Friday, August 28, 2009

All We Owe Iowa

Well, the way Randy tells it, he had just picked up his mail and there among the bills was an envelope addressed to him from his grandfather. Seems Grandpa would give the grandkids a check for $250 when they got married. All the other cousins had gotten their loot by this point but Randy was still unmarried. Who can say what got into the old man, but he decided to send Randy his check in spite of him still being a bachelor.

“How do you like that?” Randy said to Allen as they drove down the street in Allen’s red convertible. The thing is, Randy didn’t exactly consider himself “unmarried.” He and Allen had been together just a short time, but it felt like The Real Thing. So they went right to the bank where Randy cashed the check and handed $125 to Allen.

“And I took it,” said Allen. “And I spent it. And I haven’t stopped spending since.”

That check from Randy’s grandfather arrived in 1973 and, according to Randy, that’s when they were married.

As far as the state of Iowa is concerned, however, Randy Van Syoc and Allen Coit Ransome are newlyweds who were legally married on August 26, 2009.

Randy and Allen have been my friends for just a few short years but we’re as close as family. Our mutual friend Jeanine and I were the witnesses who signed the marriage license. But when their friend Ken, who officiated at the ceremony, asked who would stand for these two people, the entire crowd yelled, “We do!” and leapt to their feet.

The ceremony took place on a boat that launched onto the Mississippi from Dubuque and in the middle of the ceremony, in addition to heckling the minister, Allen instructed the captain to veer a little away from the Illinois side and further into Iowa waters just to make sure the marriage was legal.

All the trapping were there: the open bar; the cheese platters, the bacon-wrapped shrimp; the relatives meeting out-of-town friends for the first time. You know, the usual. The atmosphere , though, was anything but; it felt historic and long, long overdue. Allen told me earlier in the day that he had been lying awake a few nights before the ceremony trying to come up with some appropriate vows.

“And I started to get really mad. Vows?’ What was left for me to promise? I realized after all these years that I had been cheated out of the chance to make vows as a young man when romance and love are fresh and making promises like that really means something.”

Both of The Boys (as everyone calls them) injected a little politics into their vows (which made me very proud) but overall their words were touching and heartfelt. All the guests were in tears. And in a moment that was so over the top it wouldn’t make it into the gooiest Lifetime movie, just as The Happy Couple exchanged rings a bald eagle swooped majestically down from the sky and made a U-turn past the bow of the boat before soaring back up above the water.

After the ceremony and the hugs and the kisses and the laughter and the tears we all took the stairs to the upper deck. I stood in back of the boat looking out at the endless Mississip’ and couldn’t help thinking that, while it may have taken Allen and Randy thirty-six years to prove it, the world, and Old Man River are not, I say they are not, just rollin’ along.

My new Canned Ham column on

Canned Ham September 23/24 at Dixon Place in NYC.


  1. What a beautiful story, Tom. You should be writing this stuff down. Oh, that's right. I almost forgot.

  2. This is wonderful. Absolutely touching and JUST what people need to hear. Thanks for sharing.

  3. A lovely recounting. But bacon-wrapped shrimp? Oy gevalt.

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  5. Beautiful story! I'm really enjoying your blog.

  6. It's always nice to be able to say "not dead yet," no matter what the circumstances thrashing about us are !