I found it a stark reality that I was witnessing the marriage of my niece, Erin, to her handsome groom, Jeff, a couple of weekends ago. I was sitting in the audience, listening to their vows when it dawned on me here was proof again that life really does go by on lightning wings.
I remember the first time I saw Erin. She was beet red, only a few hours old, cradled in the arms of her mother, my sister Teresa. She and my son, Jake, practically grew up together. There were sleepovers and birthday parties; trick-or-treating forays and bedtime stories; school plays and family dinners. And all those memories came back like a gushing flood as I witnessed this handsome couple repeat their vows.
Seems the routine days of our lives are punctuated by occasions like this. Occasions like births and weddings; and the sad ones, too, like deaths and funerals. One chapter opening, while another closes.
And these thoughts continued when I walked into the reception. It was held in the O’Brien Barn, a venue set among rolling fields of ripening soybeans and corn. There were tractors off in the distance bringing in the crops and even a herd of steers in the back pasture. And the minute I walked into this sturdy structure of farming land, a wave of dejà vu hit me like a punch. I had been to this place before, but when? I couldn’t at that moment settle my mind on it.
I do know, though, that this iconic structure of America’s heartland was built by my early ancestors back in the mid-1800s. Its original purpose was to house milk cows and their young but today, in a way to make it earn its keep, it has been refurbished to house such occasions as weddings. However, it retains its rustic heritage. The outside is painted a deep maroon and the arched ceiling of the hay mow retains the sturdy oaken beams that were cut from woods behind the back forty.
After a delicious dinner, I made my way to the hay mow, where a bluegrass band was playing. I walked to the opening where a small deck had been built off the loading door. And that’s when I knew; that’s when it hit me. I had come to this place as a child with my grandpa, who was a cousin of Maurice O’Brien, the son of Con O’Brien, who had established this farm.
My dejà vu was palpable, but there was something else here. It was as if I could feel my ancestors looking down on this occasion. An occasion that no doubt, back in the day, would have warranted an entry in the family Bible. Here was another generation forging ahead into life, just like my ancestors did so long ago when they made their way from Ireland to America. They settled here in Wisconsin, bore children and made a go whether that was farming, running river boats or establishing businesses as merchants.
I felt a rush of gratitude for this heritage. As I watched other nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, fathers and mothers visit or stomp out a dance on the floor, it came to me that we are all just smaller cogs in a bigger wheel. I realized then that these occasions are really the glue that binds us to our families that walked this earth before us, but left their mark in the faces of their descendants.
So my heartfelt congratulations go out to Jeff and Erin, who started their married life in such a unique place and were gracious enough to share it all with their family and friends. Your day was a special one not only for those watching you rejoice in your love on this earth, but also for those, I’m sure, who watched from above.
Almond Wedding Cake
1 box vanilla cake mix
1 cup sugar
1 cup + 2 Tbs. cake flour (NOT all-purpose flour)
1/8 tsp. salt
1 1/3 cups water
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp. almond extract (optional)
Mix all the dry ingredients including the cake mix, sugar, cake flour and salt. In a separate bowl, mix water, eggs, melted butter, sour cream and extract. Add wet ingredients to the dry and blend well.
Pour into a greased 9×13-inch pan or two 8-inch round pans or a cupcake tin. Bake at 325 degrees for about 25 minutes (may be less time for cupcakes) or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.