True love knows no obstacles.
So after dealing with an earthquake, a hurricane and a looming deployment for an undisclosed installation, a Navy man and his beloved went to the corridors of power in Fanwood to help them tie the knot before he was shipped off to war.
Andrew Laffey, of Martinsville, and Melissa Picchietti, of Chicago, Ill., had planned to obtain a marriage waiver at the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth. The document would allow Picchietti and Laffey, a fire controlman third-class Petty Officer assigned to the USS San Jacinto, to bypass the traditional 72-hour waiting period and marry immediately Monday before he heads to Norfolk Naval Base Tuesday morning, where he will be deployed for a confidential mission. But there was only one problem. Hurricane Irene's unwanted influence forced the courthouse to remain closed.
Laffey remained undaunted in his quest to solve this matrimonial dilemma. He went where all young men go when faced with a crisis – to his mother. Susan, a former teacher at and schools in Scotch Plains, made a call on her son's behalf. The Martinsville resident reached out to Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr, a former student who, in 2007, married Susan and Richard Sabo.
Mahr contacted Superior Court Judge Scott Moynihan, a Scotch Plains resident, who said that not only would he be more than happy to sign the waiver, but he happened to have one at his house. Just after 2 p.m., signatures in hand, Laffey and Picchietti exchanged vows in Fanwood's Borough Hall.
"I like this more than doing search warrants at 3 in the morning," Moynihan said after posing for photos with the couple.
Laffey grew up in Bridgewater, but said he spent countless afternoons in Fanwood with his grandmother, Mildred Sabatello, a longtime resident who was also in attendance at the wedding. Picchietti said she met Laffey in December while he was training at Naval Station Great Lakes, 12 miles north of Highland Park.
"One of his friends who was also in the Navy introduced us," she said.
Laffey proposed last month, during a four-day trip to his family's cabin in Lakeville Plantation, Maine. The pair planned to marry in October, but two weeks ago, Laffey learned he would be shipping out far earlier than anticipated. He had already picked up the wedding rings, but Picchietti's family couldn't make the ceremony — not only did Hurricane Irene snarl air traffic across the east, but the family (including Laffey and Picchietti) had just attended a cousin's wedding Saturday.
"I think we've only gotten five hours of sleep in the past three days," Picchietti said with a laugh. "Andrew got into Chicago from Norfolk on Friday and I picked him up at the airport. He was supposed to come the night before, but he slept at the airport because his flights got pushed back because of the weather. And then we drove from Chicago to New Jersey on Sunday."
The crowd was small for the Borough Hall nuptials, including Susan, Sabo and Sabatello, Mahr, tax collector/registrar Colleen Huehn — and this Scotch Plains-Fanwood Patch editor.
But not all the obstacles had been overcome before the ceremony. Just as the wedding was about to start, Susan's camera battery was running low on power and nobody had a backup. Pat Hoynes-O'Connor, a clerk in Borough Hall, went off in search of a camera and headed across the parking lot to the Fanwood Rescue Squad headquarters, where I happened to be plugging away on Irene coverage.
A certified Emergency Medical Technician with the squad, and with no electricity at my own home from the storm, I was using the squad building for its electricity. When Hoynes-O'Connor came through the doors and found I had my camera, I was pressed into service for my first job as impromptu wedding photographer for the happy couple.
During the ceremony, Laffey, wearing his Navy blues, and Picchietti, looking elegant in a short tiered wedding dress — and flip-flops — couldn't stop beaming. After exchanging rings, they kissed three times – Susan, who had hand't used her camera to this point just so she could capture the moment, kept asking the couple to recreate the kiss. The third time proved to be the charm. The two enjoyed the extra kisses, and if Susan's camera didn't work, I was there to capture the perfect moment too.
"This has kind of been a whirlwind, and a little overwhelming," Picchietti said after the courtroom wedding. "Seeing my first cousin married was a great experience, being with my family, and then coming back here and having these new emotions, too, has been – it's a lot thrown at you, but in a good way. I'm very happy."
It was a joyous occassion for all involved.
"I think this is the first time I've married two generations of the same family," the mayor said after Laffey and Picchietti presented Mahr with a ceramic angel as a thank-you gift for acting as their wedding coordinator.
The newlyweds then celebrated with Susan, Sabo, Sabatello, and a handful of Laffey's friends at the Siena Grille in Red Bank, which is owned by another of Susan's former students. The couple spent the night at Sabatello's, then hit the road Tuesday. They've put down a deposit on an off-base apartment in Virginia Beach, but will spend Tuesday night in a hotel along the way to their new life.
Picchietti will live in their new apartment while Laffey deploys to his new mission.
Earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding and new orders aside, the newly married Laffeys overcame all obstacles and found a way to marry despite the odds. They are on the road to their new life and are surely set to take on whatever else Mother Nature and the military throws their way.