A Nice Ring To It

To their children and grandchildren, it seems perfectly natural of longtime friends Mary Beth Beck and Glen Pearson to marry.

July 06, 2002|By Larry Bingham | Larry Bingham,SUN STAFF

CLARKSBURG - All the children came in for the wedding yesterday: The groom's three, the bride's four, even 10 of the grandchildren.

They came here to northwestern Montgomery County, to a secluded farmhouse near the small crossroads of Clarksburg, from as far away as Mississippi, Missouri, Texas, Nebraska, California, New Zealand. And they came not because the bride is 84 and the groom is 88 but because Mary Beth Beck and Glen Pearson reared them to recognize love, to value marriage, to be grateful for both.

So the children set out folding metal chairs in an arc beside the garden, under the shade trees, and gathered there at 11 a.m. When the oppressive heat of the past few days finally broke and a cool breeze blew up from the valley, like so many other things, it seemed meant to be.

Besides all of that, the children had heard wedding bells long before their parents ever did, and this was one walk down the aisle they would not miss.

When Glen, a retired surgeon from Hattiesburg, Miss., told his children earlier this year that he was going to marry Mary Beth - and when she told hers - the children were delighted and not at all surprised. As Glen's daughter Anne says, "It was a natural fit."

The two families had known each other many years, and the children, who are now grown with children of their own, have long understood that Glen was someone dear to Mary Beth and vice versa. They had seen the relationship evolve from its first form, friendship.

Mary Beth in those days was married to Cliff Beck, a nuclear physicist whose career brought them from their home state of Mississippi here to Maryland. They were married 43 years when Cliff died of Alzheimer's in 1986. Mary Beth was so content with the good life she'd had that she never imagined she would marry again.

In those same years, Glen was married to Mary Beth's friend, Elaine Coleman. Because Mary Beth and Elaine and Thelma Arnott - a third friend from the days when they were young ladies working and rooming together in Nashville - were so close, their families stayed in touch and visited often. When the children were young, they saw these other adults often enough to think of them as fondly as uncles and aunts.

Elaine died of breast cancer, after 30 years of marriage to Glen, and he married Thelma. They were married 26 years when Thelma died suddenly, of cardiac arrest, last year.

The children knew how deeply Thelma's death hurt both their parents. Mary Beth had been unable to attend her friend's funeral so when she went to Mississippi later to grieve, she visited Glen. He wrote to her after that, she wrote back to him, and even though their letters contained nothing more than friendship, their children saw the seeds of a new relationship scattered about. As Glen's daughter Anne says, "We just had to sit back and let nature take its course."

Christmas approached, and Anne didn't want her father to spend the holidays alone, so she encouraged him to visit a sister-in-law in Chevy Chase, knowing that would also give him a reason to see Mary Beth again. The trip was postponed, and it was not until Glen came north in January that the new relationship sprouted.

A shared past

Although Mary Beth was at first shocked when Glen expressed a romantic interest, she soon saw the opportunity as a blessing and a gift. It made perfect sense: They had similar interests in nature, music and poetry, similar values and backgrounds, and something few newlyweds have, a shared past.

So while Mary Beth does not recall if Glen asked her outright, if he formally proposed, she knew what he was intimating and said yes.

She ordered a wedding dress from a catalog while visiting her daughter. She and Glen picked out simple bands. They asked a minister to perform the ceremony, discussed whom they would invite and set a date. They behaved like teen-agers, reminding each of their children that life should be lived every day, every minute.

"My first two thoughts have been, in sequence, that's amazing and then that's fantastic," says Mary Beth's daughter Barbara. "Amazing in the sense that's it's an enormous event, and two people who are octogenarians are enthusiastically embracing all that that means with such passion and excitement. As trite and as overused as that word is, still, it's amazing."

In the family

The children and their children descended on the quiet farm days before the wedding. They sat barefoot around the kitchen table, they covered the countertops with plastic cups marked with each of their names, they went swimming, they talked and talked, and some of them slept in tents and campers outside, under the stars.

At the wedding, Glen's two daughters sang "One Hand, One Heart" from West Side Story with Mary Beth's two sons. One of her sons and an 8-year-old granddaughter played a duet on violin and recorder, and all the grandchildren rang small bells after the benediction. The first people in line to hug the bride and groom afterward were their grown children.

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