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Time-travelers to a lost place

A couple, now married more than 30 years (and less than 40), revisited the wedding scene on their anniversary, for perhaps the 20th time. Well, they almost visited it. The minister's house where they were married is no longer standing. More than 10 years ago, the building was torn down and replaced by a church recreational center. The sound of marriage vows gave way to the dribble of basketballs. Is this a sign of the times? Sometimes our couple wonders.

The day of the wedding, a woman across the street interrupted cooking dinner -- or supper, as they say in those parts -- to bustle over and serve as witness. The couple gave her a box of chocolates for her services, even though she wore an anxious faraway look, as if she were worrying about her spaghetti sauce. Her house is no longer there, either.

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The time-travelers have a theory. The more sentimental a landmark, the more likely it is to go. You never see banks disappearing like this.

Perhaps place wouldn't seem so important to the couple if it hadn't turned out that they'd been married in the wrong place in the first place.

An aunt who knew the best place for everything -- a regular Michelin guide -- had suggested the site. A picture-postcard little New England town, she said. Village green. White spires. Currier and Ives country.

The day dawned, gray and drizzly, and stayed that way. The first thing the couple saw, coming into their fairy-tale town, was an old factory, next to a brackish stream.

But this was the place, all right. The map said so. The sign said so. And Auntie had said it was ``a charmer,'' and Auntie sure had Good Taste. In fact, the drugstore on the corner was white -- peeling white.

People getting married are either supersensitive to everything going on around them -- or else they're fairly oblivious, an environment unto themselves. Under the circumstances, the couple decided to go with their inner landscape.

When they returned from the honeymoon, they thanked the aunt, as if she had directed them to the most idyllic spot this side of Shangri-La.

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``Didn't I tell you?'' the aunt said.

One sunny day more than 30 years later, the couple arrived at the site that was no longer really the site and decided on impulse to see what was up the road a piece. A mile or so on, they hit a small rise. On top of the hill, like the perfect stage set for ``Our Town,'' perched a village green, and in back of it, a gleaming white meeting house with a tower and steeple clock -- gold hands and numbers on a black face. At a right angle to the meeting house stood a red-brick church.

Here was the enchanted village Auntie had in mind. In New England, what a difference a ``Center'' makes after a town's name -- or a ``North,'' ``South,'' ``East,'' ``West'' before it! The original meeting house, the couple learned, had been built in 1775, with the beams raised the day of the Battle of Bunker Hill. It was used for worship until 1884, when it became the town hall. It had also served as a school until abandoned temporarily in 1914. Then, in 1922, it was restored, along with the horse shed out back, built in 1810.

The couple drank in the facts, as if they were their own personal statistics:

The first minister served his congregation for 76 years. He became as real as the minister who married them.

A former slave named Amos Fortune was an early pillar of the church. Why could he not be added to the wedding party, along with the spaghetti-sauce worrier? In retrospect, everything becomes possible.

The time-travelers have concluded that their little mistake actually entitles them to a special share in the scene they originally undershot. After more than 30 years (and less than 40), what's a mile and a half?

A Wednesday and Friday column

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