Friday, October 29, 2010

I Do, I Do, I Do (Ch. 16)

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

By Thomas Kunkel


Click here for previous chapters:   Ch.15   Ch.14  Ch.13  Ch.12  Ch.11  Ch.10  
Ch.9   Ch.8  Ch.7   Ch.6   Ch. 5   Ch. 4   Ch. 3   Ch. 2   Ch. 1

October 18, 2010
One weekend the house is Grand Central, with brides and bridesmaids and flower girls and photographers and aunts and uncles and grannies and friends bustling hither and yon. The next weekend it’s just me, with only our rat-dog of a family pet, Sammy, for company.
Sigh. A dad’s life.
One by one they have all peeled away, the kids ready to start leading their new lives.
At 3:30 a.m. on the Monday after the wedding, Deb and I crawled out of bed and loaded Nick and Katie into our Highlander for the four-hour round-trip drive to the Milwaukee airport, much of it in dreadfully thick fog, to get them on a plane to start their honeymoon. They were spending the week at a beach getaway in Jamaica.
Not long after we got back, Sam and Claire drove off to a rustic resort in western  Wisconsin, where they were looking forward to a lot of hiking, kayaking, and just chilling out.
Not long after that, we grabbed a bite of lunch with Gracie and then dropped her off at the Green Bay airport for her return flight to Maryland.
And not long after that, Mike headed to the airport, too, to return to San Diego and his flight training. He’d managed just enough leave time to come in a few days ahead of the wedding and actually get married. But he and his bride will have to wait a few months before they can get to Hawaii for their honeymoon.
That left Helen, at least temporarily. With Deb’s much-practiced help, she spent a day or two packing up her worldly goods into about thirty boxes. That Wednesday morning a moving van came by and picked them up.
Then early Thursday, she and Deb climbed into our Camry and pointed it west by southwest. I enjoyed telling people that Helen was honeymooning with her mother. They made a multi-day road trip to San Diego, by way of Las Vegas (I guess Helen didn’t get the memo that you’re supposed to do Vegas before you get married). Deb flies back in a day or two, and Helen is reunited with Mike—and freshly in possession of Deb’s car, part of our wedding “settlement” with her. (Deb, meantime, will get a new car out of this deal, which, unsurprisingly, she negotiated before telling me about it.)
So I am left here with this feckless dog, whom I can plainly see is no happier about the situation than I am.
It’s the culmination of a week that started fast, then went into a full-bore sprint until we finally crossed the finish line, exhausted, yes, but entirely exhilarated.


Claire and Sam had been the first to arrive, driving in a full week before the wedding—just in time to see a major spread on the wedding in our local paper, the Green Bay Press-Gazette, in which Claire did a nice job explaining what seems so inexplicable to so many.

“What started as a joke between three sisters turned into a common-sense epiphany that seemed far more intriguing than improbable,” the article said. “After all, the Kunkel sisters had been known to share everything from clothes to jewelry to Barbie dolls growing up, so why not a wedding?
“ ‘Oh, my gosh, we share everything,’ said Claire, a high school teacher in Maryland. ‘Clothes. Friends. Katie and I had the same confirmations. We were always celebrating our graduations or birthdays at the same time. We all went to the University of Maryland. Sharing everything is pretty normal for us.’ ”
Their presence was a tangible reminder that it was really and truly happening, and of course Claire was a huge help to Deb and Helen as together they tended to the final, final details. But it was just a lot of fun having them around. One evening we got a bite of dinner and took in a movie, The Social Network (expect some Oscar nominations for this one), and the next morning Sam and I slipped out to play a brisk round of golf.
Then on Wednesday the kids all converged on New York, albeit from different embarkation points—Sam, Claire and Helen from Green Bay; Nick, Katie and Grace from Maryland; and Mike from California. They were there to appear on the next morning’s broadcast of CBS’ Early Show. If they were a little nervous about appearing before millions of people on live television, they were mostly thrilled to get a brief but all-expenses-paid mini-vacation in New York, which both the girls and guys have always loved. And frankly, it proved a welcome diversion for the anxiety that inevitably would have been accumulating had they stayed back in De Pere.
The show’s producers put them up in a nice hotel not far from its Fifth Avenue studios near Central Park, and after spending the afternoon prowling the city the kids were treated to a great (read, expensive) dinner at a midtown steakhouse.
The next morning a car picked them up at 7 a.m. sharp at their hotel for the short ride over to the studio, where they all got some attention in the makeup chair and then waited around the set until it was time for their interview. Back here, meanwhile, Deb and I met Sam’s mother, Maria, at the Kress Inn to watch the show in the hotel’s hospitality suite. At the top of the 8 a.m. hour the camera showed the three couples as the hosts “teased” the upcoming segment—the girls up front, their guys in the back. They all looked great—and happy! Host Harry Smith remarked on what attractive couples they all are. Damn right, Harry!
Alas, there was no Grace. In trying to set up the tableau, the producers came to the understandable conclusion that she would be a “seventh wheel” for the purposes of the visual symmetry. So she was relegated to the sidelines. (She later admitted to feeling a little deflated at that—not because she was dying to be on television but because she had worked so hard, at the show’s urging, to be able to speak to what the wedding meant to the rest of the family.)
About quarter after the hour, their segment began with a delightful two-minute filmed set-up that introduced the couples and quickly recounted how they’d had gotten together in the first place, and eventually engaged within days of one another. The segment used quite a few of the “flip-cam” videos that the girls had recorded themselves, at the producers’ behest, to tell their stories. One fun shot in particular showed the four girls on a sofa, engaging in a staged group hug. If the scene was tongue-in-cheek, the affection was palpable. These were close sisters!
Then it went back to the studio, where Early Show co-host Maggie Rodriguez began interviewing the crew. I’d wondered how she would be able to get all of them involved with only a five-minute window to work with, but she did a very deft job of it.
She began by asking Katie if she still thought the triple wedding was a good idea. “Absolutely!” Katie said unhesitatingly. “Because I didn’t have to do any of the planning!” That led to discussion with Helen about what had gone into the planning and something of the complex logistics of the ceremony. Maggie segued into how each of the couples had found one another, then directly asked Nick if he was okay sharing the big day. His response was lovely. “I was mostly concerned about what she wanted, and making sure that this was going to be her day,” he said. “The Kunkel family, it’s easy to see they really are that close, and they want to share that.”
Maggie teased Sam a bit about whether he was nervous. Ever honest, Sam haltingly admitted to having some nerves, yes, who wouldn’t…and with that, Maggie unexpectedly burrowed in. “What are you worried about?” she said. (I sat there thinking, “That’s easy—have you met Claire?”)  But Sam—eminently more polite than I am, and too smart to want to doom his marriage before it began, right there on national television—just hemmed and hawed a bit more. But at that point Claire cleverly interjected that he was just worried about getting his bowtie on straight. Relieved laughter all around.
Maggie closed with a final question that I found especially moving. “Is Dad paying for all this?” Yes, they answered in unison, perhaps a little too gleefully.
“Poor Tom! Poor Tom Kunkel!” Maggie exclaimed.
As Deb and Maria looked my way, I blurted out, “Precisely! Thank you!”
From there the couples headed straight for LaGuardia, and they were back in Green Bay by mid-afternoon. By then, both Mike’s and Nick’s families had arrived, and everyone converged on our house for a casual family dinner. That was followed by our first—and only—full-scale run-through of the father-daughter waltz, which we did under instructor Janet Gollnick’s close scrutiny, down in the cafeteria in the same space where we would do it at the reception two days later. Everyone had been doing their choreographic homework, and I began to think we might just pull it off after all. It was also an indulgence, I must say, to literally get some face time with each of the girls, even if it was spent spinning around a terrazzo floor. They were being tugged in so many directions all week, but for at least a few minutes I had their undivided attention. As we waltzed, a couple dozen of the various family members, including my mom and dad, came along to watch and make it a bit of a party.
It was a lovely way to end a lovely day.

Friday morning, my wife was back in Big Deb mode, with just one goal in mind—get those marriage licenses for Katie and Nick and Mike and Helen, and get them the minute the Brown County clerk’s office opened at 8 a.m. Our home county has an ordinance that requires couples marrying here to obtain their marriage license within thirty days of the wedding. Not much of a problem for people who live here. But for the rare couple commuting here to wed, it’s just one more challenge—and one complicated by the fact that the county insists you bring along an unusually lengthy list of original documents to prove you are you.
Claire and Sam had secured their license earlier in the week, and Deb had worked diligently with the other couples to make sure they a.) had the necessary papers, and b.) remembered to bring them to Wisconsin. Fortunately, they a.) did, and b.) did. Another potential disaster averted. Big Deb allowed herself to exhale. They were in and out of the office in twenty minutes, and there was no stopping this train now.
Their fates thus sealed, the guys then headed out with me to Oneida Country Club, where sixteen of us—grooms, groomsmen, uncles, cousins and friends—gathered for a celebratory round of golf on an absolutely spectacular early-fall day. Oneida is a verdant, old-school course, lovely at any time of the year. But on this day, the sugar maples lining Duck Creek, which bisects the course and touches a good half-dozen of its holes, were stunning shades of gold, orange and red against the blue sky. Even that nasty snap hook on No. 12 couldn’t upset you.
We finished in time to clean up and get back to the Campus Center at St. Norbert for the “rehearsal dinner”—in fact, an open house/reception/buffet for the hundreds of family and friends by now pouring into De Pere. The building fronts the Fox River on the campus’ eastern edge, and the wonderful weather extended into the early evening, beckoning many outside. The grooms’ parents had conceived the idea of a soup-and-sandwich open house in place of the traditional rehearsal dinner because, with so many families involved and so many people traveling for the wedding, it seemed a pragmatic alternative. And it proved to be. It was like a huge extended-family reunion—which, in a sense, it was. Or maybe more accurately, it was a huge, extended-family “pre-union.”
It was also one more example, of many, of the unfailing graciousness and incredible consideration that Maria, Chuck and Marcia (Nick’s parents) and Will and Julie (Mike’s) brought to the entire affair. We will never be able to thank them enough for that gift.
This rehearsal dinner also departed from tradition in that it occurred ahead of the rehearsal, not after it. At 6:30, we herded over to Old St. Joe’s Church everyone who had an actual role in the wedding—and I use “herded” advisedly, for with a triple wedding that was a fair percentage of the crowd.
As is usually the case at wedding rehearsals, the socializing and high spirits tend to predominate, with most folks paying scant attention to instructions. Our three presiders and the wedding coordinator were doing their best to impose some order on the proceedings. But as fifty or more brides, grooms, moms, dads, ushers and flower girls packed the gathering space outside the sanctuary proper, ostensibly to start a run-through of the ceremony, it was barely controlled chaos. I mean, it was fun chaos, but chaos nonetheless.
It all made me a bit anxious. I made myself smile—even as I told myself, well, tomorrow this has the potential to be a logistical catastrophe ….


I needn’t have worried. From the breaking of a beautiful dawn over the Fox River to my girls’ surprise “reveal” of their wedding gowns, all signs pointed to this being a perfect day, and that’s how it turned out.
Between Deb, Helen, Fr. Sal and my St. Norbert colleague Amy Sorenson, everything had been planned as if by script. No, make that by actual script. Think I’m kidding? Here’s a small excerpt from the “Saturday” entry that Amy had prepared and distributed to all involved:

11:30 a.m.: Fr. Jay brings grooms to Presidential Suite, Kress Inn, and gets lunch out of refrigerator
                        11:30 a.m.: Lunch delivered to home and Kress Inn
11:30 a.m.: Flowers delivered to Kress Inn (for parents, groomsmen, ushers and grandparents)
                        11:45 a.m.: Flowers delivered to Kunkel home
12 noon: Pat Dart arrives at Kress Inn to help grooms and groomsmen with ties, etc.
12 noon: Ladder up in church, remove and store in Boyle Hall when [photographer] Jerry Turba is set in balcony
                        12:15 p.m.: Memorial bouquet and other ceremony flowers to church
                        12:30 p.m.: Flower girls arrive at Kunkel home
                        1 p.m.: Parking signs are placed in JMS lot and behind heating plant
                        1 p.m.: Nicole begins flower set-up at Union
                        1 p.m.: Brides, bridesmaids, flower girls, Kunkel family photos at home
                        1 p.m.: Programs brought to church (Amy/Jamie)

And so on…single spaced…for several pages.
And you know what? That’s exactly how the day unfolded, pretty much down to the minute. It was amazing to watch—which is essentially what I did, per the plan. I didn’t see much of the guys, who Fr. Jay had over at the Abbey and was shepherding to their appointed rounds. I did help a bit with the girls’ morning shuttles to hair and makeup, but for the most part I watched cars of young women going and coming—fairly frowsy and rumpled in the going, stunningly beautiful in the coming back. It was a veritable Makeover Merry-Go-Round.
Indeed, the more I stared at Amy’s script, the very specificity of it—almost daring any little unwanted detail to just try to elbow its way into the agenda—was as reassuring as the church scrum the night before had been, well, not.
Beyond following their script, I should also add that everyone was happy. Giddily, kid-like, let’s-have-a-party happy. And that sheer happiness just seemed to explode whatever nerves we might have had otherwise.
At 2:35, right on Amy’s cue, the bridesmaids left the house and headed for the church. Ten minutes later, beautiful brides Katie, Claire and Helen walked out our front door toward their waiting car. As Deb and I and Helen stood on the porch seeing them off, Jerry Turba snapped a poignant photo to catch that unique family moment. In every sense, it was time.


The rest of the day played out like a sun-drenched, tulle-draped reverie—and truth be told, not altogether different from the far-fetched dream I’d had years before about that multiple wedding in the University of Maryland chapel. And as it turned out, I wasn’t the only one who likened the day to a dream. Since the wedding, it’s been amazing how many attendees have gone to the trouble of writing us to thank us and say how moved they too were by such a memorable and joyful occasion. Given that the day’s inherent theme was sharing, that response has been especially gratifying to us all.
But maybe the most remarkable note of all came from a couple in Illinois that we’ve never met—Gilbert and Arlisle Beers. This is what the letter said, in its entirety:
“Dear Mr. Kunkel:
“Imagine our surprise when we discovered the triple wedding of your daughters. We were married sixty years ago in a triple wedding in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Yes, we were also three sisters, and all six of us are all still healthy and happily married. We had never heard of another triple wedding before or since, until we saw the lovely picture in the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
“Please add our congratulations to you and your family at this time of joy.”
Three sisters, three couples, three still-thriving sixty-year marriages! I of course sent it to the kids, as it is without question one of the most hopeful testaments I’ve ever seen.

Thomas Kunkel is president of St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin.

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