Shawn McQuaide and Kyle Christy
Aug. 27, 2017, in Gibbsboro
Kyle was living his free-spirit dream, traveling from city to city to countryside in California — working at printing presses, as a supermarket baker, as a roofer, finally as a farmhand — with his dog, Buddy, for company.
He kept up with friends in Audubon, N.J., and they e-introduced him to someone they'd met during the three years since he'd left: a laid-back lady Deadhead named Shawn. Kyle and Shawn began sending each other audio messages with a phone app and discovered they had mutual friends all around the country — a community built mostly around the Grateful Dead. They loved talking about music, and Shawn enjoyed hearing Kyle's travel tales. She was a free spirit, too, although living less freely since having her daughter, Marley.
In November 2012, Kyle came back to New Jersey for what was to be a limited stay. The first day, he invited Shawn, who lived in Marlton, to meet him at his mother's house. "As soon as she got out of the car … we locked eyes with each other, and, I swear, it was love at first sight," Kyle said. Marley, then 3, was in her car seat in back. "She was the cutest little thing, and I think I fell in love with her, too," Kyle said.
Shawn felt the same instant connection. "I thought that he was adorable. And I thought he looked so innocent," she said. Their first dates were focused on music — folk and bluegrass — and hanging out with friends after the show.
From the start, Kyle spent a lot of time with both Shawn and Marley. "I really liked, from the first day I hung out with Shawn, what a good mom she is," he said.
She fell hard for his happiness at including Marley in much of what they did. Plus, "he has such a bubbly spirit," Shawn said. "He keeps me calm, and he always made me feel like we can work on anything together, as long as we stick together."
Kyle soon met Tony, Marley's father. "We couldn't be together as a couple, but we did a good job co-parenting together, and he was still my best friend," Shawn said. After a few weeks, Tony told Shawn that if another man was going to be around his daughter, he sure was glad it was Kyle.
There were a few bumps on the road they traveled together.
"Having such a strong feeling for someone kind of scared me," Kyle said. Also, he still had the travel bug.
In fall 2013, he went to Chile to help build a sustainable community. It was supposed to be an eight-month trip. It floored Shawn that Kyle would want to be away that long, and the couple broke up over it.
They missed each other so much he returned after a month.
In early 2014, they moved to St. Petersburg, Fla., where Shawn and her mother, Lee, went into business selling skirts made from upcycled T-shirts at farmers' markets and other events.
Not long after, Tony died. "You can imagine how much pressure that can be on a guy dating a girl with a kid," Shawn said. "The child is now fatherless, and the sense of responsibility was overwhelming."
Kyle moved back to his mother's house in New Jersey for several weeks to be sure he was ready and able to have a family. He was. The couple, who are now both 30, have been together since.
It was Father's Day 2014, and Shawn returned from a long day of selling skirts. Kyle said he needed to get something at the mall and asked if she'd like to go for a ride. Lee said she would watch Marley, so it was just the two of them.
They walked inside, and Shawn started joking about picking up a ring.
"That's why we're here," Kyle said with a big grin.
"Wait, what? Excuse me?" Shawn said, unsure she understood him.
They picked out a ring together. Shawn was driving home, and Kyle couldn't wait: "I love you, and I can't imagine being without you and Marley," he said. "Will you marry me?"
They wanted another kid, and since medical professionals said it could take up to two years for her birth control to clear, they started trying. It did not take two years — that November, the couple learned Mason, their now-2-year-old son, was on his way.
Kyle and Shawn moved back to Audubon last spring, where they live with their children, cats Midnight and Rider, and dog Iko. She cleans houses, and he is a second-year apprentice with Ironworkers Union Local 399.
They talked about setting a wedding date from time to time but were trying to save money. Last Father's Day, on the three-year anniversary of their engagement, the couple went to a different mall, Kyle bought Shawn a bit-bigger ring, and they decided to wed simply and save their savings to buy a house.
Shawn found nondenominational officiant Patrick Anthony online. Kyle wondered if he could possibly be the same Patrick Anthony he had met on a job site. A text confirmed the chaplain and the ironworker are one and the same.
"We were going to have him marry us in a coffee shop — basically, elope." Shawn said. But Kyle's Aunt Anita said an elopement wouldn't do. Family members and friends on both sides all wanted to be there. She offered her backyard as the venue, Chaplain Patrick threw in a little extra for his fellow member of IW Local 399, and 23 people were gathered there in Gibbsboro.
Shawn was escorted down the aisle by Marley's grandfather Tony, whose late son was named for him. Shawn and Kyle gave long-stemmed roses to her mother and his, Donna. They also gave one to Terry, Marley's grandmother.
Patrick spoke about the couple without a script. "We were blown away," Shawn said. The ceremony he created included vows for the couple and a moment between Kyle and Marley, who is now 8, at which Kyle presented her with a necklace, and she accepted him as her stepfather.
During the reception, "we all hung out in the backyard and listened to the Allman Brothers," Shawn said. They ate wraps, hummus, roast beef sandwiches, and pastries from the Zallies ShopRite, and a wedding cake made by their friend Rachel, a baker.
Kyle stood beneath the trellis that Terry made and, as the Grateful Dead's "Eyes of the World" began to play, Shawn starting walking down the aisle. "That's when it was really real for me," he said.
Patrick surprised the couple and their guests by gathering everyone into a circle and asking each to give good wishes, advice, or a special message to Kyle and Shawn. "Each one of the 23 people we chose to be part of our day had something so meaningful to say. It blew us away," Shawn said. Kyle's dad, James, summed up what many were thinking: "Finally."
The couple plans a trip someday, but a house comes first.
Officiant: Patrick Anthony, South Jersey Officiants, Audubon, N.J.
Venue: The groom's aunt's backyard.
Food: Zallies Catering, ShopRite of Berlin.
Cake: Rachel Tuff, Stellr Cakes.
Photography: Red Eye Focus Photography, Voorhees.
Flowers: C & J Florist, Berlin.
Dress: David's Bridal, Deptford.
Hair/Makeup: Lauren Moore.