The story of four daughters, three couples,
two parents and one very big wedding
By Thomas Kunkel
CHAPTER 9: SPRING FEVER
I was in our basement rec room working on my computer when I suddenly had the sensation that someone was looking at me. I glanced up at the casement window that’s at ground level, and sure enough, a plump robin was out there staring right in. In fact, he was staring at me so intently, for a good 30 seconds or more, that I think he may have been trying to tell me something. Like, “Hey, dummy, get your fanny out of the man cave! All the action is out here!”
He was right. It’s been an early and splendidly mild spring in northeastern Wisconsin, and the local wildlife has been busy. Earlier that day I looked out that same window to see a mallard and his lady friend walking side by side, briskly headed down to the river as if Noah himself had just summoned them.
Squirrels chase scratchily on our roof, and down below rabbits bound across the backyard, the wise ones keeping one eye peeled for the eagle who sometimes perches in a tree next door, or the great owl who has a nest in the willow down by our dock. The owl has been mothering two owlets, and with binoculars we’ve been able to watch them grow taller right along with the lengthening days. Whenever we come out the back door, the mom will vacate the nest in a long, graceful swoop over the river to the north, same flight path each time. She is beautiful to behold but not a little intimidating, and frankly one can imagine her swooping away with our little Italian greyhound Sammy were he to venture too close to the tree. So for the past few days when we let him out, we tend to chaperone him, as pathetic as that sounds.
On campus, the native species have awakened as well. The surest sign there of spring’s beckoning? The first sighting of shorts and flip-flops. Of course, the thermometer may only have hit, say, 40 degrees, but for some of the braver, winter-wearier guys (always the guys, never the girls), that’s a veritable heat wave. But before long, everyone seems to be out jogging. You delight in the fact that there is grass where a year ago there was permafrost, and you notice driving home that the baseball team is starting its home games.
In Wisconsin, though, there is one true, universally awaited harbinger of spring: the release of the new Green Bay Packers schedule. An entire state puts its fall and winter calendar on hold until the NFL fills in half of it for us.
And with that development, incidentally, the Triple Wedding essentially went viral.
Here’s the connection. Because the Packer schedule is such a big deal hereabouts, news outlets cover it like it was a congressional declaration of war. But year in and year out, reporters are challenged to find a fresh, unpredictable angle to this most predictable of stories. Impacted most immediately are the area’s hotels, many of which impose premium rates for Packer home weekends. It’s not uncommon for their prices to double, or even triple, and some hotels even make customers reserve rooms for three nights. But the rates can’t be firmed up, of course, until the Great Schedule Release.
Well, because the Kunkels seemed to be in need of half the hotel rooms in Green Bay, we definitely were rooting for it to be an “away” week. And that was as good a media hook as any.
It started with a phone call from Jim Stingl, a popular columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. With the upcoming schedule release as his angle, Jim talked to Deb and me, as well as the girls, and published a lovely article about the wedding in the Sunday paper, accompanied by several photographs of the couples taken by Nick’s sister, Katie.
As is customary these days, the online version of the story solicited comments from readers. Most of these were lovely too, from people charmed by the idea of three sisters and their grooms sharing their special day. One writer was especially perceptive, I thought, when he (it must be a he) wrote: “Congrats to the father if he makes it through all this without being institutionalized.” A small number were the kind of snarky posts that pervade most such comment strings. But the comment that freaked the girls out a bit came courtesy of Your Welcome, who said, referencing a photo of the three girls, “The one on the left is the hottest.” I think that’s when they realized that their wedding officially had moved into a wacky, albeit a tad creepy, domain.
And that might have been that, except a “tip service” apparently picked up Jim’s story and called it to the attention of various news outlets. That very day we were contacted by producers of one of the networks’ morning news shows, who initially wanted to know whether Deb and I and the three couples and Maid of Honor Grace could possibly come to New York—that week—and do a spot on the show. Given our respective schedules and disparate location, that would have been about as simple as mobilizing the National Guard, so we’re instead talking to them about maybe doing it when we all gather for Helen’s graduation.
We got a call from an editor for a national newspaper expressing interest in covering the wedding. Two local stations here in Green Bay did amusing features about the wedding, again pegged to the upcoming release of the Packers’ schedule, and those were also broadcast in Milwaukee. The story turned up on Glamour Brides’ online site. The Green Bay paper did its own story, too.
Maybe the oddest call—or calls, as we heard from not one but two of their producers—came from a reality show, Whose Wedding Is It Anyway? Needless to say, this meant nothing to me, but the girls were familiar with it. They enjoy it for the same reasons most folks do—because the people involved are cast as antagonists, and as the arguments mount you begin to wonder whether there will even be a wedding left to claim. But they were not remotely interested in being battling brides.
All the attention, the fact that the wedding is getting well beyond a family affair, leaves the girls a little conflicted, I think, and understandably so. Themselves products of a media age, they admit to enjoying some of the outside curiosity. At the same time, that attention can be uncomfortable. In an email about the idea of a national television appearance, Helen captured their mixed feelings. “It makes me a little nervous mostly because it’s a lot of attention that I’m not used to, but I think it would be fun,” she wrote. “I guess it’s just weird to me. I mean, I know triple weddings are rare, but I still see it as a wedding—something that happens all the time, not necessarily some big event making national news. If that makes any sense…”
It does. But we also appreciate, in every sense, that a lot of people are fascinated with their story. So everyone agrees we’ll just roll with it and see what happens, even as we try to keep everything in perspective.
In addition to the posts in response to his column, Jim Stingl received a number of emails from readers who were passing along their own experiences with, or memories of, multiple nuptials. Jim was kind enough to share those with us.
One writer told of three brothers from Austria who, a century ago this year, were married in a triple ceremony immediately before setting sail to far-off Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A woman wrote to let Jim know that 39 years ago she and her two sisters were also married in a triple wedding in Park Falls, Wisconsin. Another wrote to relay the story of a Stevens Point, Wisconsin couple who were marrying off three daughters within the calendar year.
But the most remarkable tale was about three sisters from rural Wisconsin who married three brothers. (How about that for an episode of Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?!!) This occurred in 1938. The last of the six passed away in 2008.
In a way it’s kind of sweet knowing that, while a triple wedding is rare indeed, it does happen more often than any of us realized. Maybe we’re not the oddities we thought!
Oh, yes. The Packers schedule did finally come out, and there was much jubilation. It turns out that on wedding weekend the Packers are playing out of town. Ironically, they are headed to Washington, even as all my daughters, two of my sons-in-law-to-be and a small army of their friends are headed to Green Bay. Maybe they can all wave to one another somewhere over Akron.
Amid all this, the more serious business of wedding planning was picking up again. For instance, it was fascinating to watch a three-day flurry of activity surrounding the coming-together of the wedding invitations. You would think that would be a pretty straightforward project, but you would be wrong.
For starters, an “invitation” is not just one card but a full portfolio of elements—envelopes, the actual invitation card, the RSVP card, an information card with hotel rooms, and so forth. Helen, bridal planner extraordinaire and budding graphic designer, logically enough was handling this herself.
Instead of a traditional design (e.g., calligraphy-styled typography on cream-colored heavy stock), Helen’s design is contemporary and deceptively simple. It features three yellow flowers, with an accent border across the top of navy blue. The look is appropriately elegant yet fresh.
The interesting thing to watch, though, was the seemingly endless vetting process and all the backing and forthing—between Helen and Deb, between Deb and me, between Helen and me, between Helen and her sisters, between Deb and the grooms’ families, between Deb and my colleague Amy. When other people’s wedding invitations hit your mailbox, you certainly never think of all the blood, sweat and possibly even tears that went into them, but I will never look at one quite the same way again.
Take that extraneous third L out of “College.” Make those flowers a little lighter so the superimposed type is easier to read. Make the babysitting service complimentary instead of complementary. Doesn’t “honour” instead of “honor” sound effete? Take the “th” off October 9th. Add ZIP codes to those hotel addresses. How do the grooms’ parents want their names presented? Honestly, you’d have thought we were proofreading the invitations for the Obamas’ next state dinner.
But as every wedding planner knows, the devil is in the details, and after all this virtual confabbing the final product, I have to say, is marvelous. Helen has a future, no doubt about it.
Incidentally, the invitations will be printed locally—more stimulus for the Green Bay economy. Deb says about everything in the wedding is being bought or provided locally except the linens, and she says the linens aren’t available locally. On the other hand, a horse-drawn carriage is available locally. I know, because the guy just called me, unbidden, to let me know.
If you’ve been following my account, you know I haven’t exactly been in the middle of the wedding planning. Not long ago, however, Helen did ask me to help with the shaping of the ceremony itself, especially as to the music they select. I was flattered, certainly, but at the same time the pressure was on!
It will be a Catholic service, but not a Mass. Though the framework is still taking shape, we know it will have many familiar liturgical rituals, such as several Biblical readings, a Responsorial Psalm and Prayers of the Faithful. But with three nuptials to be administered, the ceremony will be long enough as it is without the incorporation of a full-blown Mass.
It all kicks off, of course, with the procession. At the moment—all this is subject to change, so make sure to buy a program—Dad will escort Katie in first, then Claire, then Helen. Helen suggested that each of the girls and their retinues should have a different fanfare but that somehow they should be related for a sense of continuity. I have suggested Henry Purcell’s “Trumpet Voluntary,” followed by “Trumpet Tune” by Jeremiah Clarke and Daniel Purcell, followed by “Prelude to Te Deum” by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. The three fanfares might be played by actual trumpets, which I proposed for the clarion drama, though Helen may be leaning toward using violin versions for the subtlety. Like everyone else, I will probably find out when I walk down the aisle.
The girls are not huge fans of solo numbers, or music for music’s sake. They want any music in the service to be connected to some accompanying activity. We are thinking of asking five or six of St. Norbert’s very talented student singers to form a kind of mini-chorus, but that idea, much less what they might sing, is still evolving.
Anyway, when they get down to business, each priest will deliver a short homily about his couple, then preside over that couple’s exchange of vows. That will happen consecutively rather than have all three be done together. This format will reinforce the idea that each couple within the triple must have “their” special moment. Besides, we don’t want the nuptials to come off like one of Reverend Moon’s bulk-wedding spectacles.
After the exchange of vows, I thought they might want to incorporate a six-way candle-lighting ceremony—if the fire marshal will let us, with that many lighted tapers being waved around. I also suggested it could be accompanied by the ethereal “Flower Duet” from Lakme. But Helen responded, “The ‘Flower Duet’ doesn’t sound like an easy song to sing, plus it reminds me of a Godiva commercial.” I take that as a no. Plus, they apparently hate the candle-lighting idea. I feel my commission slipping….
Anyway, when everybody’s all married up good and official, the couples will recess in the same order they came in. My suggestion for the music there was Jean-Joseph Mouret’s “Rondeau,” but Helen says, um, probably not. “I want something with a little more excitement,” she said. “I think this song is a tad blah. Hope I wasn’t too mean.” Not at all, Helen—and don’t get up, I can let myself out. (But you’ll still get my bill.)
So who knows what the heck kind of music will be playing at this wedding. Regardless, the recessional order will put Helen and Mike out the door last, which will accommodate that Navy sword arch that Mike’s fellow officers will be forming up.
And then, incredibly, Deb and I will have three married daughters and three new sons.
My last journal began with the sports report. This one concludes with it.
On the last Sunday of April I had the opportunity to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Milwaukee Brewers game at beautiful Miller Park. St. Norbert College was part of an event there with other Wisconsin private schools, and the first pitch came with the deal.
I had two goals: Keep my manhood (translation: don’t bounce the ball to the plate); and don’t wind up on that night’s SportsCenter. Had the latter happened, that would have meant something had gone very, very wrong.
After the lovely, largely dry spring I was celebrating at the top of this installment, game day dawned cold and windy, with heavy showers. In truth, the rain was badly needed, but the timing was terrible. If the team had been playing in their old park, this raw day would have been a rainout for sure. But the Brewers (and the taxpayers of Greater Milwaukee) were thoughtful enough to build Miller Park with a fancy retractable dome, so their game against the Chicago Cubs went off as planned.
About 25 minutes before the game I went down to the Brewers dugout, where a team official met me and explained the drill. There actually would be three people throwing out ceremonial first pitches, which I learned is not uncommon. I had plenty of time to survey the crowd, which appeared to be at least half Cubs fans. The Cubs are division rivals whose own ballpark is just 60 miles away. No wonder some refer to Miller Park as “Wrigley North.”
The team official gave me my ball ahead of time. That was good, as I could rub it with my increasingly sweaty palms.
A young lady went first. From in front of the mound she tossed in a perfectly respectable lob. Second was a young man who marched right out and confidently threw a nice pitch letter-high.
My turn. As they announced my name and St. Norbert affiliation, I headed to the mound—careful, of course, to avoid the freshly chalked first base line so as not to jinx the home team. It’s not a far walk—unless you are making it in front of nearly 40,000 people. Under those circumstances it’s less a walk than an out-of-body experience. Still, I did remember to turn and wave to my St. Norbert friends watching up in the “Dew Deck” high above right field.
Only when I reached the pitching rubber did I turn to home, where I saw Brewers catcher George Kottaras crouched behind the plate. Intellectually, I understood that he was only 60 feet six inches away from me—so why did it seem more like 500 yards? After a decade of playing organized baseball and a few weeks of practice, suddenly I wasn’t sure I could get the ball that far with a catapult!
A little blood rushed away from my brain, but before I could get even more nervous I told myself, “You’ve done this a million times, just throw it.” Which I did.
If there’d been a lefty at bat I’d have hit him. Still, under the circumstances my pitch got the job done—it was about knee high and George caught it just fine, with no lunging or extraneous effort. He shook my hand and gave me the ball, which he then signed.
When I got back up to the Dew Deck, Deb told me I had done fine. But after a moment, she noted that I seemed to take a long time to get to the mound. “You could have put a little more skip in your step,” she said, helpfully.
I explained to her that I took so long to get to the mound because as I walked my legs were turning to concrete. Besides, if I’d actually skipped out to the mound, I’d have wound up on SportsCenter for sure.
Thomas Kunkel is president of St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin.