A Wedding and a Funeral

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Father of the Bride

“You ready?” I said to her as my brothers-in-law Ron Rose and Jon Revelos dramatically opened the double doors to the sanctuary.
“Yes Dad,” she said, looking straight ahead at all of our friends and family looking back at us.
“Go slow,” I whispered. “You paid a lot for that dress. Let’s make sure you get your money’s worth.”
And with that, I walked my daughter Katie down the aisle toward her new husband and future life. Immediately, there was a problem. My size 12W rented shoes stepped on the edge of her previously-mentioned expensive dress. I subtly tried shaking it loose as we inched down the aisle, but I was met with stubborn resistance.
My heart was ready to let her go, but apparently my big feet had second thoughts.

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Joan and I surround the happy couple on a crowded dance floor

I’d been thinking about this day for 26 years. Not in a worrying way, though. Katie is a smart, kind daughter, with sound judgment in people. Her husband Stuart is studying computer software development and is a former national fencing champion. She’s a public school special education teacher in Gwinnett County. They’re both careful with their money. My wife Joan and I have our list of worries for them, but it’s a much shorter list than most.
Katie and Joan had planned this wedding for nearly a year. A Christmas season wedding seemed perfect. I saved up vacation days so I could be around to help in anyway they’d let me.

None of us expected this week would turn out the way it did.

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My father-in-law Anthony “Porky” DeProspero had a special place in his heart for Katie

Since the wedding was set for December 26, Stuart’s parents scheduled the rehearsal dinner for the week before, not the day before. We had a wonderful time at Maggiano’s in Buckhead, toasting the future bride and groom. My family goes there every July 4 after running the Peachtree Road Race. The food was fantastic. We love Stuart’s parents Richard and Denise.
At the end of evening, as the guests were putting on their coats and saying goodbye, my father-in-law suffered a heart attack and died there in the restaurant. Anthony “Porky’ DeProspero had been sick but wanted to share in the joy of the wedding festivities. He waited until the evening was over, had one last good Italian meal and then quietly said goodbye.

The scene he left behind was anything but quiet.

After the paramedics and the fire engine and the emergency room personnel and all those tears, we all woke up to the realization that the wedding absolutely had to go on.

And it did.

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Grandpa Porky passed along his love of Krispy Kreme donuts to Katie. Even before he died, she already planned to make her wedding cake a tower of sweet, colorful goodness. We had 27 dozen ready to go

In one week our family received sympathy cards, Christmas cards and congratulations cards. In one week I delivered a rehearsal dinner toast, a eulogy and a Christmas prayer. In one week our family had the lowest low and then the highest high.
(If you must have those two in one week, I recommend you have them in that order.)
The wedding was, if I do say so myself, perfect. Full of joy and funny moments. My famously always-late brother and his family arrived with my parents at St. Marguerite d’Youville Catholic Church one minute before the ceremony was supposed to begin. I knew I should have told them it started at 2:30 instead of 3:30 pm. A family friend performed the ceremony and gave a homily loaded with baseball metaphors, a game Katie loves. Oh, and my shoe finally said goodbye to her dress.

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Our Father/Bride dance song? “The Baseball Song” of course, by fellow Athens native Corey Smith.

At the reception at Little Gardens in Lawrenceville, a true Italian wedding celebration erupted. Food, drink, music from a talented DJ (DJTodd, highly recommend him) and top notch staff at the venue.
My mom made Katie a wedding quilt with a baseball design that all the guests signed. Joan’s mom danced and smiled.

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Katie’s Wedding Quilt. All the guests left their autographs and more.

How could you not be happy when celebrating a new branch of a strong family tree?

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My mother-in-law Dolly DeProspero celebrating a new member of our amazing family.

(Randy’s toast)
Dear Katie,
As I write this, it’s February, 2015. You’re with everybody trying on dresses right now. I’m at home alone trying to get used to the idea of living in a house without you.
For five years, Mom and I did it with no problem. That was when Mom was only called Joan and I was only called Randy. Then we decided to invite someone else to our party. We got a new little friend. We both got new names.
You came into the house of a teacher and a reporter. We liked to read books. We liked to write things down.
Here’s what I wrote down November 14, 1989, right before you were born:
“Well, everyone knows you’re on your way. They had to stick your head 4 or 5 times to attach a wire that monitors your heartbeat. You have a head like your mother’s. It’s so hard nothing can get in.”
But even with a hard head, you grew up to be a beautiful, hard-working, never-surrendering, baseball-loving young woman. We could not be prouder of you and all you’ve accomplished.
When it came time for college, we worried and prayed. Prayed and worried. Guess who did most of the worrying? Turns out, God really does have a plan for all of us. His plan for you was not only to get a degree and get a job… but to meet a guy who fits you like a glove – or like Forest Gump once said about him and Jenny – you go together like peas and carrots. Maybe the only time the words peas and Katie are mentioned in the same sentence.
Stuart, you are getting a woman who may seem like a living contradiction: quiet but confident. Simple yet stylish. Giving yet firm. I have a feeling that’s what makes her so compelling to you. Marriage is a wonderful mystery you’ll spend your life trying to solve. You never will, trust me, but with patience and kindness and an open mind you will enjoy an amazing ride.
Soon you’ll be marking your own calendar together. Key dates in your life where your world takes a sudden turn.
Like a text I got December 9, 2014… 2:01 PM.
“Hey this is Stuart, how are you doing today? I was wondering if you were available this weekend to have a conversation?”

Yes, that would be great. Come on over. Sit down on the couch.

What’s on your mind?

And so here we all are. My toast is to remember what I always say about my definition of love. It means voluntarily surrendering control of your happiness to someone else. Literally, giving it away. You are giving that important power to each other. Use it wisely. Take a moment before you say something that might hurt the other. Take a breath. Take your time. Take it easy.

As many of us in this room will tell you, it goes by so fast.

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Two beautiful, happily-married women

(Joan’s toast)

HERE’S TO GOALS!
Thirty-one years ago Randy and I started out much like you are this week.
Wondering what the crystal ball has in store.. it’s all part of the mystique.
We decided our goals were to purchase a house, then a puppy, and last have a baby.
That’s exactly the order it happened so we brought home our sweet Katie.

Our goal was to try to keep her alive and still be sane.
She cried with colic constantly. Everything we did was in vain.
After a few months, Katie became the smiling and chuckling tot.
And before we knew it, it was time to give school a shot!

Off to preschool and then to kindergarten at Saint John Neumann School
Katie worked very hard and never broke a school rule.
(Millie lasted one month before she brought home a teacher note)
Nightly, Katie and I would sit at the kitchen table tackling homework until it was all rote.

Brookwood High School was Katie’s next goal along with swimming on the team.
School, homework, life guarding and swimming: nothing too extreme.
Yet another hurdle -college and what would she do for a profession.
Special education of course- there was never a question.

So this brings us to this moment, with many of Katie’s goals achieved.
Hard work and never giving up has helped Katie to succeed.
May God grant you both wisdom, strength and good health.
Here’s to all the future goals to be achieved together. Let their accomplishments be your wealth.

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Younger daughter Millie was Katie’s maid of honor. Love this pre-game picture

(Millie’s toast)
Some of you may have caught on to the fact that my sister and I are just a little bit different. I can remember sitting down for dinner once and Dad saying, “Millie, be home by midnight. Katie, I don’t want to see you until midnight.”

Being so different led to Katie and I having a different sort of relationship than most sisters have. If I had to describe it in one word, I’d have to say admiration.

I have not and will not admire anyone like I admire my sister. I think the reason for that might be because we are so different. Growing up with someone the complete opposite of you makes you realize what traits you’re missing yourself.

I strive to be more like my sister every day. Kinder, gentler, more genuine, and believe it or not, sometimes I do see the need to be a bit more soft spoken.

I’d like to think I helped bring Katie out of her shell a little bit by showing her what it’s like to be headstrong, rebellious, and assertive. Over the years Katie has grown to be the perfect mixture of kind, gentle, headstrong, and assertive. I’m proud of her for that. I’m jealous of that. But I noticed a while ago I really can’t take all the credit for that.

When Stuart came into Katie’s life, my sister changed. Of course, for the better. We wouldn’t all be here otherwise. She was constantly laughing. I honestly don’t know if I’ve seen my sister without a smile on her face in the last four years. She learned how to navigate a fight and stand her ground. Most of the time her version of standing her ground was making Stuart go where she wanted to eat instead of where he did. But a win’s a win right? She learned what it was like to be responsible for someone else’s feelings and someone else’s heart.

When Stuart came into Katie’s life, she blossomed. And Stuart, that’s why I’m letting you marry her. You make her laugh. You lift her up. You remind her every day how incredible of a person she is. Stuart, you admire her. Just like I always have. I will never worry about my sister’s happiness because you are in her life.

But, if for some reason, I ever see a frown on my sister’s face again, remember: I am headstrong, I am rebellious, and I am assertive. Remember, I am different than my sister. That’s not a threat, just something good to remember. I love you both. Thank you for showing me how simple and genuine love should be and can be and for you, how it will be.

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Porky and Dolly dancing at our wedding 31 years ago

(Randy’s Eulogy for his father-in-law)

Porky always called me his No. 1 son-in-law. For a while I figured that was because he liked me the best. Then I realized it’s just because I got there first. He liked all of us. He loved every one of us.

I could use a lot of words to describe Anthony Porky DeProspero. I imagine there are a few you can think of, too. Here’s the best word I could come up:

Porky… was a rebel.

That’s right. The man who was born and bred north of the Mason-Dixon line was really, deep down, a die-hard rebel. He went against the grain. He took the opposite position of anything you liked… because it just made life more interesting that way.

What was his favorite team during any sports season? Well, his team always seemed to be the team your team was playing against. Favorite politician? Well, heaven help the politician that ventured into the Pot Luck and got too close to Porky… better yet, heaven help the politician who sat in Porky’s spot.

Porky grew up in a little town an hour’s drive from Pittsburgh. Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates and legends Bill Mazeroski and Roberto Clemente. So who was Porky’s favorite baseball team? Naturally not the Pirates. Porky’s favorite baseball team was only the most hated team in the country. Those damn Yankees. Yep, a rebel pulling for the Yankees. Makes all the sense in the world.

I for one am glad Porky did not follow in anyone’s footsteps… walk down the well-worn path of others. All of his relatives lived within a few miles of each other in New Castle, Pennsylvania where he was born. Many of them, including Porky, worked at the big plant in town called Universal Rundle. In 1970, Universal Rundle opened a new plant here in Monroe. Porky had a chance at a promotion, more money, a better future. But it meant taking his family away from everything they knew and loved. It meant rebelling against the status quo. Even worse, the Italian status quo.

Porky made the right decision and headed South. Even though Dolly and his girls gave him grief for a while… maybe longer than a while… it was the right choice. He bought a better house… he and Dolly sent all three daughters to good colleges… all three developed good careers… all three met absolutely great guys. Really fantastic guys. The best guys.

And a few years after they moved here… that Universal Rundle plant in New Castle that employed so many of Porky’s friends and family… well, it closed down. They lost their jobs. The economy in New Castle collapsed. The rebel made the right call.

Everyone in this church knew Porky in some special way. The Pot Luck group knew him through his antics at breakfast… the National Guard through all those weekend drills and summers away… Porky calling to have pizza delivered out in the field where they were training.

Maybe he coached you in football or baseball… you thought of him as a surrogate father. He certainly loved you like surrogate sons.

When he had  to stop coaching, he switched to umpiring youth baseball. Once, he told me he was umpiring and a young batter got hit pretty hard by a fastball. Porky leaned over to the little boy and through his umpire mask said “if you start crying, I’m going to kiss you!”

Yes, we all knew Porky.

But I’m guessing none of you knew him from the perspective of a rather nervous 19-year-old college student heading into that house for the very first time… to meet the father of a girl you were kind of partial to.

Come on over to my house for spaghetti so you can meet my parents, Joan said back in the fall of 1981. My mom’s named Dolly. We call my dad Porky.

Great. What do I call him? Cuz it ain’t going to be Porky.

Joan was the only Italian I’d ever dated. My entire experience with Italians came from watching the movie the Godfather. Joan looked a little like Talia Shire… so I figured I was about to meet Marlon Brando.

Porky sure looked the part. But after a few minutes I realized I was ok. The first hint was when he told me what he did for a living. Universal Rundle manufactured toilets. Porky told me he made “after dinnerware.”

Then we sat down to eat… instead of a nice Italian wine – we had Kool-Aid. Now that’s a rebel moment I did not appreciate.

He was constantly trying to get me to eat more food that night. “Mr. Dep—Porky, I’m only 160 pounds. I can’t physically put any more food in my body.”

But that’s one of the ways Porky showed you he cared about you. Come eat breakfast with me, he’d say. I brought donuts for the girls he’d say. I made wedding soup for Christmas he’d say. The way to Porky’s heart was definitely through his stomach. Both of them getting bigger every year.

When Joan and I got married, Porky pulled me over just before we were about to get in the car and drive away from the reception.

“I just want you to know that if you two have any problems…”
Yeah, I know. Call you.
No, he said. Call Dolly.

Two more daughter marriages followed. I’m guessing Ron and Jon got the same advice. Call Dolly.

Then came the grandchildren. AnnaMarie wrote this about their relationship with their grandfather:

Taylor was Papa’s joy. He was the first born and a boy, so it was a double win. He had a grandson that learned from and loved every ounce of him. And the loving and learning never stopped. Taylor still has a passion for food only Papa could understand. When Taylor got married to Michelle, it was just another grandkid to add to the family. He loved her just as much as he loved us. Katie was Papa’s weakness. Her kind, gentle soul connected with his, under that layer of steel. Katie was his soft spot and still was as he sat there celebrating her and Stuart’s future wedding. He will definitely be there in the front row. I was Papa’s helper. I was the first one he called on to help him with anything. He shared the old family recipes and showed me exactly how to make them. We also shared a bond of saying Italian phrases whether they were bad or silly. Millie was Papa’s wild child. He knew Millie had an adventurous soul, and he appreciated every bit of it. He loved how she does what she wants to do and no one can stop her. He was a lot like that. And Nicholas was Papa’s youngest. Nicholas was the grandkid that he couldn’t wait to see grow up. His imagination and intelligence made Papa intrigued and proud.

And I’ll add to the list this week. Stuart. He approved of you from the beginning… as soon as he saw his oldest granddaughter’s eyes light up whenever she was around you.

But through it all, Papa… Porky… relied on one family member above all others. His wife of 57 years. He not only loved you Dolly. He could not survive without you. We knew it. He knew it. In fact, you are the one who got him as far as he did…. To the very end of a truly wonderful evening, surrounded by everyone he loved. He made sure he got dessert first… then he said goodbye to all of us.

As we were all at the hospital that sad night, Millie cheered us up by saying Papa’s in heaven with our dog Callie right now… feeding her chicken under the table.

And I’m sure God’s looking over there and saying, great… another Rebel.

Thanks Porky for all the lives you’ve touched… and all the lives you’ve changed. Ours would not have been nearly as happy if it wasn’t for you.

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8 thoughts on “A Wedding and a Funeral

  1. What a tribute to a great man who love his wife, daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren. What a beautiful wedding with precious toasts. Knowing that the rebel was watching from above made the wedding easier on everyone. I salute each one of you for your courage, strength, and most of all love for each other. May God Bless each One of You.
    Peggy Long
    Hayesville, North Carolina

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  2. Randy…that was the most wonderful story you’ve ever written. My heart aches for you and your family. But you also warmed my heart with sentiments of joy and love that only a little girl’s father, a husband, a son-in-law and now, a newly minted father-in-law can convey.
    Congratulations to you and your entire family. Know that you are all in my prayers during this unforgettable chapter of life.
    Peace and Blessings..Portia B.

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  3. Randy . . . your beautiful words reflect the happiness, joy, excitement, sorrow, and love that all who know you share. Joan, your poetry tells the story: a family so full of love, humor, and tenderness, able to fulfill a dream with a smile and a tear. I am privileged to know all of you and thank you for inviting me into your world. And Randy, if it makes you feel any better, I walked down the aisle (1954) when my wedding garter slipped from above my knee down to my ankle, and I had to drag my foot along the floor to the altar, all the while imagining the horror of a lace and blue satin garter sitting on the red carpet! I somehow made it without losing the garter! Bob never knew!

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  4. Joanie was our babysitter in Monroe. When we’d pick her up Porky was usually there and Dolly was often making the “sauce”. We treasured knowing them all. What a wonderful tribute you wrote.

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  5. I’m Stuart’s aunt. Randy, I wept and smiled while reading this lovely article. Chris and I really enjoyed Katie and Stuart’s rehearsal dinner and wedding. You have an awesome family and we are so happy to say your beautiful daughter, Katie, is now a member of our family. I know Porky will be missed. What a cool granddad Katie had!

    Lovingly,
    Joni Tackett

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  6. Very well done Randy! Porky was a great man, and leaves behind a great family. I am blessed to have grown up with the DeProsperos, had a great time playing on one of the baseball teams coached by Porky, and am glad to know you. What a beautiful tribute to a great guy!

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  7. Wow…what a great tribute to a great man. My husband and I were in Pot Luck on Friday morning December 19th and both commented on how “quiet” Porky was that morning! We were shocked to hear of his death later that weekend! Definitely an interesting man that will be missed here in Monroe, GA!

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