Sean was surrounded by his folks and siblings: Erin, Collin, Patrick…their kids and grandkids. The entire McGinnis-Staab family had a rich tradition of wedding celebrations. I grew up in this Volga-German community but was always an outsider since my heritage was German-Irish and we had moved here when I was three I wasn’t “a native.” While I loved the culture, food, and festivities of my hometown, I knew I was always “adjacent” not “a part”.
Our families lived near each other for several years and I counted Sean as my oldest friend: I was five and he was four when we met and over the next five decades had reconnected in several different cities, often by coincidence. We sustained a friendship even though we’d both moved away from our hometown. When Sean’s remarkable artistic wood block invitation (shown above) arrived from Paris to my home in San Francisco, I was thrilled but unsure I could make the trek back to my hometown of Hays Kansas. Sean has lived in France for decades now and was married there over the summer but was coming back for a reception to celebrate the milestone. It was not an ideal time to leave my own family for a weekend (and I could not afford another trip with all three of my own kids.) So I hesitated for a while, but finally a few days before, worked it out to attend and used frequent flyer tickets to book my flight.
I so wanted to see how Sean would interpret the traditional weddings of our childhood into his own celebration. There was much he kept: the crowd full of family covering the full spectrum of ages, music playing, alcohol flowing, and lots of laughter. Kids darted in and out of the legs of the adults as family and friends reconnected and hugged. He engaged a remarkable duo of women who catered the meal with the traditional Volga German Wedding Beef and Chicken Noodle dinner. Dessert was both wedding cake and Küche (a German coffee cake I’d not enjoyed in more then thirty years.)
But instead of the VFW hall he booked an art gallery, where his dad and my mom (both artists) had spent many years helping build the now fifty year old community arts council. Sean himself (also an artist) spent many hours there as a kid helping out and it was the logical place to celebrate his own wedding. He replaced the guest book with a parchment scroll containing an illustration of a tree where we each found a branch on which to sign our names. And Sean himself roamed the party with a retro Polaroid camera snapping two instant pictures of each guest, one as a favor to keep and another to mount in a scrapbook.
Sean had effectively blended the rituals of the weddings we knew as kids with new elements which held special meaning for him. And there was one more huge difference from the wedding celebrations we’d attended as children: Sean had married the man, not the woman, of his dreams. I’m not sure how many in his hundred plus crowd struggled with this aspect of the celebration, but certainly none showed it if they did.
As a kid who had struggled massively to navigate being gay in a close knit Roman Catholic small town that does not easily embrace gay relationships, it was enormous for me to attend and witness this celebration where it seemed completely normal that Sean now had a husband, Stephane. The applause when the couple kissed after the toast was long, extended, and genuine…forcing them to kiss not just once or twice, but three times. Maybe, just maybe, this reception on a hot Saturday night in August in Western Kansas was making a step towards all of us seeing “gay marriage” as simply “marriage.”