from Sandy Needham

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Chicago Dispatch

It's winter; there's ice and snow on the ground; it's windy, the frigid air is damp and penetrating; it's New Year's Eve; it's New Year's Day; IT'S MARY AND FREDDIE'S WEDDING!!!

My grandniece, Mary, is a versatile professional dancer in Chicago with Invertigo Dance Theater and Chicago Dance Crash. She also teaches ballet and studies physics at DePaul University. Fred is a professional stage and film actor in Chicago. When he wanted his close buddy to meet his new girlfriend, Mary...Mary walked in and discovered her old high school buddy from Interlochen performing arts boarding school in Michigan. Tiny world. The mutual buddy became the very entertaining officiator at Mary and Fred's Fantastic Wedding.

I went to college in Chicago, so I had four years of winters right along the beach of Lake Michigan. I managed to appear at 8:00am history classes and 11:00pm astronomy labs somehow. Clearly, nine years on a beach in Brazil have reduced my winter wherewithal.

Our AirBnb was in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago's near north side. We clutched the wrought iron outside our door to traverse an ice patch, then maneuvered our way over snow banks between parked cars to reach the Ubers we used to go almost everywhere. Newton and I braved the streets for the two blocks to the drug store to buy provisions, but getting stuck at a red light on a windy corner was grim! 

Here is where I give you a quick reference regarding the wedding relatives, before this dispatch is too confusing:

Bill & Dorothy
My Sister Dorothy and husband Bill: Grandparents of the bride; live in Durango, Colorado. 
        (They were near the end of a 8,000-mile road trip in their tiny two-seater Porsche!)

Brad & Tracy
Their son, Brad and wife Tracy: Parents of the bride; live in Durango, Colorado

Their children:
         Emily: Sister of the bride, married to Chad; live in San Diego
         Mary: Bride; now married to Freddie; live in Chicago
         Nick: Brother of the bride, girlfriend Letticia; live in Colorado Springs
         Bradley: Brother of the bride, girlfriend Laken; live in Durango
Todd: Uncle of the bride, married with two teenage sons (they couldn't come); lives in Manhattan, NY 
April: Aunt of the bride, married to Marty; live in Woodland Hills, California   
         Ryan: age 11
         Addie: age 10

Emily & Mary
Jake, my parents' youngest grandchild, is just three months older than my parents' first great-grandchild, Emily. Soon followed Mary, then later Nick and Bradley. My nephew Brad and I raised our kids together! The first cousins-once-removed are great friends.

Bradley, Elise, Nick, Chad, Emily, Jake, Mary, Larissa
Larry & Donna
While Elise, Jake and Larissa hung out with the once-removed crowd at Mary and Freddie's in Logan Square, Newton and I caught up with my sisters and brothers-in-law: Dorothy and Bill, plus Donna and Larry from Frederick, Maryland. Larry was just a month away from joining Donna in retirement! We were only missing our oldest sister Janet from Denver. 

They were all sharing an AirBnb house with the sister of the groom, her husband and their two little boys, ages five and one. The boys were beyond tired after the family's arduous drive from St. Louis, which included a turn-around after two hours on the road because the bridesmaid dress had been left behind!

The scene was pretty funny, really. There was the usual raucous card game and chitchat around a long oval table, but we needed to whisper so the embattled couple could finally get their boys to sleep. You got that right: Dorothy, Donna and I were supposed to talk (and laugh) in whispers! Dorothy, Larry and I all have a little trouble hearing, so that made its own hilarity. AHHhhhhh, but we were together at last.

With Don Lucas
Our first morning - New Year's Eve day - Newton and I were picked up for brunch by Don and Maxanna Lucas of Cincinnati. Don was my boyfriend in eighth grade, whom I last saw in 1964 in Tulsa. I had never met Maxanna, though we all have been fast internet friends for a few years. She is friends since high school with my best friend, Lenna, at a different school from mine where Maxanna and Don were high school sweethearts. They ended up married after attending their 25th high school reunion, with seven children between them! Don is a semi-retired microbiologist, botanist, photographer, sou chef, professional grandpa, etc.. Maxanna is a retired nurse, pianist, chef, seamstress and professional grandma, etc.. The two of them travel frequently, visiting their numerous grandchildren, including the newest one in Chicago. I follow the blogs they write for travel and cooking, while they are devoted readers of my dispatches, as well. Bowls of hash, reminiscing, book-talk, comparing notes...what a brunch!
Maxanna & Don in their wonderful kitchen
On New Year's Eve, most everyone in town for the wedding met for a Mexican dinner.
Donna, Mary, Emily, me

Elise, Emily, Chad, friend, Jake & Larissa
Newton and I celebrated midnight with Dorothy and Bill, Donna and Larry, my niece, April and family, and my nephew Todd. A whole new version of poker ruled the night, with a most able dealer, Ryan. Champagne was popped, and we didn't have to whisper! Our kids celebrated with their cousins and friends.

I love weddings; I love my own family, my sisters, my brothers-in-law, my nephews, my nieces, my grandnieces and grandnephews. I was in paradise. Brad and Tracy's extraordinary family really knows how to create playful-yet-poignant weddings!

Chicago's stately Stan Mansion was the perfect venue for such an elegant couple as Fred and Mary. An opening aria sung by one of their many talented friends already had me in tears by way of it's sheer beauty. Then eleven bridesmaids, bridesmen, groomsmaids and groomsmen, plus the little ring bearer dressed as an astronaut made their way to the stage in front. The very comic officiator, that mutual buddy of Mary and Freddie's, quoted the Beatles in an appropriately serious oration: "Ob-la-di ob-la-da life goes on bra, la-la how the life goes on."

And speaking of the astronaut ring bearer: we all remember Todd as the reluctant ring bearer at Donna and Larry's wedding in 1968. He refused to put on the little formal suit and tie because he had understood that he would be the "Ring Bear," wearing a bear suit. He hid under the baby bed in the church nursery where the groomsmen were dressing. Here's the new part of the story I heard from Brad for the first time at Mary's wedding: After much coaxing by his father, Bill, Todd would still not come out. Desperate, Bill turned to Todd's older brother, five-year-old Brad and asked, "What do you think we should do?" Todd bore the rings in suit and tie.

Mary and Freddie had tables with activities set up along the periphery of the stately room. One could write a wedding haiku (Todd, children's author, partnered up with my grandniece Addie to win that one); one could guess the bride's weight; draw the groom; define a made-up word; write a piece of advice for now, one year from now and ten years from now. There was a table with wedding photos of many of the participants, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents - spectacular! A funny photo booth with props added even more laughs.

Here is Mary's handsome brother Bradley with the lovely Laken. He works at Brad's day job/recreational vehicle business:

Here is Mary's handsome brother Nick with the formidable Letticia. He is a wrestler training at the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs; Leticia is a blind swimmer training there for the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Her incredible dog, Philly, accompanies her everywhere!

Brad had us all in tears with his funny and moving toast. Here's a five-minute peek at how to honor your child on her/his wedding day:

I was still a bit weepy (some of us get especially emotional when together, remembering my parents - one of the founts, among others, from which sprang these amazing people). I went to the ladies room, only to bump into my grandniece Emily, who did not hold back on the waterworks at all. I don't know how long it has been since I really sobbed and sobbed, but clutching each other, we wept unabashedly with joy and grief. Thank you, Emily, for not letting me shut down our cathartic crying ritual prematurely.

Freddie's parents gave creative, theatrical toasts. His mother's Fellini-esque performance will live on as a best wedding memory. We see what's in his genes!

How stunning is this wedding couple?

Mary wore her grandmother Scanlon's 1950's wedding dress, in which her mother Tracy and her sister Emily were also wed. Mary evoked for me the elegance of early Avedon and "Madame X" by John Singer Sargent, which comparison was apparently already made by one of her photographers!



Tracy & Emily 
Dorothy, Donna and I
Brad, April & Todd
Here are Brad, April and Todd: a percussionist/composer, a horsewoman with her own near-Olympic status, and a children's author.

I can't resist a plug for Todd's latest two books: 

Ryan, April, Addie, Marty
Here is April's amazing family: Marty is a film and television set builder, and both Ryan and Addie are ice hockey players, piano players and musical theater actor/singers!

There was plenty of great dancing going on, what with the professionals in attendance. A tap solo was featured, along with exuberant talent funking up the dance floor all evening. I wouldn't discount the enthusiasm of our own crew!
Elise & Newton
What a thrilling wedding.

Mary and Freddie requested no gifts, but I could not deny myself the fun of making them this 'Modpodge' tray, what with all these great photos of Mary and Freddie dancing and acting!

There was an elaborate brunch the following morning, hosted by Freddie's parents. It was somewhat subdued with party-spent participants, but it gave us the opportunity to enjoy book-talk with Nick, Letticia explaining how blind athletes play soccer in the Paralympics (the soccer ball has bells in it, and additional methods of controlling the ball are permitted), to further savor this whole beloved group and bid fond farewells.

Dorothy and Bill were finally heading to Durango after more than three months on the road! They added in Wichita and eliminated St. Louis to avoid a snowy mountain pass in the Rockies on their last leg home.

Our gang still had another night in Chicago before flying off our separate ways. I had envisioned a visit to the Chicago Art Institute or maybe the Robie House (Frank Lloyd Wright), but we were beat, Elise and Jake were sick, and the cold weather sealed the deal. At least Jake and Larissa had previously managed a subway trip to visit the Anish Kapoor public sculpture, Cloud Gate, affectionately called "The Bean"...the sightseeing sum total. 

We ordered in Italian food and, with a couple of bottles of CVS Pharmacy's best red wine offerings, had our one sit-down dinner together in our charming AirBnb. I cherished our last evening together.

Next day, I was off to Denver to visit my sister Janet; Newton was off to São Paulo to visit his family; Elise returned to Los Angeles; and Jake and Larissa returned to Las Vegas, soon heading to the Bahamas.



  1. Wow, quite a family full of so many talented individuals. We were so happy to have the opportunity to participate in the beginning of this amazing event including an opportunity to meet Newt enjoy our long hash brunch. It was a marvelous time for us and we just participated in the fractional beginning.

  2. Thanks for rekindling the memories.

  3. I don't think you missed a thing, and I enjoyed your wonderfully vivid details! This is your sister Donna commenting.

  4. How much fun I have reading your adventures. And my goodness, you have the most talented, impressive, loving family. We so enjoyed our in person brunch. What a delight to go from a virtual friend to a real, in person friend. I look forward to your next adventure.


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