This weekend found me in my homeland, Detroit, for a momentously happy occasion. My brother Paul’s beautiful daughter Jillian Joliat was married to Rob Dare. It is the culmination of a five year courtship, punctuated by distances and adaptation. The marriage will not change that: Rob will finish law school in Pittsburgh and Jillian will work and take her Engineering exams in the Detroit area. Weekends will rotate from one locale to another.
Where will they ultimately plant roots? They will negotiate that decision. Ordinarily I would say advantage: lawyer, but Jillian’s engineering brain can create a spreadsheet of options and consequences to rival any barrister’s logic. Time will tell, as they say.
I love weddings.
To have a joyous excuse to “go home again” is a happy gift. Still, as Jillian glided down the aisle with my brother to steady her, I sprouted tears. Memories overflowed. Paul is my baby brother- the kid who was still causing a ruckus when I started teaching. He never did one mischievous thing that he was not busted for. Like riding his bike through three separate ghettoes to get Jethro Tull tickets at Cobo Hall. At 4:30 AM. And not making it back in time for school. Or smuggling a Pabst Blue Ribbon into the locker room for a beer shower after the last intramural game. Or volunteering to transport a keg in my mom’s car and covering it with a dish towel. Still, he always managed to wiggle out of his groundings: he was that charming. He has always had so much fun that some underestimated his keen mind, including our father. Dad encouraged him to start college as a commuter living under his watchful eye. Paul dominated Lawrence Tech for a year, and then jetted off to take MSU by storm. He never looked back.
He picked up his keg skills and took to fraternity life like Sparty to the end zone. Once he was out, he passed his engineering boards in one fell swoop and ultimately took Dad’s place in the business. To this day he throws one hell of a party, and balances work and play better than anyone I know. Of course, he married a lifeline in his wife. Marietta hails from a family of seven kids, and was never frightened by the loud and raucous ways of the Joliat clan. Smart men seek an axis to center their lives. Paul is smart.
Cognizant of any potential for mayhem, Paul had eyes in the back of his head as he raised his kids. It shows: they are great. They never came close to his madly adventurous spirit. Hell, how do I know? Maybe they did bad things with such stealth that he is happy in his ignorance. And maybe I should revise: Andrew, his son, has an ever present twinkle in his eye: I suspect he has the devilment gene. However, he DID make it through four years of West Point without ever walking hours for an indiscretion. At the minimum he has better subterfuge than his Dad.
On Saturday I remembered Paul and Marietta’s wedding day- my other brother Mike missed it to welcome his son Colin into the world. I was pregnant with Mike. No drinking. Maybe that is why I remember it so well. Also, it was the second Joliat-Cavanaugh wedding. Paul married the sister of Larry Cavanaugh, my brother in law via Marie. We have a set of double cousins, and Jillian is the first to wed. Time seems to be accelerating on me, and I hate that. But for the day, all six Joliats were there, with spouses, happily sharing this joy. Fourteen cousins, six with spouses, drank, danced and frolicked. Both the Cavanaughs and the Joliats celebrated roots and branches.
The reception was held in an historic venue, the Detroit Athletic Club. Ty Cobb trained there! It is a beautiful old building, surrounded by the new sports fields and Casino. I am sure that it has been a struggle to maintain memberships and use since few people actually work downtown Detroit anymore. In fact, the priest who married Jillian and Rob, Monsignor Zens, sponsored them for the reception. He travels downtown to exercise with greater anonymity. I expect that hearing confessions while treadmilling and lifting weights could get old.
At any rate, in every wedding day there are echoes of all the weddings that have gone before. Especially in this day. My Mom and Dad celebrated their wedding day at this very same club on June 14, 1947. Not too much has changed; I liked that. I liked thinking that the same fine art was hanging, the same chandeliers were above, and the same staircase welcomed the guests. I’m pretty sure Grandma and Grandpa O’Donnell did not rent the basement bowling alleys for an afterglow party like Andrew did, but the new generation had to dial things up a notch.
The morning after found Andrew flying away for his officer’s training at Fort Sill and Jillian’s sister Catherine headed back to Chicago to finish her Master’s. All the glorious details on the list had checks by them. Jillian sailed off to start a new phase of her life with Rob. I cannot know if the new silence was a gift or a trauma for Paul and Marietta; it is probably both. And after all- Jillian will be back. Like a boomerang, she will flutter North and South while sleeping in her childhood room. But it is different now.
On Sunday, Steve and I headed home, down Woodward Avenue by way of the Coney Island. In choosing this route, we drove by the National Shrine of the Little Flower- the church that hosted our wedding exactly 35 years before. Happy Anniversary, my sweet husband. Like Jillian and Rob, we took a flying leap. You were just a tater tot of 24, and I pretty much made you marry me. Right?
We have had a good run. God willing, this beautiful new couple will, too. I would rather have stayed in my parents’ house, but my Dad changed the locks.(a joke- his words at the back of the church were that I could run away from Steve, but I could never come home. I think he was kidding, but I never tested the equation.)
35 years doesn’t happen by accident. Next time out I will offer unsolicited observations on the secrets of a long sturdy marriage. I’ll do it while the newlyweds are honeymooning. That way it won’t terrify them.
You want these secrets, don’t you? Then come back.
Type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.