Mary Kate Vollmer and Evan Sloan didn’t intend to cause a ruckus with their Nov. 2 wedding in the automotive aisle of Blain’s Farm & Fleet, a country store in Montgomery, Ill. They were just trying to bring Mr. Sloan’s 90-year-old, coronavirus-stricken grandmother, Beth Stanley, some peace.
“Ever since March, when we moved in together, Grandma was like, ‘You live together, you have to get married,’” said Mr. Sloan, 31, of Oswego, Ill. The couple, who met in April 2018 through a dating app (neither can remember which), were working toward it. Mr. Sloan, a personal injury trial lawyer, had proposed to Ms. Vollmer, a medical surgical nurse who works with coronavirus patients, on a Sept. 23 walk around a local lake where they had once spotted a great blue heron. Ms. Vollmer, 29, said yes.
Getting married in 2020 was not on their radar. “We were waiting for the Covid numbers to go down,” Ms. Vollmer said. “We were thinking, we’ll send out Christmas cards with a save-the-date for maybe April. But then Evan’s grandma got sick.”
At the end of October, Mr. Sloan’s mother called from his hometown Kalamazoo, Mich. “The first thing she said was, ‘Grandma has Covid,’” he said. “I could tell she was freaked out.” Ms. Stanley, though robust for 90, was in assisted-living housing. “She had been through all these negative events, like my grandfather dying a few years ago. When I talked to her, I could tell she was struggling with her mortality, and scared. I knew the next few weeks would have to be about helping Grandma get her strength back.”
Ms. Stanley’s recovery was a priority for Ms. Vollmer, too. “I really connected with her through the pandemic,” she said. “She’s a retired nurse, so we’ve had all these things to talk about. She’s very hard of hearing and she can’t read lips with people wearing masks, so I’ve been writing her letters since March.”
The Friday Mr. Sloan got the call from his mother, he and Ms. Vollmer texted a friend, Kerry Ervin, a minister ordained through the Universal Life Church. “We were like, ‘What day are you free next week?’” Ms. Vollmer said. For Ms. Stanley’s sake, they told her, they wanted to be married right away. They already had rings and a marriage license. The location didn’t matter much.
Mostly, though, they wanted to make things easy on Ms. Ervin, who had to drive 30 minutes from her home in Aurora, Ill., to meet them. “We figured if she was going to come all this way she’d want to see her son.”
Her son, Scott Ervin, is an assistant manager in the automotive department at Farm & Fleet, a store with locations throughout the Midwest. Ms. Vollmer has been a customer for decades. As a child, she went with her father, who would give her 50 cents to take to the register for candy. In recent years, it has been her go-to store for hospital scrubs. The parking lot of the Montgomery location, Mr. Sloan and Ms. Vollmer decided, would be a fine spot to exchange vows in front of Ms. Ervin.
“We thought it would make an interesting story to tell my Grandma,” Mr. Sloan said. Cold weather caused them to reconsider the parking lot as they exited the car on Nov. 2 with Ms. Vollmer in a $35 short-sleeve lace dress she ordered rush delivery from Amazon and Mr. Sloan in a jacket and tie. When Ms. Ervin pulled up, the threesome, with some trepidation, ventured into the store for the ceremony.
“We were a little worried about getting kicked out,” Mr. Sloan said. In the automotive aisle, they found Mr. Ervin and the store manager, Ken Kesselring, who had no intention of kicking them out. Instead, he offered to hold Ms. Vollmer’s coat and serve as a witness.
“The whole thing took less than five minutes,” Ms. Sloan said. Because of the pandemic, “we really wanted to get in and get out without causing a stir.” Though they managed to do so, they didn’t leave without filing away a few memories.
“Every time I smell a tire or see a car battery now, I’m going to think about getting married,” Mr. Sloan said.
Ms. Stanley may welcome that scent and sight, too. “Hearing we got married really lifted her spirits. She’s gone from, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m going to die,’ to ‘Oh, my gosh, my grandson got married!’”