Jackie's Retinue

From my bride of two decades I have learned many things, not the least of which is the value of friendship. Like so many things in our life to come, I would learn this by watching her.

The wedding itself was on a weekday evening. Driven by the calendar, a Bowl game and a host of other factors, we exchanged vows before God, family and friends at a poinsettia and holly-festooned St. Isidore’s Catholic Church in Manhattan, Kansas, at 7 p.m., Wednesday, December 23, 1998.

Her initial thought was a big church wedding, with a retinue of bridesmaids and corresponding groomsdudes. Upon learning this, my first thought was, gulp, not sure I have enough friends close enough willing to comprise a groomsdude retinue. Because my first thought was Vegas or City Hall.

In and out. Wham, bam. Not so much.

Family’s a given at weddings. But friends often have logistics and priorities that don’t include us. Or so I thought.

Her two best friends on the entire planet whom she wanted desperately to stand up with her, were each prevented, owing to challenges created by the latter throes of pregnancy. Michelle was under doctor’s orders not to travel and Dea was actually giving birth at the exact moment Jack E. McClaskey was walking his youngest daughter down the aisle.

Twenty years later, the bride flanked by her erstwhile bridesmaids at her mother’s funeral in Girard, Kansas. (Dea on the left, Michelle on the right).

Twenty years later, the bride flanked by her erstwhile bridesmaids at her mother’s funeral in Girard, Kansas. (Dea on the left, Michelle on the right).

Jack’s youngest grew up with Michelle in Crawford County. Big hair, head banging, Armaggeddon it, fast talking their way into the Frontenac bars.

Dea entered her life in high school. From opposing corners of Kansas, they side-eyed one another warily from arms’ length, competing against each other in FFA. They would bond as undergrads at K-State.

Even without Dea and Michelle, she still wanted a retinue. I can get two, I told her. My 13-year old son was to be my best man regardless and I could probably press my younger brother into groomsdude service. Anything beyond that is a crapshoot.

She knew my loner tendencies, but my inability to scrounge up a retinue of groomsdudes was, perhaps, her first confirmation in real time. It also provided an opportunity for her to do what comes naturally. Give. I would give on Vegas/City Hall. She gave on the retinue.

One maid of honor/best man. One bridesmaid/groomsdude.

Friendship requires cultivation and maintenance. Cultivation and maintenance require time and energy. At the time, I would blame genetics for my lack of friend cultivation. My old man was a loner, as was his before him, I was later to discover. I could count the number of close friends in my entire life on one hand. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Twenty years later, I watch her cultivate and maintain friendships. She collects people and friends like I collect dog hair in my 2012 Ford Escape. You can’t swing a dead cat in Kansas without hitting a friend of Jackie McClaskey. I often refer to those whom she has mentored as the Jackie McClaskey Young Leader Collection.

I have learned to adapt being her plus-one. I have tried to move beyond my lonerness. Genetics was just an excuse.

Michelle and Dea each gave birth to daughters twenty years ago. Maggie, Majken and their siblings adore Jackie.

Today, when our friends’ children matriculate to Manhattan, K-State and inevitably, Aggieville, I give them my business card. Here’s the number to call when you can’t call mom and dad. It’s what friends do for each other. And for their children.

Next generation retinue.

I learned this from my bride. It’s among the many reasons I am even more ape-shit-banana-cupcakes over her today, than that Wednesday night two decades ago.