Shalon McIver & John Welch
June 28, 2020, in Philadelphia
When Shalon was 11 and John 13, they and their friends spent the summer riding bicycles around 48th and Parrish and talking on the front stairs until dinnertime.
“John and his friends were the cute boys in the neighborhood,” said Shalon.
“I said to myself, ‘Oh! I like her!’ ” remembered John.
But before they even held hands, her family moved back to Cedar Park. Shalon and John did not see each other for 30 years.
He followed his love of building and design into carpentry, and now works for Fabcon Precast and has his own business, Creative Building is Me. John married, then divorced after 19 years. He has two daughters, Johnae, 21, and Jalaya, 16.
Shalon followed her love of style and beauty to a career in hairstyling and cosmetology education. She works at Glamhairus Beauty Salon and BBC Beauty Academy. A longtime serial dater, she was frequently in a relationship, but never attempted permanence.
In October 2013, Shalon was celebrating a friend’s birthday in a private room at Landmark Americana City Avenue. The place was packed with Eagles fans and her wine glass remained frustratingly empty, so Shalon wove through the crowd to the bar. That’s when she saw one of the cute boys from her old neighborhood, all grown up.
“Hey, hi!” she said.
“Hey, how you been?” asked John, who recognized the girl from the steps in the woman standing next to him, even if he couldn’t recall her name.
She could not remember his name, either, but as she brushed past him to return to her friends, she felt a spark.
“Wait a minute!” John said. “Can I get your number?”
Shalon gave him her number, and they shared a quick goodbye hug.
From the party room, Shalon saw John standing outside the restaurant, phone in hand. Her phone pinged. “Hi, it’s John. It was good to see you. You look nice,” his text said.
“Oh thank you. It was good to see you,” she wrote back. “My name is Shalon, in case you don’t remember.”
They quickly moved from texts to phone calls, and a few days later, John had a confession: “When you brushed by me at Landmark, it felt like a bolt of lightning went through my body,” he said.
For three months, they talked by phone, filling each other in on the three decades that had passed. Shalon had gone through a recent breakup and John was in the middle of a divorce — so slow seemed wise.
In January, Shalon mentioned she had new curtains for her new home and John volunteered to hang them. He returned frequently after that, helping her set up the perfect sitting area on her sun porch and find the right spot for her framed photos of Marilyn Monroe. They listened to music — from movie scores to French love songs to soul.
When Valentine’s Day 2014 brought a snowstorm, John shoveled her walk, then gave her a Keurig coffee maker. When he fixed her stove, Shalon thanked him with a home-cooked meal her mother had taught her: nicely spiced fried chicken and collard greens.
“That was pretty much that,” said John. “She’s spunky. She’s loving. She’s family-oriented, and the main thing for me is family.”
Until John’s grandfather died, he had been the glue that held his family together. “I had to have somebody who wanted to be the glue with me, so that I can be what my grandfather was.”
John saw Shalon’s closeness with her family and he saw how quickly she grew close with his mother, father, stepmother, and — most importantly — his girls.
Shalon loves John for all they share — love of family, music, food, and nature — but also for the things they don’t, and what she’s learned from that.
“I’m pretty reserved, while John is the life of the party. He definitely dances like nobody’s watching,” she said. Once, early on, they went to a friend’s party and he immediately started singing. “Oh God!” thought Shalon, who took a seat by herself.
John came over. “You want me to change,” he said. In that instant, Shalon realized she did not want him to change. She told him it was she who needed to change, to be comfortable with him as he is.
In fall 2018, John spoke to her mother, father, three brothers, and grandmother, who had recently entered hospice, seeking their blessing to marry Shalon.
He also asked his daughters for theirs.
After all that asking, John got down on his knees in the couple’s Kingsessing home. “I would like to know if you would be my wife, if you would take my hand in marriage,” he asked.
Shalon said yes. The following month, on her birthday, he gave her a ring.
There was never any doubt the couple would marry outdoors at Bartram’s Garden, where they jog, fish, kayak, and picnic. Before COVID-19 hit, they planned to hold a reception at Local 332, which John had helped to renovate. Instead, they reduced the guest list for their June wedding by half — the hardest part, said Shalon — and secured a tent, masks, and hand-sanitizer stations.
John spent much of the day before and morning of the wedding rushing around to make sure everything at the venue was just right. That put him behind schedule, and then, on his way to pick up his ring, his car ran out of gas on Pine Street. And his phone was out of charge.
John ran the four blocks to Unclaimed Diamonds. Seeing the panic on his face, the owner asked four other customers for their patience and waited on John first. John, who said he learned a lesson about delegating that day, then ran to the Marriott to catch a cab to his father and stepmother’s house — about 45 minutes behind schedule. His parents are in their 80s and did not want to take the risk of attending even a socially distanced wedding, so the couple brought the wedding to their yard. John’s daughters and sister, Shalon’s parents, and a few friends also watched the couple exchange vows for the first time.
At Bartram’s Garden, their vendors — all local, Black-owned businesses — had everything ready and waiting, including water ice, soft pretzels, lamb chops, empanadas, and more delicious food that people could easily eat while standing safely apart.
The ceremony took place behind Mr. Bartram’s home, in the English Garden. John walked down the aisle escorted by his daughters and his “granddog,” JuJu. Shalon’s nephew, Jaxson, the ring bearer, came down the aisle ringing a bell and her niece, Sarrah, just 4, aced her flower girl role.
Between ceremonies, Shalon had changed into a second wedding dress and a white, sparkling, feathered mask — a surprise for John, who loved it. As her father walked her down the aisle to a violinist playing “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” she thought the guests, who wore cranberry, blush, and ivory, were like flowers in the garden.
They said their vows a second time, then jumped a broom together. “How happy I was, jumping over that broom, about what had just happened,” said Shalon.
The couple made their entrance into the reception through a Soul Train line. John danced like no one was watching, and Shalon beamed.