Julie McDonald commentary: Summer wedding proved an answer to prayer


It’s amazing how much time, energy and thought goes into planning all the details for one remarkable day in the lives of our children — yes, the all-important wedding day.

Thirty-two years ago, when my husband and I married, I dove into planning our wedding, armed with “The Working Woman’s Wedding Planner,” which proved invaluable in keeping me organized. After reviewing wedding venues, reception options, decorations, beverages, cakes, honeymoon places and a host of other details, I became an expert on weddings — and then promptly forgot it all after we were married.

Fast forward three decades, and my daughter, Nora, and her fiancé, Chase Conaway, of Chehalis, who met when they were 14 and 15, respectively, became engaged and set a wedding date for Aug. 5, 2023. The planning began, but anything I remembered about weddings was quite outdated — antiquated, you might say.

Our first purchase was a 100-foot runner for the bride to walk down the aisle. Then we bought at a bargain price two unassembled 10-by-20-foot carports from Harbor Freight that we could use in case of rain. They sat in our shed untouched for a year, but, as it turned out, we needed them.

I was quite honored when my daughter asked me to be her matron of honor. I told her, “Honey, I’m already mother of the bride.” She said, “But aren’t you supposed to ask your best friend?” Talk about melting a mother’s heart! I told her I’d be anything she wanted on her special day.

As older parents, planning our daughter’s wedding proved to be an answer to prayer. I never knew if we’d live long enough for my husband to walk her down the aisle, for me to serve as mother of the bride. We hoped so. But while rocking my baby girl, cradled in my arms, I had to wonder. Would we be there for her and our son, Paul? I prayed so. In fact, it was part of our nightly prayers, asking God to let us live long enough to see both our children grow up, graduate from college, marry and start raising families of their own. God has proven faithful. We are blessed.

In the midst of the wedding planning, tension, upheaval and expense, I thought about Paul’s decision to marry his girlfriend, Katie Kenny, at a courthouse in Minnesota in 2017. Katie proved invaluable in helping to prepare for Nora’s wedding day. She helped Chase’s mother, April Conaway, put together flower bouquets and boutonnieres. I asked Katie later if she missed not having a big wedding ceremony: Not at all.

This summer, in addition to work, I squeezed in a bachelorette party, my husband’s 60th high school class reunion near Bellingham, and a trip to Seattle so Doris Bier, of Centralia, could share her Rosie the Riveter experiences with girls at the Steel Toe Teens summer camp (plus an unplanned trip to the doctor to check for blood clots after driving so much).

We met with our officiant, Kathy Welch, Nora’s band teacher at Toledo who taught her from fifth grade through her senior year and once in Pullman treated her and other Toledo graduates to dinner during a visit to her alma mater, Washington State University. They all participated in the Cougar Marching Band. 

Kathy and her sister and roommate were heading to Alaska on a July cruise before the wedding and arrived home with COVID-19. Fortunately, our son had sent for ministerial credentials so, two days before the wedding, he stepped in to officiate — and did a fantastic job, too.

Nora initially wanted the wedding in our beautiful, parklike backyard, among the evergreen trees and colorful potted flowers my husband grows, but we couldn’t fathom how we could fit parking for 200 people at our place. 

We explored many options, and Nora and Chase decided to hold the wedding near the retreat center on the east side of Lewis and Clark State Park. It’s funny because 32 years ago, we held our rehearsal dinner in a campground kitchen at the park on the west of Jackson Highway. My husband and I married at St. Francis Mission and held our reception at the Cowlitz Prairie Grange, catered by the Grange ladies, Ruth Herren and Pauline Inman.

This year, we also rented the community center near the retreat house, which had white plastic tables, chairs, and a wedding arch. We started setting up inside the retreat house on Thursday before the Saturday wedding, and I learned a huge lesson — one I’ll probably never need to know again. Satin tablecloths and runners look beautiful, but they’re a bear to iron. I washed the emerald green tablecloths and gold table runners and spread them on our dining room table to avoid wrinkles … to no avail. We bought a steamer. We brought in irons. The groomsmen, the bridesmaids, Chase’s parents, my sister-in-law Laurel, and my sisters all took turns trying to smooth the wrinkles.

Our son-in-law, Keith Reeder, and grandson Colton Graham built a platform where Chase, Nora, and the officiant could stand. They painted it green, so it blended beautifully with the second-growth trees and underbrush surrounding the natural setting in the woods. Keith and my stepdaughter, Amanda, her son, Colton, and their daughter, Brooke, the flower girl/ring bearer, arrived several days early to help set up everything. Colton was invaluable at the wedding, constantly asking, “What can I do?” He fetched items, moved tables, and even carried the train of Nora’s wedding dress when her hands were full.

He, Keith, and Paul helped Larry bring our backyard to the park by transporting more than a dozen of my husband’s beautiful potted flowers to the retreat center, providing blooms of pink, red, purple, yellow, blue, gold, and other colors to brighten the forested venue.

A good friend provided food for the reception, going above and beyond, even driving back to Centralia to retrieve a forgotten salad dressing. My daughter prefers whipped to buttercream frosting, so we bought the three-layer wedding cake from Fuller’s Shop ’n’ Kart, and the bakery manager, Yvette, delivered the cake and set it up. Our friend Edna Fund, of Centralia, donated hydrangeas that cascaded down the cake. Our friends from The Crowded Kitchen Catering in Toledo, Keith and Lorinne Birdwell and their daughter, Rylee, who attended school with Nora, brought a wonderful gift — a gigantic graze board of meats, cheeses, crackers, olives, fruit, nuts, and cookies.

But unexpectedly, it rained. As we prepared for the afternoon wedding, gray skies let forth a drizzle that dampened the chairs and as-yet-undecorated tables set up outside the retreat center. The groomsmen hustled to put together the two carport canopies and tucked the tables underneath. They tipped chairs forward to prevent water from pooling. I prayed, and I wasn’t the only one. Guests driving to the wedding also prayed the rain would stop — and at about 1 p.m., it did. The wedding started at 3 p.m. 

I was helping my daughter dress, so I don’t even know how it all happened, but apparently my husband used his leaf blower to remove most of the water from the tables and then groomsmen, bridesmaids, and volunteers wiped down the tables and chairs with towels, spread the tablecloths, and placed the varnished wood rounds in the center, topped by frosted vases of hydrangeas with fairy lights. Chase’s mother, April, created the centerpieces and also made several hundred jars of homemade blackberry jam as favors for the guests. Nora and Chase baked heart-shaped fruit pies themselves to give away for desserts in addition to the cake.

In the evening, the groomsmen moved the tables and chairs while Nora and Chase danced beneath a canopy of fir trees. Of course, when she danced with her dad, she worried the entire time he might fall in a dip in the ground. Chase danced with his mom, and I even danced with Nora to Martina McBride’s song, “In My Daughter’s Eyes.” Then us old folks left for home while the younger people danced, partied, and slept in the two dozen bunkbeds at the retreat center.

Despite hiccups — our original photographer moved away but recommended Chelsey from Iola Jade Images in Olympia, who did a fantastic job, and COVID-19 rearing its ugly head once again — we watched our daughter marry a wonderful young man. After a mini-moon in Olympia, they returned to Pullman where Chase is finishing his degree in computer science in December.

After the wedding, my husband and I were both forced to relax when we contracted COVID, but at least it was a milder variant than the one several years ago that killed so many people. 

Now, after once again becoming experts on weddings, we can forget everything we’ve learned — at least until a grandchild comes along, grows up, and marries.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.