"Well married a person has wings, poorly married shackles," Henry Ward Beecher
Toni and I checked in at the Grand Rapids Holiday Inn across from the Gerald R. Ford Museum and proceeded to the Downtown Market greenhouse for granddaughter Alissa and Josh Leffingwell’s wedding rehearsal. My role was to walk Toni to her seat during the procession. Afterwards the wedding party headed to Gardella’s Tavern for dinner and socializing. Joining us were Toni’s sister Marianne, up from Punta Gorda, plus her son Joey and grandson Garrett, who pranked me by putting a Trump cap on me right before taking a selfie. Like his dad and grandpa Sonny Okomski, he loves getting a rise out of people. Alissa’s Uncle Jimmy arrived from San Luis Obispo and kept his two year-old daughter and the flower girl (Josh’s niece) entertained. At ten loud music came on, as our private second-floor room transformed into a dance club. It made conversation difficult but was a hit with many in our party.
punked by Garrett Okomski
At our hotel Saturday KISS fans were arriving for the band’s “Freedom to Rock” concert at Van Andel Arena, where Phil and Miranda’s graduation was held. Paul McCartney will be there on Monday. Our hotel room and the one adjacent for Dave’s family were turned into dressing rooms, as was our friend “Big Jim” Migoski’s, in from Pittsburgh. Toni had ordered a hundred dollars’ worth of Jimmy John’s and had other snacks on hand, as well as o.j. and champagne for mimosas. Big Jim, James, and I picked up corsages and boutonnieres at Downtown Market, and I otherwise stayed out of the way except for snagging a beef sandwich and a mimosa.
anticipating the wedding procession; photo by Garrett Okomski
The wedding went off without a hitch even though the greenhouse air conditioning appeared not to be functioning. Officiating was Alissa’s college housemate Brianne Ross, who joked that she was relieved not to be wearing a dress like those in the wedding party. Becca sang a Megan Trainer number, “Like I’m Gonna Lose You,” that wowed the crowd, and Josh’s friend Ben Oliver read a letter by John Steinbeck to his son about two kinds of love:
One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you -- of kindness and consideration and respect -- not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn't know you had.
After the exchange of vows Brie got a big laugh when she said, “By the authority vested in me by the State of Michigan and the Internet Church, I pronounce you husband and wife.” As the bride and groom kissed, Toni had need of my handkerchief.
After family shots, the wedding party boarded a tourist train for further photo opportunities, and guests moved to a nearby reception hall for hors d’oeuvres and drinks. I opted for a Founders Brewery IPA, then greeted the Wades and the Bayers and the families of nieces Michelle, Lisa, and Charlene. During the toasts Tori and Miranda talked about Josh showing up six years ago on his first date their sister. Alissa used Hillary Clinton’s line that it takes a village to raise a child and eulogized her two mothers (Beth and Delia) and three sets of grandparents. Josh, calling me Jaybo, mentioned enjoying holidays at our place. Dave performed a Rod Stewart song, "You're in My Heart," with Jimmy Satkoski, who earlier in the day bought a mandolin for the occasion. They were awesome.
After dinner, when Phil danced with Alissa to “My Girl,” on a big screen was a video Toni had found of Phil at age 19 dancing with baby Alissa in his arms. The dance floor was crowded all night, with me participating in my fair share. During “Celebration” and “Love Shack” Charlene and I remembered dancing to those songs at her college graduation in Dayton. When “Footloose” came on, Delia and I recalled seeing Kenny Loggins at the Star Plaza with Phil and Toni. When Alissa noticed that the Wades were getting ready to leave, she got the deejay to play “Sharp Dressed Man,” and Tom, Phil, Dave, and I did our syncopated air guitar routine as the crowd cheered us on. Near midnight Alissa got on Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” and “Cretin Hop” by the Ramones, favorites of Dave and Jimmy Satkoski’s high school band LINT. Joey’s daughter Jackie and boyfriend Nick couldn’t believe the scene when the Ramones came on and we were hoping, shaking our fists, and belting out the chorus:
One-two-three-four, cretins want to hop some more
Four-five-six-seven, all good cretins go to heaven
Other memorable moments: People dressed up in funny costumes before entering a photo booth. Kirsten Bayer told me sister Shannon got her a “STRAIGHT OUTTA GARY” t-shirt like the one I wore last Thanksgiving. I played cornhole outside the main hall with Jackie, Nick, and Oliver Teuscher, who carried us to victory by nailing three out of four beanbags in the hole on a single turn. I introduced Josh’s father John to Oliver’s dad Fritz, both 20-year navy veterans. I told Brie I remembered reading her Sociology text at Michigan State, and she recalled the title, “Taking Sides.” Robert Blaszkiewicz, Kevin Horn, Jimmy Satkoski, and I reminisced about performers we had seen at the soon-to-close Star Plaza Theater. I took Jimmy and Dave to see Adam Ant after they attended my 5:30 IUN class. David had tinted his hair pink for the concert. Watching teenagers Tori, Grace, and Sophia dance hit home how fast time flies – as the evening itself did. At midnight Alissa and Josh gave final hugs and were off. In a few hours they’d fly to the Big island of Hawaii.
above, Tom and Darcey; below, Dave, Kevin, Phil, Jimmy, Robert
Next morning at breakfast a stranger, spotting Big Jim Migoski wearing a Pirates shirt, struck up a conversation with him about Pittsburgh sports teams. We stopped in to see Phil, who had gone bar-hopping after the reception with Joey, Char, JQ, and Garrett. At one stop they ran into Miranda and her friend Kaitland, both of whom Phil had coached in youth soccer. We rehashed the many wedding highlights before heading home with enough leftover Jimmy John mini-sandwiches to get me through a week of lunches.
Sunday’s Post-Trib SALT column honored Mexican-American Joseph Gomeztagle, 66, with whom I had put Jeff Manes in touch. A public policy and environmental affairs instructor in IUN’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Joe has judged “We the People” high school competitions. He came to the U.S. in 1959 after his dad got work with an airport firm in Lansing, Illinois. Joe told Manes:
For a while, we lived in Highland right behind Christenson Chevrolet. It was all farmland. We were the only Hispanics. We went to Lincoln School. I remember our first day of school. My parents followed the school bus. We were all excited. We also were immigrants who didn't speak a word of English.
The shop where my father worked closed. We were kind of desperate. The ladies from Lincoln School found out what had happened and brought us food. That's the America I know. This country is made up of a lot of good people. This area where we live — Northwest Indiana — is important to me. It's so highly diversified. We are the heart and soul of the entire state. The African-Americans, the Hispanics, the Polish, the Irish, the Greeks, the Serbs ... every ethnic group you can imagine is here and helped build this region.
Gomeztagle (right) with mother and siblings
Gomeztagle’s dad found work as a janitor at Inland Steel and oved the family to a roach-infested place in Hammond. Joe graduated from Bishop Noll, served two tours of duty in Vietnam, graduated from Indiana State, and became a laborer at Republic Steel. He told Manes:
There was one guy, an African-American, who used to pick on me. He was a foreman. One evening, I was cleaning out this sludge area. The sun was just rising, I had mud up to my knees. I'm thinking: “Is this what college took me to?”
All of a sudden, the foreman comes walking toward me. I thought: “Oh, shoot. Now he's gonna pick on me again.” He says: “What's wrong with you college boy?” I didn't say anything. He says: “I know what's wrong with you, you're feelin' sorry for yourself.” He actually said it in much more vulgar terms than that. He says: “Let me tell you something. You've got a degree. I don't. Once you leave here the whole sky is the limit. When I have to make a decision to calculate things, who do I talk to? You, college boy. So don't feel sorry for yourself.” Jeff, you know what? He was right. I got out.
Arriving at IUN, first time in five days, 427 junk emails greeted me on my new computer. Sigh! Archivist Steve McShane told me that “All Worth Their SALT,” volume 4, had arrived. Particularly interesting to me were reprints of Jeff Manes columns on educators Ann Balay and Ron Cohen, Vietnam vets John Chancellor and Jim Fowble, Miller residents Steve Spicer and Dan Rybicky, jazz pianist Billy Foster, and Jeff’s Aunt Peggy, who ran a nursery school for 36 years and whose secret was “to think like a child and keep it simple.”