Thursday, April 1, 2010

I Do, I Do, I Do (Ch. 8)

The story of four daughters, three couples,
two parents and one very big wedding

By Thomas Kunkel

Click here for previous chapters:   Ch.7   Ch.6   Ch. 5   Ch. 4   Ch. 3   Ch. 2   Ch. 1   

April, 2010

Enough wedding news for a while; time for the sports report.
I pulled out my iPhone and called my cousin Bob back in Indiana. “Well,” I said, “I’m standing right on the spot where Herb Brooks orchestrated the ‘Miracle on Ice’ back in 1980.”
“No!” he said.
“Yup. Right here on that spot at the end of the bench where, when they won and the place went crazy, he just slid out the side and headed back into the locker room. Very cool. There are some nice perks to this job.”
“Yeah,” he said, “and you get paid for it.”
“Get paid handsomely for it,” I added helpfully. (I try never to forget how much Bob likes to live vicariously through me….)
I was spending a few days at the Olympic Hockey Center in scenic Lake Placid, N.Y., because the St. Norbert Green Knights were back in the “Frozen Four”—the Division III national hockey championships. If you’re of a certain age, you surely remember watching a bunch of upstart, collegiate Americans shocking a veteran Soviet team, not to mention the rest of the world, in the most politically charged sporting event in history. Hard to believe it’s been 30 years now—none of our four daughters was even a gleam in Dad’s eye yet!
St. Norbert’s hockey team has produced some miracles of its own under talented head coach Tim Coghlin. It’s been to the championship round five times in the last six years, and two years ago, right here at the Herb Brooks rink, St. Norbert won the national title.
Our semifinal game, against fast-skating Oswego State, was a full-out thriller. The momentum seesawed all game long—we scored first, they tied it up; we scored a second time, they tied it up; we went up 3-2, but they tied it up again. Then with just 39 seconds left to play, St. Norbert freshman Cody Keefer picked the puck from an Oswego defenseman at their blue line, streaked to the goal on a short breakaway and buried a shot in the net! Victory! I had to check to see if my middle-aged heart was still functioning.
Dramatic as that was, it was just the appetizer for the next evening’s championship game.
Norwich University, in neighboring Vermont, was the top-ranked team in the nation and featured yet another bunch of superb, offense-minded skaters. But what unfolded was a defensive epic. Three regulation periods found the score tied at just 1-1, so we went into overtime—not your usual weenie five-minute overtime, mind you, but a full 20-minute period. Or until someone scores. The NCAA euphemistically terms this “sudden victory,” but everyone in the arena appreciated it for what it really was: sudden death.
By this point both teams were markedly fatigued. Just mounting a coherent attack on a change of possession became a challenge. Still, St. Norbert had its opportunities, producing several flurries right in front of the Norwich net, but their goaltender was having none of it.
Thus it went into an exhausting fifth period. It seemed the winner would be the last team standing—maybe literally so. And by now Norwich was taking it to us. Somehow, though, our all-American goalie, B.J. O’Brien, was seeing every move and killing every shot; he was making more stops than a cop at a Friday night checkpoint. As the clock slid into the final minute, the crowd began readying itself for an unheard-of third overtime—or what would have been, had it been a football game, a seventh quarter.
But then, with a mere 31 seconds left, Norwich player Pier-Oliver Cotnoir fired a shot from close range. B.J. blocked it, but the rebound came right back to Cotnoir and he slid in the followup.
And just like that it was over.
Norwich was the champion, and deservedly so. But St. Norbert had skated like champions as well, playing a great team to a veritable dead heat in what, at almost 100 minutes played, was the longest DIII tournament game in history.
And in what was arguably an even more incredible record, B.J. O’Brien had 70 saves—yes, that’s not a typo, I said 70—in the game. For many goalies, that would be a good season. Even though it was ultimately in a losing cause, B.J.’s performance was so stunning that he was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
Surely disappointed, the Green Knights were mostly exhausted. It was all they could do to stand there for 15 minutes after the game’s end, on legs wobbly from fatigue, to get their medals. Yet they were proud, too, of the incredible run they’d had. They’d lost a number of key players from last year’s team, and no one expected them to have a championship-caliber season. Yet they won their conference, won the league’s Peters Cup postseason tournament, finished the regular season ranked third in the nation, and wound up playing for the national title. Not bad.
The next afternoon, as the team bus pulled up to our home rink, I told the young men how proud I was of what they’d accomplished, and that it had been a privilege to watch them compete. As they stepped off the bus I shook the hands of each player.
            Imagine, a double-overtime championship game—nearly as rare as a triple wedding!


Deb skipped Lake Placid, though not really by choice. She was back in Maryland that entire week, working herself to a frazzle.
We’d recently decided it was time to put our Maryland home up for sale, so Deb was back there doing the millions of things people do when they’re getting ready to turn their house over to perfect strangers. She was meeting with painters and plumbers and carpet guys and tile grouters and deck cleaners and floor refinishers. As she phoned in her daily updates, I got the feeling we were reconstructing the whole damn house, one contractor at a time.
Her to-do list was more ample than her time, so she started each morning around 7 and typically wasn’t done till 10 at night, sometimes later. I felt a little guilty—but just a little. For one thing, there’s no one better suited to this kind of project. And anyway, she secretly loves it. It’s worth the price of admission to see this woman interact with contractors. She somehow strikes that perfect balance between sweet and salty that causes contractors (virtually all men, of course) to want to get things done for her. It’s a little awe-inspiring, if you want to know the truth.
She got to spend some time with the girls, although not much as she might have liked. They were all plenty preoccupied with work and classes. But it hardly mattered anyway; she had moved into full “Big Deb” mode, a state of laser-like, manic determination, usually fueled by equal parts anxiety and coffee. You can always tell, because you’ll be talking to her and suddenly you realize she’s not hearing you. She’s moved on.
Meantime, I was catching up myself with Claire, and in the process she shed a little more light on how, in the wake of the three engagements last summer, the idea of the triple wedding emerged.
You’ll recall that when she and Sam first were engaged, they were thinking about a July wedding back in Evansville, Sam’s home and where Claire has lots of family. But even with a location secured and other ideas in mind, Claire said, “We were already stressing out about all the contacts we would have to make for rentals, decor, music, photography, ceremony, reception and so on.” In fact, Claire admitted that, while she was definitely thrilled to be getting married, she increasingly found herself dreading all the logistical details.
Katie returned from her vacation engaged to Nick, and for the first time as fiancées the three sisters were comparing notes. Helen shared her creative ideas about a fall wedding in Wisconsin. Claire explained where she and Sam stood on things, and Katie allowed that, at that early point, she and Nick had no ideas whatsoever.
And it was at that moment, Claire said, that Katie blurted out—as Claire described it, “In the same tone of voice that she used to get a Disney vacation for us from Mom”—something to the effect, Wouldn’t it be funny to have a triple wedding? Almost as soon as she said it, Claire added, Katie started backtracking. “Obviously this could never work, but what if….”
Claire resonated to the idea immediately. After all, the sisters had shared literally every aspect of their lives to that point, from bedrooms and clothes to vacations and friends—why not a wedding? “But I figured there was no way Helen would want to do that,” Claire explained. “She was the only one who had solid wedding plans, and she wouldn’t want to spend her and Mike’s day with four other people!”
Helen, though, surprised them. “Yeah, that would be cool,” she said. Claire and Katie both looked at their sister in something like shock. But it turned out that Helen had already thought about the possibility. For one thing, it would be the best way to ensure that as many of their friends and family as possible would see the beautiful wedding she was planning; if there were three separate weddings in three separate locales, that would hardly be a given.
Indeed, Claire said, “we realized that a triple wedding was the only way to ensure we would all care about each other’s weddings equally, that we would have the same number of family and friends attending, that the grooms would all have family supporting one another. There could be no jealousy over who had the better wedding, cake, dress, bridesmaid’s dresses, ceremony, first dance, toasts, etc., because we would all share the same event. The more I think about it, the more it truly seemed destined.”
All that remained was to persuade the other parties. But some of us learned long ago that once the Kunkel girls have their collective minds set on something, it’s likely to happen.
So for now, the countdown continues. Fortunately, all of the kids have plenty to preoccupy them, which helps the time pass. I asked each of them how they’re handling the interregnum, what sorts of things they think about.
For her part, Claire said, “I went from stressing over planning a wedding to waking up every day and looking forward to a life-changing event. In one day I will gain two brothers-in- law, guys I truly look forward to calling family, who also come from great families. And my little sister will be celebrated as the best maid of honor ever.
 “It’s hard to grasp that this event is actually happening,” she continued, “but every once in a while Sam and I take a break from work and stress and dream about our big day.”
            Sam concurred. The very, very long winter they’d just experienced didn’t make the wait any easier, he said, having to “hunker down mentally and physically just trying to go day by day.” Negotiating several feet of snow just to get to work sort of pushed all other considerations to the margins for a while. But he said with spring’s arrival and the chance to resume something of a normal existence, he and Claire find themselves talking more about their plans—both for the wedding and beyond.
So now his excitement level is high again, he said. “The hamster wheel is turning again,” he added—a phrase I intend to borrow once in a while.
Helen, who was just back from a short visit to see Mike in Florida, is mostly intent on getting through her final semester at Maryland. Fortunately, she’s in the middle of a wonderful internship at Discovery Communications, which has taught her a lot about commercial graphic design and Web communication.
As for the wedding, she said, “little things pop up in my head from time to time that I need to do, like choose the readings or invitations. I love it when people ask me about my wedding, especially when I’m in school. It gives me a moment of happiness no matter how stressed out I am from schoolwork. Sometimes I think about the summer and the timeline of how things are going to go. When to fly where, when to drive where, getting a car, bridal showers, dress fittings, me-and-Mom time, Sammy time, family time, future in-law time, finding somewhere to live with Mike, etc. The waiting part is hard, but time is flying.”
Speaking of flying, Mike is in the middle of a challenging training passage to get his instrument rating for helicopters. When he does get to think about the wedding, he said, his most pressing worry is whether he’ll get sufficient leave for a decent honeymoon. “Most guys I knew who were getting married got leave from Thursday through maybe Monday, which is not a lot of time,” he said. “I'm hoping they will be a little more open to me taking maybe a week so Helen and I could possibly go on a trip after. That would be nice—but as with anything in the Navy, you never know when and where you are going to be until you are there.  
“To be honest, I think about the wedding not so much as I think about the life Helen and I will share afterward. That is something I think about every day, particularly when I talk to her on the phone. I am excited about the wedding, excited to introduce my family to my friends, my family to your family. Most of all I am excited to have that first dance with Helen—and like you, I really want to try and have a ‘dance’ rather than just the high school slow-dance shuffle.”
Grace told me she thinks about the wedding every day. Mostly that’s from anticipation, but not a little apprehension. As the maid of honor, she wants to be sure the July 3 shower back in Indiana goes well. She’s also worried about her toast. “I still haven’t figured out if I want to write three separate toasts or address my sisters as a whole,” she said. But she’s afraid that whatever she writes, whether one speech or three, whether straight or funny, she likely won’t be able to get through the delivery without turning into a blubbering mess. I suspect she’s right.
Finally, I checked in with the burgeoning law firm of Kunkel and Stewart. Nick’s final semester in law school is racing to a close, and the pressure is on. “With a marriage in the offing, it could’ve been one of the most formidable [semesters] of my educational career,” he said. “But with the help of so many different hands and minds, it’s been an amazingly smooth process—from Sam's input on tuxes to Grace’s letter-writing, as well as your blogging. In particular, though, I have to single out Helen and Deb, who’ve done a tremendous amount of thinking and planning. For that, I’ll always be appreciative. 
“I’m not sure what Katie’s going to say, but we’ve often remarked to one another that it’s about time we’re married. Even though we haven’t been dating for years and years, we’ve been so close for so long that marriage is just a natural sign of how we feel. So I think anticipation is the right word for it—it’s not just excitement and nerves about the actual day, but also restlessness to get started. It’s about time!”

            Katie, who’s been settling into her labor-law job, basically agreed. “I’m a little nervous, mostly because it’s going to be such a big production,” she said. “I’m not nervous at all about marrying Nick. I wish we could get married tomorrow.
“I also feel very lucky to have Helen planning the wedding. Some of my friends have gotten married or are getting married, and they want to discuss wedding details with me. Thank goodness Helen took the helm there because she’ll do a much better job than I ever could. I don’t even want to do the few things that Helen can’t do for me, like the bridal registry.
“I think about the wedding a lot. I think it’s bringing the four sisters even closer together.  I’ve also been trying to plan where Nick and I should go for our honeymoon. I still haven’t narrowed our options down much, probably because I like imagining us traveling to any number of places. Anyway, I try not to think about the wedding. I get too excited when I really think about it, and it’s still seven months away.”


            All sorts of people remain sweetly fascinated with the wedding. Not long ago our St. Norbert Magazine focused on the theme of love, in all its incarnations. My column at the front of the magazine referenced the triple wedding.
Soon after, I got an e-mail from Connie and Rich Gluth, St. Norbert alumni who have more than a little sympathy for Deb and me. This past summer, two of their daughters were married a mere 90 days apart—one in June, one in September.  And a third daughter was married just three years ago! As they put it: “Three girls in braces, three girls to prom, three girls in college, three girls in wedding dresses….”
The court happily accepts the Gluths as expert witnesses.
Anyway, Rich composed the following for my benefit:

Top 10 reasons to just agree to your three daughters’ wedding plans:
10. Most answers will be wrong anyway, so just nod quietly and ask where the Tylenol is.
9. Most of the guests at the wedding will still be wondering how you are paying for it, so what the heck—what’re a few swans going to cost?
8. You could be flying everyone to Ireland for a castle wedding and a private ceremony.
7. For the record, wearing one tuxedo and uncomfortable rental shiny shoes is much easier than wearing three goofy monkey suits and three pairs of uncomfortable rental shoes.
6. Since your credit cards are already maxed out, make sure every guest gets a signed check from you as a “thank you” for coming.
5. You will have to make a toast (or two or three) as the father of the bride; don’t start out with the words “on the day they were born” or your guests will all head straight for the bar.
4. Planning anything else in your life or career will be a walk in the park.
3. Your family will never ever ask you to host any holidays or family reunions—or even make a baloney sandwich.
2. Agreeing will give you more time to smile, reflect, and pray about the madness that everyone else will be experiencing. You can enjoy the commotion and chaos while concentrated on pouring a cold one.
And the No. 1 reason to just agree to everything your girls want for their weddings: As a dad, you will love the peace and joy of knowing you gave them memories that will stay with them forever, gave them the best day of their lives.
“Enjoy these days,” Rich added, “they are truly blessings.”
Spoken like a man who knows what he’s talking about.

NEXT: Spring fever.
Thomas Kunkel is president of St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin.