family

Posted by Ellen

The bride was beautiful, the bridegroom was grinning to beat the band, and when it came to throwing a party, the Cubans seriously schooled us Anglos.

Our new daughter--in-law is Yusleidy Zanetti, who goes by Julie. The newlyweds are living in Havana, where Julie was born and raised and where she met Joe a few years back, when he spent a semester in Cuba with a University of Alabama study-abroad program.

Everybody asks whether they'll stay in Havana, where Joe is now part of a tiny expat community, or try to move to the states. But that's a question for the future.

In the moment, Julie and Joe spent two days getting married. The first day was spent in a judicial building, dealing with paperwork and lawyers and then finally sitting down with a judge.

Sadly, we confess to knowing no Spanish. The judge had a lot to say, including numerous questions, to all of which Joe and Julie answered sí. Joe is fluent in Spanish, and Julie knows some English, more than most Cubans. They told us that the judge warned Joe that the decision to marry might be the most serious decision of his life–Was he really prepared to take such a step? He said . Then she turned to Julie and asked, "Are you sure you want to do this?" She said .

They exchanged rings and were pronounced husband and wife. We all cheered and clapped and hugged, and that was that.

In the judge's chamber along with the newlyweds were Julie's mother and grandmother, Joe's parents and two of his brothers, one of his aunts, and two friends of the couple, their best man and matron of honor.

Joe's last two brothers and his best friend from Alabama made it to Havana the next day, just in time for the big wedding celebration, with the white dress and the cake, the wine and the beer, the music and disco lights and dancing and singing and more dancing and more dancing.

There was also, of course, the traditional ride in a 1956 Thunderbird, through town and along the Malecón, Havana's seaside promenade, amidst cheers and honking horns.

And after that, there was the afterparty, back at the house, more dancing and more dancing.

And two families are now growing together, across barriers of language and culture and crazy, crazy politics. Nothing in Cuba is easy; this wedding was a major logistical feat that went off flawlessly, thanks entirely to Julie's organizational genius. And she and her family couldn't have been more welcoming to all of us goofy gringos. 

Now that Joe is married to a Cuban citizen, he has the legal right to work there. Most jobs in Cuba pay about $30 or $40 a month. Life for the newlyweds will be very different from life in America.

The poverty is profound. But the streets are safe; there are no guns, no crime. No school shootings. Families are close. The flowers are bright even in February, blue and yellow birds sing in cages in people's yards, the cars are beautiful and there aren't too many of them–no traffic jams. The sun is warm, the sea is all around. And everybody can dance.

Posted by Ellen

Lila Mae Helmke was 23 years old in 1936 when she appeared in this family portrait with her husband Bill, their son Allen, and her husband's brother, whose name was not recorded.

The photographer, Russell Lee, noted that the family all lived "in a one-room shack on a ninety-acre farm near Dickens, Iowa, owned by a lawyer."

We don't know how long Lila Mae and her family lived in that shack. But she and her husband had been born into farming families in Palo Alto County, Iowa, in the early years of the twentieth century, and they had been educated in country schools there. When they married in 1934, in the depths of the Depression, prospects for American farmers were nightmarish, even in places like northern Iowa, where the topsoil was three feet thick.

We have no record that the Helmkes ever owned any farmland. But they were farmers, and they stuck it out, trying to make a go of it somehow or other, for the first seventeen years of their married life, till Lila Mae was 38 and Bill was in his mid-forties.

In 1951, they gave it up and moved to town. They settled in Ruthven, Iowa, about seven miles east of the farmland near Dickens, where they had been born and raised.

By 1951, they had two nearly grown children, Allen and his younger brother Elton, known as Butch. Both boys would grow up, marry, and raise their own families in Ruthven, and they were still living there in January 2006, almost seventy years after the photo was taken, when their mother's death at the age of 92 was reported in the the Graettinger Times newspaper. Husband Bill–William August Helmke–had died in 1976, when he was 69.

Once the family had moved to town, Lila worked as a substitute cook at the Ruthven Community School and cleaned houses and the Ruthven State Bank.

She enjoyed sewing, gardening, and cooking, according to the obituary writer, and loved Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton, and The Price is Right.

The cat in the photo may have loomed large in her life: "She always had a family pet," wrote the obituary writer.

The smiling young man who is holding the cat in his lap, however, is lost to time. The photographer noted only that he was Bill Helmke's brother; we don't know his name, and Lila Mae's obituarist did not mention him at all, not in the list of survivors and not in the list of the predeceased. He looks of an age in 1936 to be called off to war just a few years after sitting for the family portrait, but even that detail is beyond our knowing.

Posted by Ellen

Photographer Alain Laboile and his partner have six children. Those of us familiar with life in large families have seen some version of this scene before. Some of us have seen versions of this scene more than a few times and might feel we will live longer if we don't have to relive them.

Laboile, of Bordeaux, France, is actually a sculptor by trade, who first picked up a camera about ten years ago to catalog his sculpting. He turned the lens on his growing family around the house, and the rest, as they say, is documentary.

Posted by Ellen

A few hours before the really big moment on Saturday evening, our niece Melissa–now Mrs. Matthew Solomon–enjoyed a little moment with her Grandma Helen.

Posted by Ellen

Happily, it's a big year for weddings in this branch of the human family. And one of the best things about weddings is that the pictures are so many and so various and so thick with kisses and flowers and hopefulness. Indeed, every morning could be a Wonderfully Good Wedding Morning in this blog . . . if only Facebook didn't always have the jump on us.

Here today, however, are a couple of shots from Maggie and Colin's wedding back in June on Peaks Island, in Maine's Casco Bay. Above, the newlyweds focused on a joint engineering venture that went off almost without a hitch: as the sun went down, illuminated hot-air balloons soared up and away, floating into the future.

The first one rose and floated perfectly, above the island and out over the sea. The second one plopped down into the harbor. As did the third. The fourth balloon also looked doomed at first, but it somehow fought hard against gravity and wobbled skyward and . . . fell flaming into a patch of brush next to the island gas station.

Nothing bad came of it. The day and the night were far too gentle and elegant.

Posted by Ellen

One year ago today, Bonnie and John, aka JJ, were married in Seattle. After the ceremony, we all enjoyed the toasts.

Now that the clutches of time have put in a claim on the newlyweds, we would like to mark the anniversary with words that are sweet yet also a little bit edgy; nothing appropriate comes to mind, but surely it was all said back then during those toasts.

Posted by Ellen

Last week, as we see here, our niece Amelia graduated from Parsons School of Design, winning her class's Golden Portfolio Award. 

Two weeks ago, our niece Melissa donned cap and gown for her Master's in Nursing from Penn. And next week, it'll be another niece, Olivia, crossing the stage at Bloomington High School South in Indiana.

For our family, this commencement season is shaping up as one for the ages. And now as the nieces venture forth, may they all find fair winds and following seas.

Posted by Ellen

The two families pose together at a party celebrating the upcoming marriage of our niece Maggie to Colin Doody.

Posted by Ellen

We all live in a yellow submarine, absolutely including my mother and yellow flowers upon yellow flowers. The theme of this year's flower show–Brilliant, as in British–was in the air everywhere, as the lads from Liverpool sang about Strawberry Fields  and "Doing the garden, digging the weeds...." There was also a yellow submarine sort of thing out on the floor, pictured here.

Most of the cultural references were literary, however, as opposed to musical. There were Peter Rabbit cottage gardens and Harry Potter owlish gardens, and allusion after allusion to Alice and the rabbit and the queen. There was a Jane Austen dooryard with a calling card left in the door; the name engraved on it in flowery script couldn't quite be made out from behind the picket fence that kept spectators out of the flower beds.

Posted by Ellen

John "JJ" Stein goes up for what we assume has got to be a basket in league play with Seattle's Jet City Hoops in the gym at the Asian Resource Center.

It's hard to know for sure, but the row of spectators sitting on stage might just be dazzled by the play of JJ and the other Cheetahs. Or their presence may reflect their interest in one of the Asian Resource Center's other resources.