KENNEBUNK, Maine — Merton Brown believes Valentine’s Day should be within all of us every day, not just once a year.
And Brown, who not only has been married to his wife, Martha, for nearly 34 years but has married more than 1,800 couples since 1975, could be considered an expert. Affectionately called “Parson Brown” by some, Brown has performed marriages on the 50-yard line of a football field, in a hot air balloon — tethered at his request — in the backseat of a 1954 Chevy, on local beaches and more, even at the top of a ski resort where the entire wedding party was on skis and the bride had to be “rescued” by a ski patrol toboggan to safely get her down the slope.
There have been animals incorporated into some of the ceremonies — from dogs to alpacas — lots of babies, and even rabbis and ministers.
“I happen to believe that the institution of marriage is remarkable and each time I walk away from a ceremony I feel blessed to have been involved and even more blessed and fortunate to have such a great marriage,” he said. “Not just Valentine’s Day, but every day of the year.”
Brown, who is the deputy town clerk and registrar in Kennebunk, became a notary public in the early 1970s when he was working in western Maine.
“To me it’s just a slice of Americana,” he said. “If I never worked in the town clerk’s office, I would have never got involved.
This year, with same-sex marriages being permitted by law in Maine, Brown married several same-sex couples.
“That added a new dimension to it for me. Here are these people that could never do this and now they can, and I’m able to do it,” Brown said. “Uniting two people who have been together as a couple for many years, one couple for 44 years, has been a humbling experience.”
No ceremony is the same, Brown said, and some have been rather interesting. Brown said he has married three sets of first cousins, which is allowed by law in Maine after they prove they have had genetic counseling. While it seems strange, Brown said in each of the ceremonies he performed, it made sense.
He has married couples who have pretended to be married for years, but with no common law marriage rule in Maine they found they had to be officially married for inheritance issues, and couples who married each other for the second time — it just didn’t work out the first time. One couple videotaped their whole ceremony, kept it a secret, and then invited all their families and friends to their wedding where, instead of walking down the aisle, they showed the video.
Brown said he is sometimes asked to perform a ceremony for couples right at the counter, but that’s the only location he doesn’t like.
“There are so many great places to be married other than Town Hall,” he said. “I usually convince them to go to the gazebo at Rotary Park or just step outside under the maple tree. I especially like beach weddings or going to their homes.”
If there’s bound to be one common issue amongst the weddings he has been a part of, Brown said it’s most often the mothers of the bride.
“If there is going to be an issue with procedure, it will most always originate with the mother of the bride,” he said. “Sorry, but there is a good reason they get a bad rap.”
Brown said he has also found that while most couples go into the nuptials thinking it is simply the legal union of a relationship that they believe has stood the test of time, they find there is much more to it.
“What happens is they are overcome with emotion which often catches them off guard,” he said. “It turns into a highly emotionally charged moment that is an experience for all those in attendance.”
While he works each ceremony out with the couple, and most often they leave the ins and outs to him, he says he always reflects back to his own wedding nearly 34 years ago.
“Being a ‘knot tier,’ has always been a constant reminder of those vows that we said to each other. Those words spoken have taken on deeper meaning over the years,” he said. “Although marriage is not for everyone, I believe that is the reason that I do what I do every day. I feel very blessed and fortunate to share my life with such an amazing person.”