"I'd Marry You All Over Again!"
Tammy & Jeff Dixon
Concord, North Carolina
Married November 17, 2001
Renewed at four years
While the sun set over the Caribbean Sea, Tammy and Jeff repeated the vows that had joined them in matrimony after a saga that rivals any soap opera. As children they both lived for a time on an aptly named street in Nashville, Tennessee: Hart Lane. "I've loved Tammy since first grade," says Jeff, 42. "She could already read that year, so the teacher had her lead the story time. I'd sit at her feet and stare at her and think about how pretty and smart she was."
Tammy, also 42, says the childhood attraction was mutual. "He had big puppy dog eyes," she remembers. "Little kids can fall in love. We were inseparable until third grade, during which I switched to another school about half an hour away."
Jeff says their farewell was traumatic for him. "I chased her around the playground until she let me kiss her goodbye," he recalls. It wasn't the end of their relationship, though. Throughout their elementary and high school years, they ran into one another at the bowling alley and roller-skating rink. The intensity of Jeff's feelings for Tammy never lessened. "Every time I saw her, it was like we'd never been apart," he says. "Eventually I dated a girl from my school, but I always thought about Tammy." She dated, too, but never got too serious about anyone in particular.
Right after her high school graduation, Tammy called Jeff on impulse. Thrilled, he invited her to his graduation and a party the following week. Then he took care of a little problem. "After I hung up, I broke up with my current girlfriend," Jeff says. "I knew I wanted Tammy."
They started dating and by the end of the summer were engaged. Yet right before they started college on local campuses about a half hour apart, Tammy got cold feet. "I wanted to sow my wild oats and find out what the bad boys were like," she jokes, adding more seriously, "we were so young, and Jeff was so, well, so nice. I wanted to see who else was out there."
Jeff was heartbroken. "I had almost fulfilled my dream of marrying Tammy, and she was gone," he says.
In 1987, Tammy joined the Air Force. She was stationed in Northern California, where she worked in a communications unit and married a serviceman. Jeff also married and became the father of a son, Jeffrey, in 1986; he and his family then moved to North Carolina, where he worked as a NASCAR fabricator and mechanic.
In 1991, just before Tammy gave birth to her daughter, Chelsea (she already had a son, Jordan), she learned from Jeff's mother that he would be working at a NASCAR race in Sonoma, near Tammy's home. "I couldn't wait to see him," Tammy says. "I called to invite him to dinner so he could meet my husband."
"I heard that voice on the phone and knew that it was Tammy after just one syllable," Jeff says. "Emotionally, we picked up right where we left off. My wife had had our second son, Austin, and Tammy was expecting. We talked about that, and about our jobs and old times."
After that the two stayed in better touch and, when problems arose, they talked by phone and supported each other. Tammy divorced and remarried. After having another son, Riley, with her second husband, she divorced again. By that time, Jeff had broken up with his wife.
Then, in 2000, Tammy's beloved grandfather died unexpectedly, and Jeff drove to Tennessee to pay his respects. At that point, he and Tammy hadn't seen each other for more than five years. "I sat in my car outside the funeral home for a half hour before I went in," he says. "Would this be it? I decided I'd know when I saw her." Inside, Tammy was having the same internal conversation. She walked into the foyer just as Jeff came through the door.
Hugging tightly, they knew. "It was as though we'd never been apart," Tammy says. "Looking back, I realized that I just hadn't been ready for a relationship with Jeff when I was younger. But at last I knew that I wanted to be with him always."
They married the next year at a courthouse in North Carolina and continued the process of blending their families -- at that point their children ranged in age from 3 to 15. Tammy found work as a loan officer in a bank.
Just shy of four years later, she spotted an announcement in Ladies' Home Journal about the renewal event in Jamaica. "It was a sign. We had always wanted to have a honeymoon in Jamaica!" she says. So the couple who'd shared their first kiss in a schoolyard renewed their long-awaited wedding vows, then dined and danced with the other participants.
"The ceremony felt very personal to us, as though we were the only ones present," says Tammy. "But I also loved being with so many others who'd gone there for the same reason we had." Jeff adds softly: "We like to watch the DVD of the event over and over. Finally, my lifelong dream has come true."