Last Friday night we drove to Ripon, Wisconsin, for the wedding of my college roommate’s youngest son. According to my roommate, Gayle Viehman Kirkman, Andrew was finally getting married. In his mid-thirties, Andrew was a tad behind his two older brothers in taking the marriage plunge, which became increasingly worrisome to his mother, who was married at the age of twenty-two and remains married to the same man.
But a couple of years ago, Andrew met his match, literally, in Sara, a chiropractor working in Madison. They hit it off, both having a great sense of humor, great ambition, and zest for life.
We left work early to get to the six-fifteen wedding, and arrived in Ripon well ahead of schedule. The trip took us on I 90-94 to Mauston, Wisconsin, where we headed east on Hwy 82 to Montello, where we picked up Hwy 23 straight east to Ripon.
It was a beautiful afternoon for a drive, and after getting off the Interstate and on to two-lane roads, we traveled through parts of east central Wisconsin that we haven’t seen before, but are undeniably Wisconsin. One of the things you miss out on when traveling on the Interstate is seeing how people live, what their houses look like, what their town squares look like, what stores they have, and what they are doing.
Apparently last weekend was a big one for fall festivals, and as we drove through (rather than around) these small towns, we had to slow down for cars parked on both sides of the street, tractors making their way to some event, people buying brats and pumpkins and other fall items from vendors in tents. Merchants had their stores decked out with corn stalks and Halloween decorations, and people wandered the streets as though it were the Mall of America.
Our hotel, across from the banquet hall where the wedding would be held, was easy to find, and while John was dressing to go out to see who was around, I stayed in the room for a nap. But soon I heard buses from my window, and got up to peek out to see the Knox College football team piling out and into the hotel. “Oh, no,” I thought, “I hope they aren’t too rowdy.” I heard them in the halls getting to their rooms, and amazingly, that was the last noise they made. They were a good-looking, clean-cut bunch of young men who held doors open, called us sir and ma’am, and let us go in and out of the elevator first. They lost the game 26-20, but Knox should be proud of their young ambassadors.
John came over to look at the kids disembarking from the bus, and beyond, on a nice grassy area, we could see chairs set up in front of a gazebo. “Is that someone else’s wedding?” he asked. “Surely they aren’t going to have this thing outside!”
But sure enough, from even that distance, there was no mistaking Gayle as she walked around the chairs and over to the bride and groom, who were having pictures taken. So John put on a sweater under his sport coat, and I was glad I had brought a fleece jacket and a wool shawl, as they were both required against the fall chill.
Gayle explained that they had to make the call — inside or out — early in the day, and as it was warm at the time, they opted for outside. It got cold, but that didn’t ruin the wedding at all.
The groom and groomsmen marched out after the congregation was seated, followed by the, um, officiant. Obviously someone had told the men to stand an arm’s length apart, so when they got to the front, each put his right arm on the next fellow’s shoulder, gave a big smile as if satisfied he was doing his duty correctly, and the audience tittered.
Then came the bridesmaids, dressed in scant plum — brr! — and then the radiant bride down the aisle with her father. There was a short but very nice ceremony, which ended with the officiant saying, “Now, by the power invested in me by the state of Wisconsin — and the Internet — I hereby pronounce you man and wife!” Gayle would have preferred a priest, but hey, they were married.
The crowd went in to the reception, shedding coats and shawls, and sat down at decorated tables to listen to the DJ. Soon, it was time for the introduction of the wedding party, and after that, the speeches by the best man and matron of honor (beautifully pregnant!). The speeches were touching in their obvious love for the couple, and the crowd roared when the groomsmen insisted that Andrew do his orangutan imitation, which he continued on into the rest of the evening if the festivities threatened to flag.
The father of the bride gave a beautiful speech, and relayed his daughter’s phone call after her first date with Andrew. The part I want to remember is “and he’s so polite,” because I thought that was something that any mother would love to hear about her son. The parents of the groom gave a lovely speech and welcome to the family, and then the bride danced with her father, the groom with his mother, and all the little kids danced with each other while their mothers and grandmothers kicked off their shoes under the table and the men went to the bar.
It was fun for me to see relatives of my roommate and her husband that I only see at weddings, and to reminisce about old times. We sat with Bill and Judy Koslo from Arcadia, where Gayle and Denis used to live, and caught up with Arcadia news (there is always something happening in Arcadia, believe me). Gayle’s youngest brother, Dan Viehman, and his wife, Yvonne, told us about their Polka Spotlight! television show, aired around the country and originating in Minneapolis, and we got all the lowdown on the grandchildren, and everyone’s health.
The next morning at breakfast at the hotel, we met more relatives, and ran into the Knox football players again, still polite. Gayle told me that John was waxing poetic at the reception after I had gone to bed, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some verse about weddings, and their generational appeal. We also reflected how a good wedding will always get us thinking about our own marriage, the hope and joy with which it started, our responsibility to keep those hopes from going unfulfilled, and the joy we find in our marriages even now.