The SS Warrimoo Wedding

Disclaimer: The SS Warrimoo was a real Australian/New Zealand passenger ship that sailed from 1892–1918. In the 1940s-50s, a story began circulating that the SS Warrimoo had managed to cross the intersection of the International Date Line and the equator right at the turn of the century. This story is based on the unlikely event that the story from the 1940s-50s is true. After encountering the story on Pinterest, I did a little more digging and I couldn’t help but wonder what might have happened if Captain John Phillips of the SS Warrimoo had been officiating a wedding on that night in 1899. Well, 1900 if you were on the other end of the boat.

I don’t think my grandkids ever did believe the story I told them of their grandma and I’s wedding. Well, maybe Penny. She was always one for a story. But the others, they tended to throw in my wedding story with the stories of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I remember little Evan once told me, “Why Grandpa, you can’t even find a picture of your Captain John Phillips on the internet! That proves he isn’t real!”

“That doesn’t prove anything,” I retorted. “The internet is no match for an old man’s memory! Besides, where was the internet in 1899? What could it possibly know about way back then?”

Evan rolled his eyes. His cousins, Lucy and Quin, shook their heads. But Penny, hugging her knees to her chest in a way that made her 8-year-old frame look five years younger, suggested, “Maybe if you tell us the story again, Grandpa. Maybe that will help Evan understand.” She stole a glance at her brother before adding, “Now that he’s 11, he thinks he’s not supposed to believe in anything anymore.”

“That’s not true!” Evan crossed his arms. “I just don’t want to be lied to like a little kid.”

“Well, why don’t you ask Grandma for the story and see if it’s different?”

“Grandma just tells me that Grandpa tells it better.”

I chuckled. “Kids, calm down. Everybody knows that 11-year-olds have it rough. Why, how can you know who to believe? So many stories are turning out to be untrue! But, trust me, grandfathers don’t lie. Especially not about how we met grandmothers.”

Evan remained skeptical. Penny looked quite satisfied and Quin seemed to be leaning toward siding with her. I believe Lucy had heard the word “Grandma” and decided to go find her, perhaps hoping for a tea party. No bother, she’d hear the story again sooner or later. I’d make sure of that.

I cleared my throat. “Well, you see, Captain John Phillips had agreed to take your grandma and me along on his journey from Vancouver to Australia. We’d get married on the way and then do our honeymoon over in Australia. We thought it was pretty perfect. Little did we know what sort of captain we had agreed to sail with.”

“Captain John was always testing his crew. He’d want them to sail as close as possible to something or have them wait until the last minute to make a turn. All sorts of strange tasks. He said it would keep them on their toes. Well, on the 31st of December, the first mate happened to point out that we were only a few miles from the intersection of the International Date Line and the equator. Of course, Captain John immediately thought of a brand new test for his crew.

“He told them to position the boat exactly across that intersection. And by golly, that crew never did disappoint him. They anchored the ship right over the intersection at a quarter to midnight. Then the captain told your grandma and me to get into our wedding clothes.”

Penny, asking the same question she always did at this point in the story, said, “Can you still wear a wedding dress if you get married on a boat?”

“Yes, sweetheart.”

“Did she look pretty?”

“The prettiest anybody has ever looked.”

Penny smiled, whispered to her brother, “I think I’ll get married on a boat someday,” and then turned her eyes back to me.

That was my cue. “So Captain John brought us out to the middle of the boat and he told each of us where to stand. We said our vows before God and the crew and then he pronounced us husband and wife. The salty breeze had the hair on both our heads — I had hair back then, you see — all over and I had to push hair out of her face to give her the wedding kiss.” Pause for the disgusted noises made by children who don’t yet wish to be kissed by anyone. “And then Captain John told us exactly what he had done.

“You see, your grandma was standing in the Northern Hemisphere in the middle of winter on Dec. 31, 1899. But I was standing in the Southern Hemisphere in the middle of summer on Jan. 1, 1900. So we got married in two different hemispheres, on two different days, in two different months, seasons, years and centuries! So, for the last sixty-five years, your grandma has celebrated our wedding anniversary on the 31st of December and I’ve waited to celebrate on the 1st of January. Every year each of us tries to convince the other that they’ve got the wrong date, but so far neither of us has succeeded.” Then I leaned in real close and told them, “Don’t tell her I said so, but I’ve always liked having two anniversaries. So I don’t really mind that I haven’t convinced her to celebrate on my day.”

Of course, after that, all of them, even skeptical little Evan, ran to tell Grandma my “secret.”