Rachel Cameron and Samantha Norris arrived at their hotel around 4 a.m. last Friday after driving nearly 14 hours from Ohio to Darien to be legally married. The massive storm, which dumped about a foot of snow on the coast of Connecticut, stalled traffic across the Northeast.
The two calmly walked into the first ballroom at the Waters Edge at Giovanni's with their three children trailing behind them. There was a sense of urgency and excitement.
At the front of the room, two candelabras on stone pillars flanked another couple standing before Mary Pugh, a justice of the peace. The couple attended Giovanni's annual event -- free and on Valentine's Day -- at which vows can be renewed or exchanged for the first time.
The lights were turned down low earlier in the night. Candles flickered on a table along the side wall. Eighteen chairs set up in rows of three created an aisle, and were largely empty throughout the evening, serving as coat racks more than seats for family members or loved ones.
Cameron and Norris' children -- Alyssa, Preston and Bella -- stood beside them as Pugh read their vows for them to repeat. Tears flowed from Norris' eyes before Pugh told the two that they were legally married and may kiss.
Cameron and Norris looked to their children when asked how they met.
"Preston?" Cameron said to their son, who was playing with his blue tie.
"I know!" chimed in Alyssa, their eldest daughter.
"Go ahead," Cameron said. "Tell her how we met."
"Work," Alyssa said.
Cameron and Norris met while sitting across from each other at a mortgage company in Ohio -- Cameron in information technology and Norris as a manager.
"We ended up being best friends and inseparable for like three years and then we started," Norris paused, "seeing each other."
"And then kissing!" Bella said.
"And then kissing," Norris repeated.
As the rhyme goes, next comes marriage and then comes a "baby in the baby carriage." Cameron said the two plan on adopting another child.
The two have been engaged for four years, but because Cameron is from England, the two needed to wait for her green card to be cleared.
In October, Cameron received her green card within the same two weeks that the Defense of Marriage Act was overturned.
"Then Rachel said `Wouldn't it be crazy if we go and get married,' " said Norris, who plans on changing her last name to Cameron.
Through research on the Internet, the two found Pugh, who told them of the event in Darien.
"Family squeeze hug?" Bella said, looking up at her family. With excited laughs and smiles, the family of five came together for a hug with Bella right in the middle.
For the past four years, the Waters Edge at Giovanni's has offered vow renewals and weddings for anyone who walks through the door. Pugh, who performed the ceremonies at last year's event, said she officiated more than 300 weddings within the past year.
Norris and Cameron were the only two during the night to be married, while 12 other couples stood at the makeshift altar to simply renew their vows.
Second time around
Patty Visconti had nerves on her wedding day. Nerves that led to a touch of nausea on the altar as she stood next to her now-husband Lou.
Those nerves weren't present on Valentine's Day, though, as the Stamford couple renewed their vows, with Patty's sister, Michelle Maher, armed with a camera in the front row.
Patty wiped tears from her eyes throughout the ceremony as she held a bouquet with Lou's hands wrapped around hers.
Maher introduced the two in 1986 while she was dating one of Lou's colleagues. A group of friends had gone out one night to Skipper's restaurant in Norwalk the night the two met and it just so happened that the last two empty seats were next to each other at the end of the table -- one for Patty and one for Lou. She was 26; he was 33.
Twenty-four years later, the Viscontis say communication is key to a successful marriage.
"You have to be friends," Lou said, while looking at Patty. "People say a marriage is 50/50, but really it's 100/100, you have to give everything."
The two said their breath was taken away when they walked into the small makeshift chapel at Giovanni's.
"It was so serene," Patty said.
"I feel ... " Patty started to say as she looked at Lou.
"Renewed," the two said together as they locked arms.
A renewal of fresh vows
"I married the boss," Syr said, smiling, never taking his eyes off Gasdaska. The Darien couple were married last year surrounded by their closest friends and family.
As Pugh read through the vows, Syr took his glasses off more than four times to wipe tears from his eyes. The two never let go of each other's hands, whether it be one hand or two that were touching.
Throughout the ceremony, Syr would bend over laughing and bury his head into Gasdaska's chest. The two frequently stole kisses before the scripted final kiss. They talked quietly to each other while Pugh spoke.
The snow initially threatened their holiday as Syr was in Florida at the couple's second home. Gasdaska was set to join him, but because of the storm could not. Syr managed to fly home and join his husband for the weekend.
The two had come to Giovanni's for Valentine's Day dinner and knew nothing about the vow renewals until they walked in.
"Life has changed so remarkably since we met," Syr said.
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