ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — She had everything planned. It would be the perfect wedding, big and old-school, just as they wanted.
She had the dress. He had the zoot suit.
Deborah Ortiz and Rudy Lucero would marry at the University of New Mexico duck pond, surrounded by their five children serving as bridesmaids and groomsmen, their seven grandchildren and 325 close friends and family. A procession of classic cars, each adorned with flowers Ortiz made out of tissue, would escort the wedding party to a grand reception.
And then the honeymoon in Hawaii. And then the rest of their lives.
They had the perfect date – June 6, 2020, for the numerical symmetry of 6/6/2020.
As you might have guessed by now, the pandemic didn’t care about the symmetry, didn’t care about the planning, didn’t care that Ortiz now had a thousand tissue flowers stuffed in her dining room, didn’t care about their perfect, big, old school wedding.
COVID-19 ruined their plans. And then it nearly ruined their lives.
They have been together for 15 years, a long engagement, you might say.
“People asked us all the time when were we going to get married, why weren’t we married,” Ortiz said. “And Rudy would tell them there were only so many times he could take being rejected.”
But she had never rejected him. He had never asked.
“I figured it was just an easy way to throw it on me because he wasn’t ready yet,” she said. “As for me, I thought we were good just the way we were.”
And so it went until March 29, 2019, when they celebrated Ortiz’s 50th birthday. There in front of about 175 family and friends and fellow members of the Drifters Car Club, Lucero apparently let go of his fear of rejection and proposed.
She said “yes.”
After their wedding last year was canceled, they looked to a new date in the hopes that by then the virus would be vanquished, normal life would return and the perfect wedding could happen. They chose April, 3, 2021 – or 4/3/21.
“We call it the final countdown,” she said.
But then came COVID-19 on New Year’s Day. Both of them lost their sense of smell and taste and energy. She had a bad cough. He slept a lot. When his oxygen saturation level dropped significantly five days later, he was taken by ambulance to the hospital.
For weeks, his health fluctuated in the COVID-19 unit at Lovelace Medical Center while she recovered at home, their only communication through FaceTime and Zoom. At times, doctors discussed the possibility of intubating Lucero, but each time he rallied.
On Feb. 6, a Saturday, he had a request.
Let’s get married, he said. Let’s not wait.
But how? They had no marriage license and no one to marry them.
Love, as they say, always finds a way. And that way sometimes involves family.
And Ortiz has a lot of family.
Her cousin Rachel Perry works for Metro Court Judge Frank Sedillo and enlisted him to perform the ceremony.
The Bernalillo County Clerk’s Office was closed on the weekends, so a marriage license couldn’t be obtained there. But Rose Ortiz, Deborah’s mom, contacted another Ortiz cousin, Ruidoso Village Manager Tim Dodge, who knew Guadalupe County Clerk Robert Serrano III from his days as Santa Rosa city manager and asked for a favor.
Serrano not only opened the clerk’s office and issued the marriage license but had his father-in-law, Glen Gonzales, make the 117-mile trip from Santa Rosa to Albuquerque to deliver the license.
Cousins Ernestine Ortiz and Matthew Cordova, both nurses at Lovelace, agreed to serve as witnesses in Lucero’s hospital room while Ortiz’s daughter, Alexandria Maes, and Lucero’s brother (and best man), Ogee Lucero, stood as witnesses for her.
In a matter of hours, she had everything planned.
On Feb. 7, a sunny Super Bowl Sunday, Deborah Ortiz became Mrs. Deborah Lucero as about 100 family and friends donned their masks and social distanced and classic cars rolled along in the Lovelace parking lot in what Judge Sedillo called the largest Zoom wedding he has ever presided over.
It was perfect.
She was even allowed to spend a few hours with her groom in his hospital room afterward. It wasn’t Hawaii, but it was the first time she had gotten to see him in the flesh since he was whisked away in an ambulance.
He is still in the hospital, his oxygen levels and his strength still too unstable to be discharged. But the newlyweds remain hopeful that he’ll be home soon.
There will be time someday for Hawaii, the wedding gown and the zoot suits, the flower-bedecked classic cars, the vows repeated at the duck pond, the friends and the family, especially the family.
For now they are grateful for the wedding bands on their fingers, the virtual hugs and kisses on FaceTime, the love that finally came along, big and old school and perfect enough.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.