Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 20, 2018

Family matters

We arrived at St. Bernadette’s Catholic Church in Kansas City a little more than an hour before the ceremony began. A few people were scurrying about and several women were busy fastening flower arrangements to the ends of the pews. We chose one away from the center aisle to stay out of the way.

We were there to celebrate the wedding of husband Art’s grandson Jeremiah and his betrothed Ruthie.

Art, daughter Katie and I had arrived early because Katie had been asked to sing “Ave Maria” and she wanted to do a practice run with the pianist. Katie was slightly nervous, as she has sometimes encountered accompanists who play at whatever speed they like and expect the soloist to match them.

The original plan was to have Jeremiah’s mother - Art’s daughter Karen - sing, but she felt a touch of something coming on - maybe nerves? - a week before and decided there should be a "Plan B." Karen asked Art if he would do it. He said that while he had in the past, as the years go by, he is less sure that he can rely on his voice.

This was all a touch amusing since Katie, who has her degree in music education and has performed in many settings, didn't initially come to mind. I guess we parents get used to taking care of certain things and it just doesn't occur to us that our kids may be better equipped than we are for some tasks.

When the pianist arrived, Katie introduced herself and the two began. Her concern quickly faded when Brooke paused after a few bars and asked, "Would you like it slower or faster?"

They began again and went straight through. Within the first few bars, the tears welled up in my eyes. The song is so hauntingly beautiful, and Katie’s clear, sweet voice filled the sanctuary. Those who were preparing for the ceremony stopped what they were doing and listened. Ruthie’s grandmother put her hand over her heart.

Ruthie’s father Greg came over and introduced himself. When we told him who we were, he said, “Oh, you’re Opa and Oma!” Karen’s children have called us that - the German version for Grandpa and Grandma - since they were little.

Before long, other family members arrived. Karen’s oldest son Cameron and his brood had come all the way from Louisiana. They slipped into the pew from one side and older daughter Mariya and her fiancee Miriam from the other.

Karen said that her main job as the mother of the groom was to stay out of the way and do as she was told. Art and I laughed. Karen usually tells it like it is. We were also glad we didn’t have any role other than to be there and support the family.

Before long, we spied Karen’s other children, Josh and Katrina, both of whom were members of the wedding party, and Bill, the father of Jeremiah, Josh and Katrina.

Then, the ceremony began. Little 2 1/2-year-old Ellie, the flower girl and daughter of the bride and groom, moved somewhat erratically down the aisle with her focus on her basket of petals. Her uncle held the over-sized crown of flowers on her head as she dropped petals here and there.

Although Catholic weddings are usually longer than others we’ve attended, the hour-long nuptial mass seemed to fly by. Soon we were outside with small bottles of soapy water, blowing bubbles as the bride and groom left the church. Then the others left for the nearby Knights of Columbus hall, while family members stayed behind for photos.

The next few hours were a bit of a blur as we ate, danced, talked and tried to figure out how people were connected to the bride and groom. I was touched when Karen introduced Mariya and Katie as her sisters - not as her step-sister and her half-sister. This thing called “family” can be complicated and sometimes it’s hard to explain to outsiders. Art’s “first” family included Karen and son Matt. When he married me, he “inherited” and adopted Mariya, whose biological father was my late husband Jerome. Then he and I had Katie four years later. Cameron is Karen’s son from her first marriage and Jeremiah, Josh and Katrina are her children from her second.

Trying to figure out the relationships reminded me of Jerome’s brother Kenny, whose first wife ended up marrying his second wife’s father - which meant his ex-wife became his step mother-in-law. He and I often chuckled about that, citing a ditty written by Latham and Jaffe in the 1940s. A sample of the lyrics include:

I was married to a widow, who was pretty as can be
This widow had a grown-up daughter
Who had hair of red
My father fell in love with her, and soon they too were wed
This made my dad my son-in-law
And really changed my life
Now my daughter was my mother
Cause she was my father’s wife…

The two couples have babies, making the ties even more confusing until the singer concludes that he could be his own grandfather!

That evening, while making our way home after a wonderful day, I began to think again about families. The 1950s TV versions like “Ozzie and Harriet” and “Leave It To Beaver,” now seem like the cars of that time with their huge tail fins - a tad out of date. Shows like "Modern Family" or "Last Tango in Halifax" present today's blended families with step-siblings, half-siblings, LGBTQ couples and any number of other relationships.

I know some lament those "good old days," but while doing family history recently, Art ran across a tombstone with the phrase "Proud parents of 20 children." No thanks! I'll take the complicated modern version of this messy, wonderful thing we call family.

Top-left: Bill, Karen, Jeremiah, Elizabeth "Ellie" and Ruth Ethridge, Rachael and Greg Marquart; bottom-left: bubble shower for the groom and bride; top-right: bride and groom at a quiet moment during the reception dinner; bottom-right: siblings of the groom Cameron, Josh and Katrina; groom, bride and sister of the bride Kathie.

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