A Daughter’s Marriage

Claire and Kyle – The Happy Couple

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)

A wedding and an anniversary

Something really big happened to us this past weekend — our daughter got married!  Our hearts were overflowing with pride, joy, and love as Claire married Kyle.  From the moment we met him we could see the sparkle in her eyes and knew that he was special.  He’s truly the man of her dreams.

I’ve elaborated on Facebook for our friends so I’m not going to share much more about this family event here on our travel blog, but suffice it to say that our weekend back in Chicago was dreamy!  The ceremony was short, sweet, funny, and meaningful, and the reception was one for the decades!  And now Kyle and Claire are Mr. & Mrs.!
Claire's Wedding Collage
That shared, we had another big event this past week but our time commitments with the above-mentioned wedding prevented me from posting about it.  But now we are back from the wedding festivities and almost fully recovered from all of the hullabaloo, so now it’s time to go back and mark our big anniversary — WE HAVE BEEN ON THE ROAD FOR TWO YEARS!!  My next post will share some reflections and photos from these past two years….

Let’s hear it for the Danes!

The museum of Danish America in Elk Horn, IowaWhile planning our trip across Iowa I noticed something on the atlas that caught my attention — the Museum of Danish America in Elk Horn, a small little farming community just north of I-80 in western Iowa.  Given my Danish heritage — my dad’s parents both immigrated from Denmark making him 100% Danish, so Kirsten and I are 50% Danish — I just had to take the slight detour to visit.  Further, Grandpa, whose full name was Ejnar Bundgaard Madsen, spent a couple of summers, as many young Danish immigrants did, working in the farm fields of Iowa and Nebraska during fall’s harvest season.  As we drove across I-80, I got a bit nostalgic as I wondered if Grandpa had worked the very fields we were driving past.

It goes without saying that it was a lovely and sentimental visit to this little out-of-the-way place that celebrates and remembers all of the Danes that left the wee country of Denmark to come to America in search of a better life.  I recognized so many things from Grandma & Grandpa’s house that were on display here.  Indeed, in this museum is the story of my Danish grandparents….

If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in the photo series.  To close the series, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.

And in the spirit of Throwback Thursday, I thought I’d also share a couple of old photos I had scanned a few years back when I went through carousels and carousels of old family slides.  According to the notes written on them, these are from Grandpa Madsen’s 64th birthday in 1969.  The setting was Grandma & Grandpa’s basement in Akron, Ohio.  I remember family meals down there as that’s where the large dining room table was around which everyone would fit.  I remember both U.S. and Danish flags on the buffet — they were proud of where they came from, yet proud to be Americans.  I remember the blue seagull china by Bing & Grondahl, famed Danish china manufacturer; Kirsten still has Grandma & Grandpa’s set.  And I remember that after dinner Grandpa would pull out his old accordion and we little girls would dance around to his music.  Grandpa lived into his late 80’s, but much of him still lives in me today.  And my sister, Kirsten, goes through life with a Danish name in honor of our Danish heritage.  Let’s hear it for the Danes!

That’s Kirsten (3) and me (5½) on the right side of the picture with Mom in the middle of us.  Handsome Uncle Paul is next to me — I’m sure that was my request to get to sit by him. :)  I don’t remember the names of the relatives around the back side of the table; they were Grandma Ruth’s family.  Daddy must have taken the photo.  And, of course, Grandpa & Grandpa Madsen….

April Showers

Claire & Kyle
Claire & Kyle… soon to be Mr. & Mrs.

We’ve been in and out of Chicago for the last three weeks to, among other things, attend a couple of showers given for our favorite bride and groom, Claire and Kyle.  With the nuptials just seven weeks away and nearly all of the planning and details taken care of, we are all now just enjoying the countdown.

Don & Tracy M., long-time friends of Claire and her mom Elaine, hosted a couples shower where guests rallied around the Stock the Bar theme and helped the happy couple build out their bar.  Glassware, plenty of liquor and some other fun presents — it was a great shower with a great theme, and a great time was had by all!

Aunt Cathy and Aunt Laura, Elaine’s sister and sister-in-law, and cousin Beth, hosted another shower for the ladies only that included the women in Claire’s big, extended family as well as her seven bridesmaids.  Set at the elegant Omni Hotel in downtown Chicago, we all enjoyed a very nice luncheon during which we pampered Claire with gift certificates and girly girl items to get her ready for her big day.

 If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in the photo series.  To close the series, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.

There will be one more shower later in the month where Claire, Elaine, and their very artistic friends are going to work on some decor to be featured at the wedding venue on the big day, then it’s just four more weeks until we all shower the happy couple with our love and best wishes on their big day — 06-03-16 — it’s almost here!

The Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field

Fred with his brickToday is Opening Day for the Cubs!  Actually the game is this evening, but that’s just getting technical now, isn’t it…?  The Cubs are back at Wrigley after a very successful spring training season out in Arizona [we went to opening day out there; see my Spring Training post] and today begins what is going to finally, after more than a century(!!), be our big run to take it all and become the World Series Champions of 2016!  For the time being, let’s just leave aside the fact that our best power slugger is out for the season; the rest of the team is surely going to rally behind him and tally the hits and runs we were expecting from Schwarber this season.

Going to opening day is a tradition of ours, but due to terrible planning on the part of this CLO, we flew down to North Carolina to visit Daddy and Joan and Kelsey one day before opening day back up in Chicago where we have been spending time on and off for the last three weekends — how could I have been so sloppy in my planning?!?  Surely I should have paid more attention to the Cubs schedule, planned to join our friends for the game tonight at Wrigley, then flown down here tomorrow.  But alas, I didn’t, and so we’ll hopefully be watching on TV tonight and then look forward to attending a game when we get back to Chicago.

Fred's brick from Claire & KyleBut alas, all is not so terrible.  We were up in the Wrigleyville neighborhood on Friday and found the paver that Claire & Kyle had created for Fred in celebration of his recent birthday.  And with a little help from a friend, they were able to have it placed right next to the memorial brick of his all-time favorite baseball hero, the legendary Ron Santo.  Ron was the third baseman for the Cubs back when little Freddie was third baseman for his Little League team in Chenoa.  How special is that…?!?  

As of yesterday, we have decided to stick around Chicago for another weekend, our fourth now, so we can take in the Cubs vs. Diamondbacks game on Saturday afternoon before heading back west to meet back up with Charley and continue our Out There journey….

Fred with his hero
Fred with his baseball hero, the late, great Ron Santo, who played third base for the Cubs from 1960 – 1973.  Ask Fred about his Ron Santo memorabilia collection sometime…!

Hoop Dreams

Monday, April 4th — After another fabulous long weekend in Chicago and lots more celebrating and partying which I’ll write about soon, we are now at Mom’s up here in Appleton where we’ll spend a few days visiting with her and my sister and her family.

It’s basketball weekend, and as I write this post we are watching the NCAA Championship game.  It’s clear who Daddy & Joan are cheering for down in North Carolina.  On the other side of the court and on another coast, nephew Kyle in Galveston is all in with Villanova as he picked them to win it all in his work pool.  Since my Badgers lost in the Sweet 16, I’m not as interested in the outcome as I was last year, but if I’m forced to choose, I’ll side with Fred and go with ‘anyone but NC.’  [I may have just shot myself in the foot as we’re visiting our NC family next week — sorry guys, I really don’t mean it!]

Matthew Wade & the Skills - tournament champions!
Skills First Team — Champions of the NY2LA Swish & Dish 14 & under AAU Bronze Championship.  My nephew, Matthew, is second from the left; the player next to the coach — handsome, smart, and a great baller!

On the subject of basketball, our drive to Wisconsin from Chicago yesterday found us hooking up with one of my best buddies, Will, and his family up in Milwaukee.  Will & Lizzette’s son, Matthew, was playing in an AAU 14 & Under basketball tournament, so we joined them at one of the local high schools to watch Matt and his team make up a 20-point deficit and win by a couple to put them into the finals of their division.  Unfortunately we couldn’t stay for the final game as we were due up at Mom’s for dinner, but the team went on to win the championship game by 15 points!  Taking after his dad who was a high school and college basketball stud himself back in his day, Matthew soared with 18 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists.  Way to go Matthew!  And congratulations to your entire team!  It was fun watching you play.  Your Auntie Laura and Uncle Fred look forward to watching you continue to develop your skills and play in high school and then at the college level.

And speaking yet some more of basketball, Villanova just won.  Congrats on winning your pool, Kyle!

Happy Birthday Fred!

Fred is 60 today — hip, hip, horray!

Fred at age 2, 1958; Fred’s graduation picture from Chenoa High School, 1974; Fred last week, nearly 60

As many of you know, Fred grew up in the small town of Chenoa [pop. 1,800] in central Illinois.  During the course of our travels he has written articles from time to time for the local paper, the Chenoa Town Crier.  Here’s his latest contribution, On Turning Sixty.


On Turning Sixty

     Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’

     We are not now that strength which in old days

     Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;

     One equal temper of heroic hearts,

     Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

     To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

                              Alfred, Lord Tennyson, conclusion of poem, Ulysses  

I know that it is back there. It has been for a long, long time. Just waiting. I turn to look behind me and stare off into the darkness, but I do not see it. But I know that it is there, it is always there, just waiting…

 On March 25th I will celebrate my 60th birthday. I know that it is somewhat cliché, but it does not even seem real when I write it or say it. When we were in Phoenix recently we visited former Chenoa resident Jim Kelleher and his wonderful wife, Jean. Jim has been a friend since grade school and while at his home we dug out our high school yearbooks. My, high school was a long, long time ago—over 40 years. Forty years. Forty years. It just sounds so foreign and distant, as if I am talking about someone else. I’ve never had a problem with any other birthday (except 55 when I thought how close that was to 60), but this one is always lurking in the back of my mind.

Maybe it’s because 60 seems so far past middle age and that much closer to the backend of life. Or because I’m on the doorstep of being social security eligible. Or perhaps it is because there are a few more creaks in the joints and sore muscles after a long bike ride or hike. Or perhaps it is because of a less-than-favorable family history on my dad’s side of the family. My father died when he was 66, his father died in his mid-60’s, and his father before him before he even reached sixty. I know that my lifestyle is quite different than theirs and that there have been significant advances in medical treatments and technology, but still…. Not knowing exactly how to address this reality of turning 60, like many others in a similar predicament, I suppose that I will confront it as I have at other turning points in my life, by simply pushing on.

On May 16th I will engage in a stress test of sorts to commemorate six decades on this good Earth. This will actually be my second stress test with the other one occurring around five years ago at Northwestern Hospital in Chicago. On that occasion I passed the comprehensive test with flying colors. I hope that the outcome will be the same with this stress test as it will be administered outside of a medical facility. Instead of being in doctor’s office or hospital, this one will instead take place at the Grand Canyon as I attempt to hike straight through from one side of the deep gorge to the other. Here’s to really hoping for a passing grade. A failed test could indeed be a bit problematic. This trek will not take place until May as lodging on the north rim of the Grand Canyon is not open until May 15th. So Laura and I will check in on that day in May and at 0-dark-hundred the next morning I will shoulder my backpack heavy with water and some food, get a ride from Laura to the North Kaibab Trail, turn on my headlamp, and take the first step on the trail that will lead me down into the great canyon.

The trek will be just under 24 miles in length and I estimate that it will take me between 13 and 15 hours to complete, depending on how many stops I make and for how long. I will descend 5,800 feet from the rim and hike 14 miles to the bottom of the canyon. The trail then snakes 1½ miles along the Colorado River and meets up with the Bright Angel Trail which climbs eight miles and 4,400 feet to the south rim on the other side of the canyon. Laura, who will make the five-hour drive from the lodge on the north rim to the south rim, plans to hike down around a mile on Bright Angel and meet me so that we can do the final push together. At the top I will then walk very slowly to the nearest chair.

I suppose that this is my feeble attempt to show that I still have something left in the tank. At 50 I rode my bike across country, at 55 I finished a master’s program at the University of Chicago, and now this. I do not think that I did anything special at 30, or 40 or any of the other birthdays before 50, as I suppose that I did not have anything to prove to myself. Old age was still so far in the distance. Interesting how we think that we need to do things like test ourselves with some physical challenge or otherwise to mark significant birthdays. As if by doing them we might somehow slow down time or trick it into thinking that there is nothing to see here and perhaps it will just keep moving along.

While the hike is important to me, I am more pleased that I will be able to celebrate my 60th with family and friends when we return to Chicago at the end of March. Even better than festivities around my birthday, is that our daughter, Claire, is getting married on June 3rd and we could not be more pleased. She is marrying a wonderful man named Kyle. In August we will head back to Alaska to finish seeing our two remaining national parks in the state, which are above the Arctic Circle. This will be a 12-day rafting and hiking trip through the two parks. In September we are back in a raft, this one with Claire and Kyle, paddling through churning whitewater on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. You would think that I would be over the canyon after the hike. By October we will have seen all but one of the 59 national parks and plan to come off of the road to find a house, likely in Michigan near my brother, Tom. We will see the last national park, American Samoa, in April of next year. Finally, in December I will do something that I have wanted to do for many, many years: attend the Army – Navy game with shipmates of mine, about whom I have previously written. Go Navy! That is a lot to pack into one year and when I review the list, I feel like some kind of royal monarch who is celebrating a monumental birthday with yearlong events. I am so very fortunate that I have so much to look forward to in the upcoming year.

So now what? As mentioned above, I do find the prospect of turning sixty to be a bit daunting, but what to do about it? I am clearly no longer, “that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven.” At age 60 I have varicose veins; blemishes on my body that are suspect from sun damage that is 50 years in the making; I carry quite a few more pounds than I did in high school; aching muscles after a hard workout are too numerous to do anything about and recovery time is measured in days, not hours; and I take medication for mild hypertension and to regulate my potassium level. In the spirit of full disclosure as if it were not already apparent, I also have a receding hairline, and you would think that this by itself could not possibly have anything to do with life expectancy, but studies have shown that there is indeed a link between certain types of baldness and heart issues. So I ask again, now what? Absent a better idea, I may as well just keep pushing on and as noted by Tennyson, continue “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” This sounds like as good a plan as any.

Partying in Palm Springs

For the last couple of days we’ve been hanging out in Palm Springs, courtesy of our long-time good friend from Chicago, Kathy, and her friends and now our new friends, Laury & Nancy.  We left Charley behind in his RV Resort down the road for a few days and moved into Kathy, Laury & Nancy’s fancy modern place over in Palm Springs.  And as coincidence would have it, other friends and our brother/bro-in-law were also out in Palm Springs at the same time — Tom, Eric, Jan and Peter — we just had to get together with them.  As a few of our photos show, a great time was had by all of us!


A new girlfriend in Galveston

K,A,L&FThis past weekend we traveled down to Galveston to visit our nephew Kyle who’s serving in the U.S. Coast Guard.  After spending about a year and a half at a duty station in south Florida, he’s been stationed in Galveston for nearly four years and he recently put in for another year there.  The reason:  Alyssa.

You may think us biased because he is our nephew, but Kyle is a really wonderful young man, and now he’s got a cute, sweet girlfriend.  Alyssa finished culinary school recently, worked in a bakery as her first job after school, and is now part of a team opening a new restaurant in a hotel a bit north of Houston next month.  According to Kyle, she’s a great pastry chef!  We shared five meals with Kyle & Alyssa during our 2-1/2 day stay there, and lots of delicious Gulf [of Mexico] seafood was enjoyed by all!  Yummy deserts, too!!

We are pleased to report back to the family that Alyssa is a really terrific young lady.  It’s clear she and Kyle are very happy together and we’re all very happy for both of them.

K & A — We hope you can join us on the road in the near future – there’s always room in Charley for you!  xoxo –AL&F