Joel and Ann Marie Jones had a unique backdrop to their beach wedding last weekend — the big red buoy that washed ashore during Tropical Storm Irma.
It’s one of many signs the wedding was meant to be, the bride says.
Two years ago, Ann Marie Jones visited Hilton Head Island for the first time.
She expected to stay long enough for a family vacation, but she didn’t leave for 15 months.
The trip was made to celebrate her daughter Emily’s 21st birthday. Her mother, sister and two nieces came along for the trip.
While on the island, her mom got sick. She had diabetes, and started having issues with her feet.
Jones walked in to a local pharmacy to get her mom a wheelchair so she could enjoy a visit to the beach.
She walked out with a job.
“I thought there was no way I’d be able to live on Hilton Head Island,” Jones said. “I didn’t have much money.”
But she asked Seaside Villas Resort, the place renting her room for the vacation, if they knew anywhere affordable she could live. They offered her a one year lease.
In September of 2015, Jones moved from Lexington, Ky., to Hilton Head Island. It was a big change. She’d never lived more than 30 minutes away from her daughter — now, she was more than 10 hours away.
It was also a time of healing.
She’d been through a bad marriage and a nasty divorce. At times, she said, she felt like giving up. But she held on for her daughter.
“She needed me,” Jones said. “There was a point in my life where I was without a job, without money, I was hungry; at one point I didn’t have a home.”
“I’ve been through ... a lot of the most terrible things that could happen to someone. Hundreds of times I wanted to give up, but I didn’t.”
There were two things in addition to her daughter that kept her holding on — hope and faith.
She practiced that faith on the beach outside her new home.
“I called it my prayer room,” Jones said. “Every morning I would go down there, even if it was cold or rainy, and pray for someone to love me one day, and love me the way a marriage should be.”
Last weekend, she said, her prayers were answered.
Ann Marie and Joel Jones were married Saturday on that beach.
It was an intimate affair — just the couple, a local photographer and a notary.
And, of course, a buoy for a backdrop.
“We just said our vows, said a prayer and exchanged rings,” Jones said.
The location made the wedding that much more special.
“It was the perfect place to have our wedding,” she said. “(The perfect place) to end the pain and to begin a new life of joy — in the place that I prayed for (love) for 15 months.”
Joel knew about the special connection Ann Marie had with the Hilton Head beach, so when he proposed he said, “I want to marry you in your prayer room.”
Jones said she’d had four days of vacation planned for late September. She’d asked for the time off before she met Joel earlier this year.
It was perfect timing.
Those four days on the island also served as their honeymoon. The night of the wedding, they went on a Salty Dog cruise. It turned into an on-the-fly reception.
“The entertainer sang our song (Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love”) ... and we danced on the Salty Dog cruise and everybody clapped,” Jones said.
She said Joel had also been through a divorce before they met. They both took the buoy appearing on the beach as a sign of happier times ahead.
“One of the strongest hurricanes that ever happened blew that buoy up to my prayer room, and that was there after the storm,” Jones said. “So it was kind of like ... after the storms of our lives, in my prayer room my prayers were answered.”
She said the couple watched Irma’s track through the Atlantic, and when it looked like it was heading straight for Hilton Head, they were afraid they weren’t going to have their perfect wedding after all.
It wasn’t the first time Jones had felt the fear of a hurricane. She was living on Hilton Head last year when Hurricane Matthew blew through the island.
“Matthew was terrifying for me,” she said. “I lived alone and had to evacuate alone to Asheville.”
Jones said her home wasn’t touched by the storm.
When she got back to the island, she headed straight for her “prayer room.” She was thankful she had a place to return to.
While Irma brought severe flooding to parts of the island, it didn’t cause as much damage as Hurricane Matthew.
Another sign the wedding was meant to be — and another reminder of faith, Jones says. The storm analogy is one she uses for all of the hard times she’s been through.
“I want people to see there is hope after the storm,” she said. “Keep going, keep striving... Just like that buoy ended up in my prayer room, the storm will pass.”
The couple is finally getting their happily ever after, Jones says.
“He makes me laugh every day,” she said. “It was just like a meant to be thing. He just loves me the way that someone should love me.”