talked about sleeping in the car at a rest stop. All I could hear was my mother saying when we got home, “You did what?”
The scenic spots sped past, Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock, Beaver Bay, ghosts in the night except for their respective signs. When we reached Silver Bay, our car needed gas. We stopped at a filling station, turned the car off, and Jim took my hand. “I don’t know what else we can do,” he said. “It’s already after midnight, we may as well just sleep in the car. You can have the blanket and sleep in the back seat. I will stay awake and keep warming the car up so you don’t get cold.” Our honeymoon, in a car, in the Mobil gas station parking lot. How romantic. What a story this would be.
Jim filled up the car and went inside to pay for the gas. I sat in the car waiting, thinking about our situation. Here we were, newly married, on our honeymoon, with no where to spend the night. After having been sitting in this car now for 10 hours, the thought of sleeping in it made me furious. I also thought about the cops driving by, checking our license plates, shining their big flashlight into the steamed windows thinking they’d caught some teenage lovers. How embarrassing for us and how comical for the police to discover me lying in the back seat, Jim in the front, both sleeping from the exhaustion of being married for just over 24 hours.
When Jim finally returned from paying for our gas, he got into the car smiling sheepishly. He handed me a piece of paper with some directions on it. He said he told the cashier woman about our plight and how we were going to sleep in the car but she insisted on calling some resorts in the area to see if they had a cancellation for us. When she got no answer she called her husband. The piece of paper Jim had handed me were the directions to the Silver Bay Baptist Church. We were to drive to the church and the woman’s husband would meet us there and let us in. At least we would be warm, she said, but she also said we had to be out of the church by 7:30 am because that was when it opened for Sunday services.
I looked at Jim, and then down at the directions. They said take 61 to Outer Drive and turn left, go to Edison Boulevard, turn left. On Law Drive, take a right. Silver Bay Baptist Church would be on the right. I looked at him again. “What?” he chuckled, “at least we aren’t in the car.” I gave a long sigh, closed my eyes and leaned my head back against the headrest.
When we arrived at the church, a man met us in the parking lot. He had obviously been dragged out of bed by his wife’s phone call, hair sticking out from his cap, sockless feet shoved into his slippers. We grabbed a sleeping bag that was in the trunk, presumably leftover from a family camping trip, and he let us into the church. He directed us to the nursery. His wife had told him to tell us it was the only room in the church with carpeting. He showed us where the bathrooms were and how to shut out the lights. He, too, reminded us that we needed to be gone by 7:30 so as not to meet any early church members arriving in the morning and then he left.
The nursery was a small room. Four cribs hugged the walls, a small changing table filled with diapers and creams sat beside two rocking chairs and a small bucket of teething toys and stuffed animals. There were no windows. The floor was carpeted by a thin area rug. We opened the sleeping bag and we settled in on the floor. I used my purse as a pillow and Jim used his jacket. We discovered the small blanket from the car was not big enough for both of us as we tugged it back and forth affectionately. On our backs staring at the ceiling we held hands and started to laugh. We laughed at how we had come to find ourselves here on this floor, laughed at how people would never believe us when we told the story. We laughed at the thought of us sleeping too late and parents dropping their babies off to find us sleeping together on the floor, like vagrants who let themselves in through an unlocked door. It was funny. Then again it was not funny. Sleeping on the floor in this house of God…in a nursery… was not the place to fool around, honeymoon or no honeymoon. While Jim chose to believe there wasn’t a God and this was just a room, I couldn’t help but think My God was in the room watching. And so we slept there, that is all.
We awoke before 7 and gathered up our things. At the front door of the church we stopped to read a bulletin board showing announcements, old bulletins, and other church news. I felt that we should leave the church a thank you note for letting us stay the night. In this small town, I figured the news would have spread quickly from the woman at the gas station and her husband to others about us spending the night in the church. We left a $20 bill attached to the thank you note I had scribbled on the back of old bulletin. We locked the door and went out into the early morning sunshine. We took a picture of the church sign, further proof for the people who will not believe us when we get home.
We got breakfast in a small family restaurant and talked about what we should do. We had planned to only stay one night in Bayfield and then return home to arrange our apartment and settle in. Driving away from Silver Bay, all of the hotels and inns we passed now showed “Vacancy.” All of them. We drove back to the sights we had missed the night before like Gooseberry and Split Rock. We spent the day near the water hiking, throwing rocks, and still laughing about the night before. The weather was gorgeous with lots of sunshine, cool autumn breeze, and the water was very cold as we dipped our feet in. We had driven past Lutsen earlier in the drive and we both decided that would be a great place to end the weekend. If we could afford the price, we would stay another night and drive home early Monday. We could do our unpacking anytime.
Checking into Lutsen, we discovered the price of staying in the main lodge was prohibitive but we paid for a night in one of their many chalets and came back to the main house for an expensive dinner and a drink. It was our first dinner of this kind for us as a couple, white tablecloths, burning candles, too many forks and spoons, waiters with red towels draped over their arms. Certainly I had dined this way with my parents before but I had never seen the bill. We looked at the menu, trying to decide what to order, what we might share, and if the wine was necessary at $3 a glass. We ended up throwing caution to the wind as we ordered what we wanted, drinks too, and even dessert. We were finally honeymooning like adults, painting a deceptive scene like we were rich newlyweds who could afford to stay at this high end resort after their extravagant wedding and reception back home and who would probably soon be off to Belize. We, on the other hand, were dumbfounded by the amount of the bill. We paid for it out of the rest of our wedding money, but we both knew that meant our rent would be short or paid late. This practice of robbing Peter to pay Paul would last throughout our marriage as we always had more month left at the end of our money.
We headed home the next morning to parents who were already thinking this marriage would not last, but we were high on the love we had for each other. The Kenny Loggins, “Danny’s song”, was OUR song. “We were the lucky ones. We were just beginning. Even though we ain’t got money, I’m still in love with you honey, everything was gonna be all right.” This would be our mantra.