By Ben Pilla
Many years ago, my best friend Jim told me he decided to get married.
He knew his mom wouldn’t approve, and his girlfriend’s parents didn’t think much of him at the time. But they were in love or lust at their age. They had planned to elope.
Since he didn’t have a car, Jim asked me to drive him and his future bride to Elkton, Maryland.
Elkton was and has been the place to get married quickly, as all one needed was a marriage license and a birth certificate. No appointments were necessary.
Walk into any one of the many Justices of the Peace (JP) or any of the “Marriage Chapels,” and for a few bucks with the necessary paperwork, you could get “hitched.”
Before 1938, there was no paperwork needed and no waiting period.
(Today, there is a 48-hour waiting period before you can get married.)
In past years, many movie stars were married there.
Quickie marriages were quite the business in this small town of a few thousand people.
Since it was less than a 50-mile drive from our neighborhood in suburban Philadelphia to Elkton, and being my best friend and neighbor from our early high school days, I said sure.
So one warm spring day, off we went to Maryland.
I stopped along the main street in Elkton, and we walked up to a nice-looking old home with a front porch and a Justice of the Peace sign out front.
The front door was open, but we knocked and were told to come on in.
An older gentleman welcomed us, looked at the paperwork, collected the fee, and asked if I was the only witness. When Jim said yes, the JP turned around, faced away from us, and hollered with a slightly southern drawl, “HEY HON, GIT OUT HERE.”
Out from the kitchen came his wife wearing an apron. She stood by my side during the marriage “ceremony“ which lasted all of one minute!
The JP signed the marriage license, gave it to Jim, wished the couple luck, and asked us to leave by the back door.
When we were outside, there was a line of taxis like you would see at any airport. The first cabbie hollered over to us if we needed a ride. We said no, and went on our way.
AND NOW THE REST OF THE STORY
When we arrived at Jim’s house and he told his mom he was married, she blew her stack like any Irish Catholic mother from the last generation would surely do.
She laid down the law that they must get their marriage “blessed” by the parish priest. And being the good son that he was, and as his mom was a recent widow, they did.
Even though I moved to Florida some years later, we still kept in touch, I even attended his retirement party, and the couple stayed happily married.
His wife called me one day and said Jim had suddenly passed away while she was planning their 50th wedding anniversary, which coincided with his 70th birthday party.
My best friend is gone, and as Paul Harvey closed his radio broadcasts,
“Now you know the rest of the story.”
Born before WWII, Ben Pilla was raised in south Philadelphia in a lower-middle-class home in an ethnically mixed neighborhood. He moved to the suburbs as a teen and attended Drexel University for a short while. Ben felt fortunate to know what he wanted to do with his life while in high school, so he took a two-year technical course at Temple University. Laboratory work became his passion—mechanical was fine, but metallurgy to Ben was more interesting.
Ben became one of the few in his company to learn how to operate an electron microscope, first transmission (TEM), and then scanning (SEM). He continued to work for Westinghouse in the Philadelphia area until 1982, later transferring to their laboratory in Concordville, PA, until 1997, when the company decided to move to central Florida. On a few occasions, Ben visited power plants for his job. He’s traveled to approximately one-half of the United States and once overseas to South Korea.
After Westinghouse Power Generations merged with Siemens Corporation, Ben retired in 2002 after 45 years of dedicated service. Ben feels fortunate to have spent his entire career employed by the same company.