Tony Travick was a nervous man last Saturday.
It was his wedding day.
He felt as if he had swallowed every butterfly on Hazel Street. He did not pace the floor with cold feet, but his palms were like an irrigation system.
His best man, Orlando Hinton, suggested that they get away for a little while, maybe get some coffee. Instead, they rode around for 45 minutes. The circling seemed to calm him more than caffeine.
Tony wore a black suit with a purple tie. It was the first time in his life he had ever put on a suit.
Eleven months ago, Tony was released from the Decatur County Prison in Bainbridge. He needed a place to land, and he wasn’t sure where to go. He did not want to return to his life on the streets of Atlanta.
One of his inmate friends was from Macon. He suggested the Rescue Mission of Middle Georgia, formerly the Macon Rescue Mission, with its famous JESUS CARES in block letters across the front of the building.
Tony had never been to Macon. He was looking for a fresh start. He stepped off the Greyhound bus and asked a police officer for directions. He arrived at the mission after hours. It was too late to check in for the night, so he made sure he was there when the doors opened the next morning. He was sent for job training at the mission’s Bargain Center on Napier Avenue.
Edna Tolliver was shopping with her aunt at the thrift store that day. Tony was hanging clothes on the racks. She asked if he knew anything about the exercise equipment. He had no clue. He did know, however, that she had his undivided attention.
She gave him her name, but not her phone number. She told him she might be back the following Thursday. He said she could contact him at his new address -- the Rescue Mission -- even though house rules did not permit him to receive any phone calls for the first 30 days he was there.
As it turned out, that was the only day he worked at the Bargain Center. The next morning, he was switched to the grounds crew.
Edna had grown up in east Macon. At first, she did not tell him about her cancer. She had undergone a bone marrow transplant 10 years earlier, and it had been in remission.
She was divorced. There had been tragedy in her life. Her 13-year-old son, Roland, collapsed and died after playing a pick-up basketball game at a friend’s house in Macon in 1998.
Tony wasn’t completely transparent with her, either. He did not bring up that he had been incarcerated and had spent the last seven years behind bars. He had been born a “John Doe baby” 47 years ago, had never known his family and had been a black child raised by a white foster mother. Despite his foster mom’s good intentions, he had turned to a life of drugs and crime.
“I became so polluted I didn’t know who I was,” he said.
Tony had his reasons for throwing a cloak over his troubled past whenever he was around Edna.
“I was scared,” he said. “I didn’t want it to end before it started.”
It didn’t matter that she was 10 years older and he was almost two heads taller. Or that she had been raised in the church, was well educated and was a pharmacist at the Coliseum Hospital pharmacy. And that he had never been to college and didn’t have a driver’s license.
On the first Saturday in August, he met her in the chapel. He prayed for God to guide his words. He told her about the reckless journey that had led him to Macon.
Edna’s friends sent off flares. “He’s not for you,” they would tell her. “Be careful,” others warned. “He’s homeless.”
“I stopped telling some of them,” she said. “They didn’t understand. His letters were so uplifting. I saw a lot of good qualities in him. I felt he had a lot to give.”
They began rehearsing “I love you” until the words were genuine. They traveled places and did things together.
At the mission’s annual Thanksgiving luncheon, Tony stood up in a dining room filled with transients and shared his story. Executive Director Erin Reimers, her staff and volunteers were surprised when he announced he was going to get married. After all, he hadn’t popped the question to Edna.
Ten days later, Tony dropped on his knees and proposed in the chapel. The staff and volunteers then went to work to make the wedding ceremony happen, getting many of the services donated.
In January, Edna got back her test results from the doctor. The multiple myeloma had returned. She had her first bone marrow transplant at Tulane in New Orleans in 2004. She will go back for a consultation on April 22.
Edna said she wanted to be married in the spring and chose the first weekend in April, sandwiched between her rounds of radiation and chemotherapy. It has been a whirlwind week. She was married April 5 and celebrated her 58th birthday on Monday. On Friday, Tony graduated from the Rescue Mission’s recovery program. He is now a full-time employee. His duties are to help pick up donated items in the mission’s truck.
The service was traditional, and almost every seat was filled in the chapel. At her first wedding, Edna had been to a justice of the peace in Atlanta, so this was her first “church” wedding. Edna’s daughter, Rolanda Givens, was the matron of honor. Her grandson, Jordan Givens, was the ring bearer. Her brother, William Adside, gave her away.
Chaplain Pat Chastain performed the ceremony, which is believed to have been the first wedding in the mission’s chapel since the new facility opened on Hazel Street in 2000, after beginning at the foot of Poplar Street in 1952.
Tony said he has been blessed to begin this new chapter in his life, but he still allows himself to “rewind the tape to remind me where I came from.”
“I don’t know if I would change anything,” he said. “Because, if I did, I would not be where I am today.”
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.