Posts Tagged ‘weddings’



At the top is the wedding picture of my grandparents in the late 1920’s. This is where the narrative of my family as I know it, began. Then you see the wedding picture of my niece, my sister Maria’s child, Catie, my namesake. She married her Centurion this weekend. As a family historian, and a writer, I saw a thousand things that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

All things work to the good of those who love God.

So, we went to the wedding. We climbed on the night flight and I sat with white knuckles, I breathed, prayed my rosary, held my fingers (Jin Shin Jyutso) and had a glass of wine. Six hours later the lights of the Bay Area shone through the darkness. We arrived at my cousin’s house before 2 a.m.

The gathering of the clan had begun. We arrived in bits and pieces but by 2 p.m. on Saturday, the 18th, we filled the front pews of the church where Catie was baptized.

It was a gorgeous and splendid wedding. Later, we went to the reception and my niece Stephie, the bride’s sister, gave a moving speech that rendered us weepy. Her pivotal words were, “And then we grew up”.

Sometimes people ask me where I was in the 1980’s and 1990’s after I married Bud. I spent two decades having and raising my babies. During this time, contact with my old friends was sporadic. Telephone calls were expensive.

In a stroke of destiny, Bud got a job in San Francisco and I was able to see my sister Lizzie and brother Johnny every day.

In a continuation of that cosmic good luck, we moved to San Diego, where I had two more children, and lived with my parents and my brothers Mike and Johnny, and had my sister Mimi for a neighbor. She had four children by the time we left. My youngest brother Patrick came by several times a week.

There were times, during those years when everything was an outing for the children. Trips to Long’s which was down the block, beach afternoons, ball games in the back yard, endless cheez nooz (macaroni and cheese) and soup noos (ramen). There were years of diapers and years of Christmas and years of cousins. The children dominated those years, as they should.

Then we moved East and I had my last baby. We weathered Lizzie’s illness and death. Then more years passed and the kids started growing up. Stephie,Catie, Casey, Aaron, Tina and Carmen came to visit at different times.

Time moved more quickly and they started graduating from college and then moving out! Oh! Time went too quickly and I was standing at the kitchen window with a heart so full of love for all the children and wondering how I was going to make it without seeing their precious faces every day.

I had a brush with death because I was not paying attention. I fought back with all my might because I wanted to get back to Bud and the children. I realized so clearly while I was fighting, that all I wanted in life was to be with them.

Then, I “got a life” and went back to school. The prospect of the children all having their own lives seemed like a victory for me. We would simply expand our lives to grow into the new phase.

In an ordinary year, we got the news that Catie was getting married! The months flew by and suddenly it was time to go!

Going into my cousin’s house, I saw my sister, Mimi and her daughters, Carmen and Tina beside her. After hugging her, I beheld tall blue eyed Tina, and lost it. I couldn’t believe she had grown up. That moment would be repeated many times more in the next day.

When I saw Casey, Aaron, I felt this sense of true elation. The baby names I called them, came out of my mouth like a lost language. I saw my dearest sister Lizzie’s boys! Jimmy and Tommy were so tall and handsome. It had been years since I had seen them. Suddenly none of that mattered, because there we were, all together.

Then, there was the wedding. It was magical, beautiful. What can I say? Time stood still and I could feel the blessings raining down.

At the reception, there was a moment after the speeches when all of the grandchildren were on the dance floor. We all were whirling, jumping, spinning, and in that moment, timeless joy set in.

It was a moment that I will remember forever. We were together, we were happy. All the past had fallen away. This is what happiness was, I told myself. We were love in action. We were a tribe bound by history and we had risen above whatever it was in the past, the Japanese invasion, the Civil War, the Great Depression, the family traumas, the loss of property, deaths of family members. That night, we had prevailed.

I felt such a surge of hope, and looked into our long and happy future in the family. I could see more weddings, more babies, more beloved new relatives.

stcclassmatesAround the dance floor where some of my childhood friends from Baguio and I danced away with such affection for these ladies who had shared my mornings and afternoons in a vanished world. Here they were, strong and successful women. My heart was overflowing with affection.

melrozzaOld friends traveled from faraway places and stood and cracked jokes as though we were as young as the newlyweds.

bkrehearsalAnd through it all, of course, was Bud, who has been my happy companion for more than 25 years. He took my hand in my time of great sadness and turned my lonely heart into a beloved’s heart, and then into a mother’s heart.

This was richness, to have come through so much living, and to watch my mother, dancing away with her grandchildren. My Mama, who had survived World War II, and so much more, was having the time of her life!

And the bride and groom! What beautiful people, what happiness they exuded!

All weekend long, we lived as though we were back in our childhood. We stayed at my cousin Desa’s house, her mother’s house, was across the street. My sister Maria’s house was ten minutes away. Every night was a party, and we invited more friends to visit. We saw Pamela, we saw Paul. We all trooped into San Francisco to hear Mercy Bell sing. We walked to a taqueria for a late dinner.

We had one more dinner and my dear friend Batchoy and her husband JV, and our compadre Paul came over. Time ran away and before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye again. What a wonderful night! Desa’s husband George made us the best spaghetti I’ve ever had. I asked him what the secret ingredient was and he said, “Lots and lots of love.” I understand. Oh, the generosity of these cousins who opened their home to fourteen guests on short notice! What a class act they are.

n579533923_1427275_5537-1Then, it was the last day. Sitting in my cousin’s back yard, looking over the estuary that backs up to her house, I realized something. We had been restored. Tragedy had not vanquished us. Time had not made us strangers. We were the same children in that picture of the long dinner table. And now we were so much more.

I am so thankful for my big and lovely family. I miss them. I pray that we can all be together soon.

One of the great happinesses of this wedding was seeing the fruition of Catie’s life, and meeting her husband, Cent. It’s so wonderful to see them embark on their great adventure.

We said our tearful goodbyes and went to the airport. We waved at our oldest, waiting at her gate to JFK. Another bonus had been spending all the time with our Bell family all together.

Looking out the window as we flew east, my daughter said, “Look! It’s the Northern Lights!” A band of light danced on the horizon over Wisconsin. We landed at dawn in the old city of Boston. Those old buildings spoke of hundreds of years of living. What a contrast to California’s newness! We flew home past the woods, past the saltmarshes, past more forests until the air changed, infused with salt.

Our house on Maple Street stood watch, the upstairs windows like big eyes. The maple tree leaves ruffled in the breeze. The tiger lilies had bloomed. Inside many cats came forward to claim their owners. And that was only yesterday.


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Can you see my grandmother’s writing? “A Pepe y Consuelo, Mercy y Paquito”

Look how dapper my grandfather was, how pretty my grandmother was. Look at the dresses. In those days, people still wore our national costume as formal wear. Aren’t the lines so beautiful? Look at the pañuelo, the shawl angled over the shoulders. Look at the nod to the flapper era, the veils hugging the ladies’ heads like caps. Lolo Modesto is behind Lolo Paquito.

Look at Lolo in less than 20 years he would pose in a knight’s regalia, Lola would wear a dress shot with silver. They would have come through World War II. In 15 more years, I would be born. In 50 more, I would sit writing in New Bedford Massachusetts, hurrying out the door to go to my journalism class in Cambridge.

Knowing how the whole story turned out, I want to hug them. It turned out alright. In spite of the losses, in spite of the deaths, in spite of the wars, and the migration away, far away. It all turned out alright.

The family goes on, the names go on. In Massachusetts a little Rosenda with long curly hair, a grown Mercy who is an activist, a creative Francisco all tumble through this new century. The hope and love sealed on this wedding day still churns unbroken, in spite of a broken world. Hope and love. Esperanza y amor.

*Lolo means grandfather, Lola means grandmother

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Today is my parents 51st wedding anniversary. Daddy has been gone for 13 years. He died when he was 63, impossibly young, when I consider that now I am 49. The story began when Mama and Daddy met each other. Then it became the joining of two epics. One from the East, one from the West. More particularly, one from the Philippines and one from the Deep South.

Children always love to hear how their parents met. They also love to hear stories about when they were babies. Both are the miracles played out again and again. Two people who knew nothing about each other, suddenly become each other’s destinies and life begins anew. Clean slate, new history, life is new and anything can happen. The course of life is changed and nothing is ever the same again.

1954 found my father, Provost Marshall of Camp John Hay, a US Air Force rest and recreation base up in the mountains of Baguio in the Philippines. Quite a plum assignment for a young lieutenant.

Daddy’s path was interesting and his destiny was born like all of us, of history and tragedy and serendipity. In his childhood deep in Tattnall County Georgia, he would read James Normal Hall and imagine a life in the tropics. He wanted to be a doctor like his father Dr. John Felton Burkhalter. My Grandaddy was a doctor and a healer. The most indelible thing I heard about him was that he never lost a pneumonia patient and this was in the days before sulfa drugs. He would sit up all night with his patients and will them to live, transferring essence of life from his spirit to theirs. There was a saying in those parts that folks would rather have, “Doctor Buck drunk, than Doctor Smith sober.”. My father’s world was still groaning from the effects of the War Between the States (my Daddy’s preferred name for the war). After my Grandaddy’s death the land had been taken by eminent domain or sold to the Federal Government and is now part of Fort Stewart.

My father was the youngest of 6. He had two older sisters who died at birth. Then there were 5 more sisters, and then him. Grandaddy was out fishing the day his only son was born and gave his entire catch of catfish to the attending doctor. Daddy was the last Burkhalter born on the old place. The place had been in the family since after the American Revolution. Daddy’s family arrived in Savannah in the company of the Salzburgers. The Burkhalters were Swiss from Lutzelflugh. Our patriarch shows up in the colonial records of Georgia as a talented and ideal colonist who could do everything, plant, build, keep up buildings. He was also a nonconformist and lost no time in casting his lot with the Revolutionary Army. I often wonder what happened to them in Switzerland, that caused them to leave the beauty of the Emmental valley for the hot subtropical lowlands of the South Georgia coast.

My Great Grandaddy, George Vernon Burkhalter built a big house for his beloved wife, the red-haired Theodosia Hodges, whose red hair allegedly gave the red heds in the family, hot tempers. This house was where my Daddy was born and it burned down when he was a baby because Great Grandaddy had a penchant for making things huge. One of his fires was too much and the house caught fire and burned down.

There was also an original rough hewn log house with the handprint of George Vernon’s father, John Michael Burkhalter on a beam. John Michael the beloved and Mary Elisabeth were a happy couple whose lives were devastated by that War. John Michael was killed by the Yankees during Sherman’s March to the Sea, and it has never stopped mattering even 142 years later. We prayed by their graves when we had an ancestral homecoming visit last year.

My mother’s family, chronicled in previous blog entries, shows her cultured and rarified background, interrupted by World War II. Mama played the piano and graduated from the College of St. Teresa, in Winona, Minnesota with majors in Music and Sociology. That is a story in itself about how she and my Aunty Terry both got scholarships the summer before they left and were able to go off to college in the United States, as was their pre-war plan.

Daddy spent two years at North Georgia College for their ROTC program. He always wanted to go to West Point, but was a half inch too short. His cousin, Bucky went to the Academy, but was so homesick for Claxton, Georgia that he left and came on home. Daddy then transferred to the University of Georgia in Athens, and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry.

John Felton Burkhalter, Jr. and Mina Patricia Joaquin were both born on the same day in 1931, March 17th on opposite ends of the earth. Mama was Roman Catholic by birth and culture. Her name, Mina was for the gold mines where she was born, and Patricia was bestowed on her by an Irish co-worker of Lolo who, upon hearing that she was born, made his way to her crib with a tiny green ribbon to pin on her baby shirt. He said, “I christen you Patricia, because you are Irish, born on St. Patrick’s Day”

Daddy was a Southern Baptist and had his own true conversion to Roman Catholicism before he and Mama were married. Mama went through World War II, Daddy lived through the Great Depression. Daddy told me that being born on St. Patrick’s Day warmed him toward Catholicism because Savannah had a large Irish community and on March 17th, the radio would play Irish music. His heart was filled with affection for all things Irish, including their religion.

Together they had eight of us. Five girls and three boys. Together we had an life that was, in turn, its own epic.

The story of how Mama and Daddy met makes me smile. My grandparents had turned our big house into a lovely small hotel. My Lola was a very elegant and proper Catholic lady. As it turned out, one of the American GI’s from the base had not behaved in a gentlemanly manner and Lola was mad. Daddy was sent at the behest of the base commander to go and apologize to Mrs. Joaquin, because she was a very important person. Daddy, with his natural good manners and Southern charm, went down to encounter Lola who was angry as a bee. He took it on behalf of the US Air Force, didn’t make excuses for the hapless GI, and diffused and deflected and absorbed, as Southern gentlemen do. And then he saw Mama. He said she gave him a disdainful fiery glance and tossed her hair and slammed the car door. And that was that.

A little while later, he was again asked to please do a favor on behalf of another young officer who wanted to go to dinner with my vivacious Aunty Terry, but who was rightly nervous about seeking to encounter one of the beautiful Joaquin sisters. Lolo was quite strict about who he would let take up the time of his daughters and there were many rules and obstacles. Only the brave and humble needed to even dare step forward.

In those days, my mother and aunties would never be allowed to go out alone. So Mama was the chaperone and Daddy was the chaperone’s date. The story goes that Mama was sitting as close to the car door as she could and Daddy said something like, “What are you afraid of? I’m not going to bite you.”. Sometime that evening they found out they had the same birthday.

Daddy pursued Mama relentlessly. She was banned from seeing him ever again, because he was a Protestant, although nominally so. He encountered faith on his own, with the help of a saintly Jesuit, Father Robert Dailey. Father Dailey was also the best friend of my Lolo, and so this softened my grandfather’s heart about marriage. Aunty Terry says that Mama would pray very sincerely every night for Daddy’s conversion, because that was the only obstacle in their path.

Father Dailey was a member of the Chinese province that was exiled from China during the Communist takeover. His
province was transferred to the Philippines and Father Dailey lived at the Jesuit house in Baguio, Mirador Hill. Daddy had many long conversations with Father Dailey and his heart turned toward his new faith with gusto. Father Dailey was quite impressed with the sincerity of this handsome young officer and gentleman.

Daddy was then transferred to Okinawa, and became a Catholic on December 8th 1954.

Mama and Daddy were married on January 22, 1955 at the Baguio Cathedral. I always say that my parents marriage lived all the vows. For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death did they part.

Daddy died in 1993 from pancreatic cancer. He found out on Fat Tuesday and died on Easter Sunday. 40 days. Living Lent. Living Easter. He told my brother, that Jesus came to him on Good Friday and told him that he would come for him on Easter Sunday. On the night before he died, he thought he was in the battle of Gettysburg and he didn’t recognize my sister, Mimi, until she told him she was his nurse. Then he called her name and fell asleep. As he slid in and out of the final coma, he would ask,” What day is it?”

At the end, we were gathered around his bed, praying, reciting psalms from our childhood prayers, “The Lord is my shepherd, Happy the man who follows not the path of the wicked, the Rosary and the Divine Mercy chaplet. My sister, Maria, who is the nurse in the family listened to his heart slow down to goodbye.

On the day of his burial in El Camino Park in San Diego, I looked around me and looked at my big family, my cousins, uncles and aunties who had come from far away. I saw all the grandchildren and my sisters and their husbands, and my brothers. There was a military escort who folded the flag and gave it to my mother. Out of the clear blue sky appeared fighter jets in formation who flew high in the sky over the graveyard. It was a salute and a grace.

Marriages are never easy, but they are profound, and in the midst of a good marriage there is ongoing great love and redemption. Two people who never knew each other carve out a life together, given whatever circumstances they have, and go forward. My parents just loved being together, and sometimes, when I was a mother of very small children and we lived in San Diego, I would chance upon them buying ice cream at Thrifty, or looking at things in the supermarket and think, “Why, they are perfectly content together.” I have always thought that no one was happier with extra money than my parents. They would immediately go an spend it on a treat for their kids, and later, their grandchildren.

The week before my Daddy died he called me and said he was sorry that he was going to have to leave us. He was sorry that he didn’t get to fly more. I said, “Daddy, in heaven you’ll fly all you want.” He said, “I’m sorry the kids won’t get to know me.” I said, “They’ll know you, Daddy. We’ll make sure of that.” I told him that we would all be together again someday. Not soon, I hope, as this life is so lovely. But in the kingdom of Life Everlasting, we’ll have all the time we need.

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