Remembrance of Things Past

two images from Ellie Monahan's wedding side by side

Photos by Brian Dorsey Studios

Katie reflects on the joy her daughter’s wedding brought her in 2021.

2021 was such a trying year for so many reasons. There were the vicissitudes of Covid as we watched the variants go Greek — Delta (I’m sure the airline wasn’t thrilled) then Omicron, which sounds like something out of The Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton’s 1969 novel. The virus and its variants took the lives of 770,000 people in the U.S. this year. While the unemployment rate has decreased since the peak of the pandemic, it’s still higher than it was before; 6 million people lost their jobs in January alone. And more than 3 million women dropped out of the workforce

The Surgeon General issued an advisory about the mental health of children, and it was really upsetting. The country seems as divided as ever. It’s enough to make you pull the cover over your head and never get out of bed. But it can also make us more appreciative of the things in our lives that bring us tidings of comfort and joy — and not just during the holidays. I found one particular 2021 event that brought me that type of joy. 

When I look back on July 4th, 2021, I can’t help but smile. If you follow me, I’m sure you remember that’s the day that my older daughter Ellie got married. It was a long time coming.

She met her husband Mark when she was a sophomore at Yale and he was a junior. She approached him at the dining hall salad bar and said something clever, like “Oh, you’re a Thousand Island guy, huh?” (The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, LOL!) They dated for 11 — yes, eleven — years, and at the wedding of a family friend, he requested to talk to me in the hallway during dinner (I thought Ellie was sick or there’d been some kind of snafu). Then, Mark asked my permission to propose marriage to my daughter. It was so sweet. Jay did the same thing with my mom and dad when he proposed in 1989 and as something of a traditionalist, I deeply appreciated the gesture. And the fact that he asked Ellie with the ring Jay had given me so many years ago made it even more meaningful.

The wedding date was set: July 4, 2020. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? But we know what happened. The best-laid plans of brides and grooms everywhere were put on hold. We waited with bated breath. Could the show go on in 2021? Realizing this was a high-class problem, we watched the news and eyed the calendar. Finally, we got a thumbs up. Vaccinations would be required, but because early summer was the rare window when we all believed Covid-19 would be over in ‘21, we could enjoy ourselves, especially because so many of the activities were outdoors.

Everyone was just so happy. Being together with family and friends proved to be such a tonic for the uncertainty and anxiety of the previous 17 months. People were ready to have fun and they were open and friendly. I always worry about people mixing well and I do think we did something that really worked. We had a big field day on Saturday and the teams were mostly made up of people who had barely met. Doing three-legged races and tug of war, playing capture the flag, and tossing water balloons really broke the ice. People were playfully trash-talking and the whole thing literally put people on an even playing field. It was such a great way to kick things off, especially because my team (Go Yellow!) won. (OK, OK, Ellie did stack the teams a bit and mine happened to have some Division 1 athletes, but hey, being MOB has its privileges!)

Ellie Monahan and her husband in 80s costumes

The 80s party was also a blast. Everyone got into the act. Molner was George Michael, complete with a wig, gold chain, earring, and ripped jeans below the knee — he looked pretty scary but got an A for effort. Our friend Mark was a killer Boy George. He’s a big guy and the sight of watching him dancing on stage with his bowler, braids, and red lipstick…well, I will never be able to unsee that. I was Cyndi Lauper (I could never hold a candle to the original, but decided I just wanna have fun) and Ellie looked beautiful as Madonna in “Like A Virgin.” (As if.) Mark was David Byrne, there were lots of aerobics instructors (my friend Wendy brought her ThighMaster) and my friend Cherie is the lead singer of an 80s cover band called Rubix Cube and man, that girl has more energy than anyone I know. I love the whole band, and having them there was the icing on our Hostess Cupcakes. (We actually had homemade donuts.) But as I watched the rain fall on the plastic tent flaps, I couldn’t help but wonder: would I be singing, “Sunny” or “Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again”? Yes, folks, I really was livin’ on a prayer.

Katie Couric and her daughter Ellie dressed in 80s costumes

For July, the weather had been surprisingly wet and cool. I was trying to be upbeat, but I was actually freaking out a bit on the inside. I knew it would be fun no matter what, but the ceremony was on a beautiful hilltop, gray-blue mountains in the distance, and hopefully beneath a canopy of blue sky. When I woke up on Sunday morning (the wedding was on a Sunday to preserve the July 4th-ness of it all) I wanted to run up to that mountain top and sing “The Hills Are Alive” at the top of my lungs. It was clear and crisp and sunny and seemed heaven-sent — perhaps by Jay. Ellie and Mark would be married outside after all.

Ellie Monahan holding her bridal bouquet
Brian Dorsey Studios

The flowers (by Tin Can Florist), the music (performed by Jay Unger and his family, who provided the haunting “Ashokan Farewell” for Ken Burns’ Civil War series), the girls in their summer dresses (also a short story by Irwin Shaw), Carrie’s heart-stopping rendition of “For You”. It was perfect.

And I haven’t even gotten to Ellie yet. Mark, I love you, but I’m going to give Ellie the lion’s share of the ink here. There’s nothing quite like watching someone you gave birth to walk down the aisle, looking positively resplendent and so happy, glowing as if her whole body was shooting out sunbeams. I mean, I know I’m biased, but Ellie was a beautiful bride. And I loved that she walked down the aisle by herself. Even if Jay had been there — in body as well as spirit — there was something magical about seeing her practically glide with confidence and determination. (She was very determined to get there and worried she walked too quickly — don’t worry, Ellie, everyone was too dazzled to even notice.) She was hardly blushing. She was the strong, independent woman I hoped she would become. That she has found the yin to her yang — someone who loves her so deeply, who complements her so beautifully — there is nothing more that you want for your child.

I’m slightly envious that Ellie and Mark are starting on this new journey together with so many thrilling, exciting firsts in store. (No, I’m not dropping any hints here folks. I want them to take their time!) They’re in the first home with a bit more room for friends and family and an occasional mother/mother-in-law crashing in the guest room. They bought their first puppy. (Hi Ricky!) 

Annie Dillard once wrote, “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” I know they will have days full of laughter and adventure — new places to explore, old friends to commune with, family to hold tight. I know they will build a life full of love and meaning. And they will have each other when they are faced with the inevitable disappointments and sadness that are part and parcel of being human. 

Your wedding day is often considered the happiest day of your life.

Despite the tears I shed as the sun started to set and the sky was sprinkled with dusty pink (and some serious waterworks were on display), Ellie’s wedding was one of the happiest days of mine.

ellie monohan and her husband walking down the aisle at their wedding
Brian Dorsey Studios