ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Jane Parent and Mark Bennett tell the story about how they got engaged as their dog Sheila sits with them.
By BILL BROTHERTON
Granted, everyone’s engagement story is special and unique, but some are more special and unique than others. With Valentine’s Day tomorrow, here are the stories of two Lynn couples that will tug at your heart and bring a smile to your face.
Mark Bennett and Jane Parent
It’s a good thing bowling was canceled, or Mark Bennett and Jane Parent might have never gotten married.
The couple has been together for some 26 years. They met when both were helping friends move into a house in Danvers. “Mark and I bickered over how to tie the furniture down in my truck,” said Parent, who grew up in Salem. On March 2, 1991 their friends hosted a skating party in the Meadows behind their home, the two connected and that was, as Humphrey Bogart said, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
They never felt an urge to get married, since they have no children together. But now that they’re both 62 years old, it made sense to “make it legal” from a financial viewpoint since common law marriage is not recognized in Massachusetts. “We own a house together. Believe it or not, we are actually grownups,” said Parent.
Bennett, a mail handler at the US Postal Service’s Processing and Distribution Center in North Reading, said he and Parent always “at some point in time planned to get married.” The Beverly Farms native found out that Lynn City Hall was open Tuesday nights and a justice of the peace could be provided. He told Parent.
“I can’t get married on a Tuesday. I bowl on Tuesdays,” she said.
Parent, until recently a surgical technologist at Winchester Hospital, has been bowling with the Kardettes for more than 30 years every Tuesday night at Sunnyside Lanes in Danvers. The guys played cards every Tuesday night at the Polish Club in Danvers, and this group of now-“AARP-eligible married and single women” decided to make their own fun.
And then in 2015 a holiday miracle happened. Bowling had been cancelled the week between Christmas and New Year’s. “I have no bowling that night, so let’s get married,” Parent told a bemused Bennett.
“He said ‘OK,’” she continued. “There was none of that getting down on one knee stuff.”
Bennett asked if his bride-to-be wanted a ring. “Why would I want a ring? I’ve got my mother’s beautiful ring.”
So, on Dec. 29, 2015, Mark Bennett and Jane Parent tied the knot at Lynn City Hall. “It was snowy and slippery, a messy night,” added Bennett with a laugh. “We got it done, and then we had dinner at the Blue Ox. It was wonderful.
“We came home and then I went to work.”
Was there a honeymoon? The two flash an are-you-serious look. “Jane went to St. John’s with the girls and I went to Americade (Motorcycle Rally) in Lake George, N.Y., with some friends.” They both had a spectacular time.
“Our relationship to each other was sobriety,” added Parent, sharing the couch in their Lynnfield Street home with Bennett and their German shepherd Sheila. “It’s been easy to work things out rationally.”
“We accept a higher power. This, Jane and our life together, is the gift that’s been given to me. … Sometimes it’s been a good gift,” said Bennett with a smirk.
“We had rented in a mobile home park in Peabody for 11 years,” said Bennett. “Jane said ‘We need a house. We need a garage we can put our bikes in.’ I joke that we bought a garage with a house attached.
“Adventures with Jane has been the theme of our relationship,” added Bennett. “My life has been filled with adventures I never could have envisioned. My tendency is to be conservative. I’d fly to San Diego to visit my sister, but not Jane. She researched and planned 16 days on motorcycles all the way to Mexico, and then we rode into San Diego.”
“We’ve been very blessed,” added Parent.
Do they have special Valentine’s Day plans? “Hmmm. Well, there’s no bowling that Tuesday night, so who knows,” said Parent.
Brian and MaryBeth Maes
For years, Brian Maes’ friends had urged him to check out MaryBeth Linehan, a sassy singer from North Billerica. “You two would be perfect together,” they insisted, and they were talking about a romantic partnership rather than a musical one.
Maes, a successful musician in his own right who has played in bands with Peter Wolf, Barry Goudreau and other notables, said “uh, huh” and dragged his feet as men are wont to do.
One evening, his band and her band were rocking the house on different floors at the former Bleachers club in Salem. “I heard her sing and thought, “Wow. She can really sing and she’s beautiful.’ I vividly remember crossing paths with her and her band in the back stairway that bands used at Bleachers.”
Still, Brian did nothing.
A frustrated mutual friend, Lou Spagnola, the bassist in the band Fortune, tried to intervene. One night at the Crackers bar in Beverly, matchmaker Lou approached MaryBeth and asked “Do you want to meet my friend for coffee?” MaryBeth snapped, “What are we, in middle school? No!”
Spagnola eventually got them together. He invited MaryBeth to an open mic night Brian was hosting. They found a table, and Lou walked over to Brian: “I’m going to the bathroom. Go over and make idle chit-chat.” He did. He was smitten.
That was in 2001. “It was magic,” said Maes. “I had to tell myself to calm down, don’t scare her away. The feeling stayed with me for the whole ride home.”
MaryBeth, sitting next to Brian on a couch in the music studio next to their Garfield Avenue home, said she felt the sparks too. Soon after, MaryBeth took voice lessons from Brian; afterward they went for pizza at Prince in Saugus. A bit later she attended a special studio session Brian was doing.
“My closest friends were there. Dennis Tully, Guy Pond, Patty Barkas. All three said ‘Brian, what’s with this girl? You two are amazing together.’ Patty told me to ‘marry that girl and impregnate her immediately.’”
Brian asked MaryBeth on a date. To a middle school production of “The Wizard of Oz” that starred then-11-year-old Annie McNerney, one of his voice students. The man behind the curtain had finally mustered some courage.
“It was a magical first date,” Brian said. “On May 20, 2001,” they sing in unison. They became engaged on Dec. 9, 2002, MaryBeth’s birthday.
“I was determined to propose on her birthday,” said Brian. “I went to the Jewelers Building in Boston. I had the whole thing planned out.” Brian put the ring in his jacket pocket, the one closest to his heart.
They met up and walked to the Frog Pond ice skating rink on Boston Common. Brian was a nervous wreck. “It was wicked cold. I was afraid I was going to lose the ring.” While they were skating, Brian started his well-prepared proposal. “I love you. Things are, um, really good. We’re doing so good.” An inexpert skater approached and nearly ran into them. Brian started again. “We’re doing so good…” MaryBeth said “Yes. We are.”
“I’m about to pop the question,” said Brian, with a laugh, “and this same guy comes toward us yelling ‘Please move. I’m out of control.’”
Brian cleared his throat and started again. “We’re doing so good…” MaryBeth said “Yes. We’re doing so good. What’s wrong with you?”
“What are you doing for the rest of your life? We’re doing so good…” MaryBeth accepted. “It was like ‘Love Story,’” said Brian.
They walked arm-in-arm to the Theater District, saw the musical “Stomp,” ate Thai at Montien and then saw “Blue Man Group.” Afterward, they stopped for a nightcap at the Tam, the quintessential Boston dive bar. The old timers sitting at the bar bought them shots. MaryBeth found a pay phone on the street and called her parents: “ ‘I’m engaged.’ My parents were very excited.”
A justice of the peace married them on March 16, 2003 upstairs at the Lyceum restaurant in Salem with about 60 family members joining the celebration. Among the revelers were Brian’s 94-year-old Uncle Gil, who “danced with all the pretty girls and carried around a coffee cup that was full of whiskey.” They honeymooned on the West Coast of Ireland. MaryBeth was pregnant with their daughter Madeline, who is now 13 and a budding musician.
Bill Brotherton is The Item’s Features editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.