When you’re happy you smile. When you’re really happy, your eyes smile.
October 23, 1954: The wedding service was held at a modest wooden church in the country a few miles outside of Chenoa. It was a simple, tasteful ceremony that was attended by friends of the couple and many family members from the area. There was no elaborate reception at a large hotel or event center, but rather a gathering at the family homestead. After the wedding reception, the young couple said their goodbyes, received a long hug from their parents, and climbed into their car. With one last wave Russell Jolly shifted the car into gear and he and his new wife, Gwendolyn, began to move down the gravel drive toward a new life together. They had their entire lives ahead of them and a little over a year later, their first child, a son they would name Frederick after his Grandfather Jacobs was born. His birth was followed by the birth of three other sons, and their lives would all flow forward, as described by Carl Sandburg, like “a river on which we all drift down, through an unexplored country.”
February 22, 1990: It is a Thursday afternoon and my wife, Elaine, and I are headed north on US 294 toward Lutheran General Hospital in a driving snowstorm. I try to recall what the weather forecast was for today and hope that whatever is coming holds off just a bit longer. I glance at Elaine and see that she is breathing slowly in and out…in and out…. We pull up to the hospital and direct ourselves to the emergency room entrance, where I drop Elaine off and then look for a parking spot. After parking the car I walk into the emergency room and see that Elaine is sitting in a wheel chair in front of an admission station. A nurse comes up to us and asks why we are there. “My wife is having a baby.” I respond.
The delivery was not a particularly easy one. Pain medication was administered too late, and it became apparent that the baby was in some distress. We both watched as the baby’s heart rate dipped with each contraction. The doctor said that they needed to move the delivery along and asked Elaine to push harder and longer. Finally, our new baby was delivered and we could see the cause of the distress: a knot in the umbilical cord. We did not know the sex of the baby before this moment, but were so pleased to learn from the doctor that it was a girl and that she was in perfect health. We would name her Claire Fleming Jolly and she was absolutely beautiful.
June 3, 2016: The two of us stand at the end of the aisle and watch as those in attendance rise as one. My daughter, Claire, is holding my left arm and we just pause here a moment as the first notes of Edelweiss begin. Claire has chosen this song for her wedding march as this was a song that I would sing to comfort her when she was a baby. We can see her future husband, Kyle, standing at the informal altar looking very serious and then he smiles. I know that Claire is nervous (glad to have her as part of the club) so I look at her and quote a funny line from one of our favorite films, The Princess Bride: “Mawwiage…ohhh mawwiage, is what brings us together today.” Claire laughs and then I say, “Let’s light this candle.” She smiles and replies, “Let’s do this.” And takes the first steps into her new future.
The planning for this shindig began well in advance of this day. It had been almost 18 months since Claire and Kyle became engaged and started planning for the wedding. Finding just the right venue was the first priority and after much research and many visits to prospective locations, they landed on a very unique place called Salvage One, which is an antique complex in Chicago by day, and a beautiful event setting at night. However, there was a bit of a complication when it came to securing hotel rooms for those traveling from out of town like ourselves, as the wedding was the same weekend as the international oncology conference which filled up almost every hotel in the city. But Claire’s mother and her husband came to the rescue and found rooms out by O’Hare near the CTA Blue Line and arranged to have buses shuttle guests to and from the wedding site.
Since we are on the road, we were not able to participate as much in the planning, but the kids did a great job of fully analyzing each aspect of the wedding, keeping us apprised of their progress, and providing a running tally on the cost. Ouch. Laura volunteered to coordinate one of the most important elements associated with the evening, the bar offerings. She also arranged for us to have 100 tickets at the Cubs game the day after the wedding and a message welcoming the wedding group put up on the scoreboard during the game. I was very proud of how much noise the group made when our greeting flashed up on the board. And to top things off, the Cubs came from behind to beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-3.
The wonderful rehearsal dinner hosted by Kyle’s parents at a Mexican restaurant really set the tone for the weekend of activities – marguerites and a fun wedding party and family certainly did not hurt any. All of this was preceded by two lovely showers that we were able to attend when we came back for my birthday in March. With every occasion and event I had the same reaction: I could not believe that all of this, everything, was for my daughter and her future husband. It seemed somewhat surreal that they were at the center of this and everything was revolving around them. I know that Claire felt the same way as I asked her many times about it. Not to check her level of gratitude, but rather because all of this was happening to the little girl to whom I had sung Edelweiss so many years ago.
Finally, we come to the wedding celebration and it was everything that we hoped it would be: a beautiful and heartfelt wedding ceremony that was written by Claire and Kyle and officiated by Kyle’s identical twin brother, Andy; a joyous reception party with family and friends dancing until we were kicked out of the place at midnight; plenty of wonderful food and drink; delicious assorted pies instead of the traditional cake because the bride does not like cake; and love, much, much love. My role in all of this was really pretty straight forward: get my daughter safely down the aisle, and later that evening, deliver a father-of-the-bride toast.
The former responsibility was fairly easy as all I had to do was keep us between the pews on either side of the aisle as we made our way to the altar. On the other hand, I did fret a bit about my toast as I wanted to do it as well as I could given the importance of the occasion. I did research on suggested approaches to my comments and toast, and managed to pull together something that did not drone on too long, and conveyed my thanks to all who joined us on the blessed occasion and my heartfelt feelings about the bride and groom. I also thought about how proud my mother and father would have been of the wonderful person that Claire had become. I concluded my toast with a quote I had once heard, “When you’re happy you smile. When you’re really happy, your eyes smile.” And on this day, in this place, both Claire’s and Kyle’s eyes were beaming from ear to ear.
From this day on their lives will flow forward guided by past generations just as they will guide future generations. So it is with families, those who come after us are in many ways simply a collective being of those who came before.
…To be continued by future generations…
A New Life Together: Russell and Gwendolyn (1954) and Claire and Kyle (2016)