a wedding in a pandemic—denis gullickson—nov 2020
About two years ago, my daughter, Rachel, said “Yes” to a young man named Steven Daniel Peterson when he proposed on the skating rink in the Titletown District.
Dad's reaction? Well … okay. Steven's a great guy, loves my daughter obviously, supports her crazy life of music and theater … and what the heck? Her mom and I never told Rachel who to love, just to love.
A wedding two years off didn't seem like a big deal and twenty-some months to get to better know my future son-in-law seemed like a great adventure. Steven would go on to earn copious “chevrons” from me over the next couple of years — our humorous but honoring way of my acknowledging his service to our country in Afghanistan and his great deeds for Rachel, our family and others around him.
A date was picked — October 10, 2020. 10/10/2020. Ah, the symmetry! Even an absent-minded hubby like Rachel's dad would have a hard time forgetting that date as an anniversary.
Then came the announcement that the wedding would take place on our horse farm — the theme being “Audrey Hepburn Goes to the Farm.”
I chortled with my usual dad cynicism and hopefully temporary ignorance when I said, “Audrey Hepburn never set foot on a farm.” To which Rachel — infinitely better-informed than he dad, as usual — said, “Dad, Audrey Hepburn owned a farm.”
I had that image of a chic Audrey in “Breakfast at Tiffany's” — not the tough little lady who'd assisted the Dutch underground reporting Nazi movement or the dogged champion of human rights she'd always been.
Headline: Dad Learns Something … Again … And Becomes a Hepburn Fan!
Well — not that I didn't take Rachel's word for it, but after a little research of my own — that farm thing turned out to be true as Hepburn relaxed during her working years and, then, retired to “La Paisible” (“The Peaceful”). It was her home in the farm country near the tiny Swiss village of Tolochenaz.
At “La Paisible,” Hepburn would walk amongst the gardens and unwind from the tremendous toll of visiting human misery across the planet as a UNICEF ambassador. Those who knew her there, witnessed a worldly woman of grace who didn't shy away from that world's horrors but also understood her own need to process them in her peaceful place.
Alright. “Audrey Hepburn Goes to the Farm” had suddenly taken on a much-deeper definition.
All the Planning in the World
Now everyone who knows Rachel knows that she is the sweetest, easiest to get along with, most upbeat, most positive person in the world … except, perhaps, when it comes to planning her wedding. While she may have stayed all those things, she was also exacting in the details.
Everything would be right for her special day right down to the clear tents — not white. The flowers, the lights, the music, the food, the layout, the altar … all of it would meet exacting plans set out and driven home over the next biennium.
Oh, and the officiant for said wedding? Well, that was going to be this writer. Like the musical theater actress, choreographer, and director she is, Rachel had determined appropriate roles for her supporting cast. Her dad would do the ceremony; her mom, Kathy, would head up the “bride tribe,” her brother, Paul, would walk her up the aisle; music and theater friends would assume their significant parts.
Things seemed to be ticking along. Excellent vendors were being lined up — many of them family friends or professional contacts of the highest caliber. Plans were made in late winter for making sure said farm was up to snuff. Away we go!
And then … the proverbial dung hit the fan. On Friday, March 20, Governor Mario Cuomo issued a “New York State on Pause” order with a “10-Point Policy that Assures Uniform Safety for Everyone” and 100% Closure of Non-Essential Businesses Statewide.
Rachel — a graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy-New York — was in the Big Apple the weekend before visiting her friend, Christina. She let us know that things were frighteningly unfamiliar in the Big Apple, her second home, and that she and Christina were more than a little freaked out.
Covid19 had turned normally bustling streets into hauntingly empty corridors where the sound of rescue squad sirens echoed with disturbing frequency. NYC hospitals were filling up with coronavirus patients and Rachel was concerned that she might not make it out of the city before flights were canceled. She and Christina packed hurriedly and caught their flights — Rachel back to Green Bay, Christina to her hometown of Davis, CA.
We were delighted that Rachel had made it home and missed her like the dickens as she quarantined for seventeen days. Meanwhile, Wisconsin had also shutdown. Except for far-too-many deniers, everyone around us was living in an unknown dystopia where they were figuring things out by the moment. A ton of sudden “free time” made it all the eerier.
We waded through the spring like everyone else. But one thing hung out there emphasizing the great unknown: What of a wedding set for Saturday, October 10?
At least three unknowns were hanging in the air — right there next to that date.
October 10, 2019, Kathy and I had looked out at the field next to our house and worried about the weather. 2019 was the wettest year on record for our area and the field where this wedding was going to happen was completely under water.
Then, there was the Packers schedule. Unheard of in bigger NFL towns or other areas of the country, folks in Green Bay plan major life events like weddings and funerals around Packers games. If a home game fell on October 11, hotel rooms for wedding guests were going to be hard to find and expensive as hell.
A joking email by this writer to the Packers PR staff requesting an away game that weekend was replied to with “LOL” and “As If.” When the schedule was finally released … we jumped for joy; it was the Packers Bye Weekend!
All the planning in the world still couldn't control the weather, but we'd dodged a bullet on the Packers front. Still, what to do about a global pandemic. A sitdown at the supper table one night in early June got right down to it: Proceed with the wedding or not?
“We're talking 2022 if we put this off,” Rachel stated. “Venues for 2021 are already full and vendors are already booked.”
All things considered — including the number of wheels already in motion — the decision was made to hold the wedding. A new factor was paying strict attention to the conditions, trends and current numbers of the pandemic and planning for best practices in terms of health and safety protocols.
Despite the many other things we do in life, we are farmers. You look at the weather, you consider the equipment and the other variables, and you decide whether to proceed or not. If it's proceed — then it's proceed full-speed ahead.
The “Jesus Nut” Moment
Summer work on a farm during normal years keeps a farm family hopping. Summer farm work with a wedding in the offing keeps a farm family hopping 24-7. Painting, building, tearing down, painting, rebuilding, painting, and hot days … it became the stuff dreams are made of – dreams that are usually called nightmares.
But … we did it. Steven and I spent hours toiling together— building an arbor, rebuilding our garden pond and a dozen other tasks. Job lists were made, crossed off and replaced with more job lists. Constant adjustments were made on the fly. If October 10 seemed comfortably far off in July, it seemed stressfully close in September.
In fact, it was one day in September as we worked on some project or another that Steven told me about the “Jesus Nut.” A Black Hawk helicopter mechanic during his time in the army, Steven explained to me that “Jesus Nut” was a term for the huge fastener that locked the rotor of a Black Hawk into place. Obviously, it was crucial to the successful, sustained, and safe operation of the helicopter.
Steven further explained that it took numerous severe poundings to finally get the Jesus Nut locked into place. “Wow,” I thought. “Now, there's a prescience symbol. A thing requiring elbow grease, will and dogged determination. A thing needing several good sessions of serious persistence to finally lock into place — permanently.
Somehow, the Jesus Nut represented our work getting to October 10. Somehow, the Jesus Nut symbolized the love and dedication to one another that carried Rachel and Steven to the recitation of their wedding vows.
The wedding couldn't have been better. The weather and appointments were beautiful. Everyone had a wonderful time. Everything went off without a hitch and masking and social distancing produced a caring, illness-free event.
Audrey would have been … no ….was proud.