Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Don’t Try This at Home | Barry and Nancy Get Hitched

Goodland Life

Submitted Photos | Barry and Nancy Gwinn (c. 1987)

In May 1981, and at my request, I was transferred from the Phoenix Field Office of the FBI to Philadelphia, more specifically to the State College, Pennsylvania resident agency, a remote three agent mountainous western outpost thought by many, including myself, to be the best assignment in the Bureau. The luster wore off less than two years later, when I filed for divorce and was raising my 8-year-old daughter in a one bedroom apartment. It was a messy bitterly contested divorce. I became embattled, embittered and increasingly lonely.

Things began to change when on March 18, 1983 I met Nancy Corbin at a Parents Without Partners meeting in State College. She had driven up from Lewistown with a friend. I mention the date because this is the only day we celebrate (a dozen yellow roses) each year. Nancy was separated from her abusive husband and trying to raise her young son and daughter while working full time. She was a vivacious raven-haired beauty with alluring green eyes, and stood out from the crowd.

The next two years were tough ones for both of us. Lewistown was across the mountains and 30 miles distant. With my busy schedule and her work schedule and parental responsibilities, it was tough getting down to see her. We spent much of that time simply pining for each other and talking on the phone. Luckily, part of my investigative territory as an FBI agent was in the area of Lewistown (pop. 9,800). Always alert, I soon began to notice a lot more possible federal crime in the Lewistown area, which would require my presence there.

In November 1984, when Nancy and I could no longer stand being apart, we moved in together at a rented house in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, a suburb of State College. We loved it. The kids hated it. Nancy’s kids didn’t like me; my kid didn’t like Nancy; and the kids didn’t much like each other. We moved Nancy’s stuff up from Lewistown and crammed this happy bunch into our rustic Boalsburg home.

The FBI thought even less of this arrangement than our kids did. Nancy and I had not yet married because her divorce was still pending. To some extent in the FBI, Victorian ethics still held sway, especially for a small office like the State College resident agency. My conduct was considered scandalous. I never would have attempted this had Director Hoover still been around. He would have quickly transferred me to Butte, Montana, Jackson, Mississippi, or worse. However Hoover had been in the grave for 13 years and times they were a changin’. My attitude was essentially “So sue me,” which later kind of happened; but that is another story. Such is the power of true love.

The truth is, Nancy and I had spent all this time longing to be married. This had become very important for us. We had gone all in for each other and desperately wanted a piece of paper officially sealing our lifelong commitment to one another. Just three months after moving to Boalsburg, we got our chance. Nancy’s divorce finally came through. Days later, I had completed arrangements for our “wedding.” The big day was set for Monday, January 20, 1985. It would be relatively quick and simple, or so I thought.

On that day, after getting the kids off to school, and without their knowing, I came out from the office and picked Nancy up for the 30 mile drive to Lewistown. I knew Mifflin County Judge, Pete Sear. He had promised to marry us in his courthouse chambers. The appointment was set for 1:30 PM, enabling us to return to State College before the kids got home. There was one hitch. Because the family car was still in the shop for repairs, we would have to postpone the trip or use my Bureau car. Nothing is ever easy. We steamed off in my unmarked FBI squad car.

We arrived promptly at 1:30 for our appointment with Judge Sear, filled with happy anticipation for the euphoria which would soon be ours. This dissipated rapidly when the judge’s secretary advised that Judge Sear had been called away at the last minute. He would be out for the rest of the afternoon.

What we needed was another judge – fast. But judges, as it turns out were few and far between. Counting Judge Sear, who had already stiffed me, there was only one other judge within driving distance. Nancy still thought I always knew what I was doing. She remained confident that I would pull this off. I was less confident…until I learned the name of the other judge.

Judge Keith Quigley, who went out of his way to do a favor for an old law school classmate (c. 1984).

He was Keith Quigley, who had been my classmate at Dickinson Law School (1960-63). I had tied a couple on with him but had not seen him since. I tried to recall if I had ever pissed him off, but I was a pretty congenial guy in those days and apparently had behaved myself. “I know this guy,” I told Nancy, “Keith won’t let us down. Our worries are over.”

Judge Quigley’s office was two counties and 40 miles away. I wondered if we could make it down there in time to conduct a dignified memorable wedding and still make the 70 mile trip back to State College in time to feed the kids. Judge Sears’ secretary put me through to his office in New Bloomfield (pop. 1,109). New Bloomfield was the county seat of Perry County and ironically, was just a few miles from Dickinson Law School. It was all obvious now; events were being controlled by a special kismet, where the past was coming to rescue the present. Full disclosure: New Bloomfield was only a few miles from Camp Hill, Pennsylvania where a justice of the piece officiated at the 1962 marriage to my first wife, whom I had just divorced. You see how things work out? It was all part of a plan. If you can’t see it, how about this? Both wives were named Nancy and both were born on September 22. Needless to say, it never caused a problem when I talked in my sleep.

Except Judge Quigley was not in his office; he was instead at the Juniata County Courthouse in Mifflintown (where he was also chief judge). It was only 11 miles away from where we stood. Now we were cooking! We ran out of the courthouse and burned up the country roads to Mifflintown. (This guy, Mifflin, must have really been something. We had just come from Lewistown, the county seat of Mifflin County, to Mifflintown, the county seat of Juniata County, while managing to avoid Mifflinburg a few miles north in Union County). Breathlessly, we ran into Keith’s Mifflintown office only to find that he had already left to return to New Bloomfield, 30 miles east where he was also the chief judge. You can’t make this stuff up.

1983 Ford Crown Victoria, almost identical to the author’s 1979 FBI squad car, which was navy blue on the bottom and white on the top.

Now it was getting late and the clock was ticking. Would the judge even still be there when we got to New Bloomfield? Nancy and I were burning with ardor. As I roared up the ramp and careened onto U.S. 322, I called on every bit of the power in the 351 cubic inch, 5.8L, V8 Windsor engine in the 1979 Ford Victoria, which the Bureau had thoughtfully given us to negotiate the many mountains around State College (and to chase an occasional bad guy). As the speedometer approached 100 mph, I tried to think of what I could possibly say to a state trooper about having my wife in an FBI squad car going 90 mph. He would know it was a squad car because of the radio equipment crammed under the dash. If we were stopped it would at best be embarrassing as well as time consuming. At worst…? Plan A would be to tell him that the woman in the car was a witness which I needed to get in front of the grand jury at Harrisburg before close of business. This was actually a plausible scenario. There was no plan B, but neither was I ever pulled over. Remember… kismet.

Juniata County Courthouse (built 1843, enlarged 1875)

As we screeched into the parking spaces in front of the Perry County Courthouse, it started to feel like Groundhog Day – same courthouse, different town. The same guy must have built all three courthouses. “You see one courthouse, you’ve seen them all,” I thought to myself. It was like trying the same thing over and over but hoping for a different result.

We dashed into the courthouse and up the stairs to the second floor, where the courtroom was located. It was about 4:30 by this time and the judge’s secretary had gone home. There would be no one to announce, “Here come de judge,” if in fact the judge was forthcoming. There was a crack of light under the door to his chambers however. A loud knock brought his honor himself to the door. It was my old pal and newest best friend, Keith Quigley. He was grinning from ear to ear. I have seldom been so glad to see anybody as much as good old Judge Quigley. He had gotten the message that we were coming down and resolved to wait for us. Remember, Nancy and I was still burning with ardor.

After spending a few minutes playing catch up, we got down to business. “Would you like the long ceremony or the short ceremony?” Keith asked. A beautiful denouement was at hand. “Keith,” I said, “I’m pretty horny. How about the short one?” Judge Quigley, who was apparently an expert at such ceremonies, replied, “OK. You’re married.” And just like that, it was over. No flashbulbs were going off, but I had once again proved to Nancy that I always knew what I was doing.

Ardor was then put on hold. We still had to get home before the kids tore the house and kitchen (and possibly themselves) apart. We had left a note that we might be late, but had not told them anything else. Another white knuckle trip ensued. After more acts of derring-do on the highway, and with no stops along the way, we negotiated the 70 miles back to State College in less than 45 minutes. Go figure. This fifth grade math problem is beyond me.

The kids met us at the door. They were hungry and clamoring to know where we had been. There were no apparent injuries to the kids or damages to the house. Nancy put them off and said we would explain during supper. She retreated to the kitchen. I grabbed a beer (the first of several) and watched the evening news in the living room, thankful that I wasn’t on it. The sullen kids went downstairs to the rec room. A half hour later, Nancy had dinner on the table.

We picked at our food. The kids glowered at us suspiciously. Nancy approaches every crisis straightforwardly and did so here. “We got married,” she announced, simply. What followed was not a stunned silence. Nikki, my 10-year-old daughter, bolted from the table and ran shrieking and screaming to her room, where she continued to shriek and scream with a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth thrown in. Nancy’s kids, Michelle, age 15, and Aaron, age 12, gave us looks, mostly at me, which were calculated to strike me dead on the spot. They loosed a barrage of nasty recriminations and accusations, which continued at high volume and quality after they too had bolted. So endeth day one of our marriage.

If your wedding day can top this one, I’d like to hear from you. As for Nancy and I, we are still going strong.

Barry was a practicing attorney before he worked as a Special Agent of the FBI for 31 years.  Barry worked for several government agencies another ten years before retiring to Goodland in 2006. Barry is presently the Secretary of the Goodland Civic Association.


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