This beautiful estate
The Marriage of Suzanne Katherine Mahle and Timothy Ryan Leach
Two years ago the month after next (March 2006) Barbara and I made the sad journey to Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, to participate in the funeral service for a dear friend, once a Brooklyn parishioner, Sonja Petersen Mahle, at the Church of the Presentation (see Sonja's Funeral). We returned to the church for a far less somber celebration, the marriage of Sonja and Dave Mahle's daughter Suzanne to Timothy Leach.
We prayed and sang hymns in Hartford in the morning, sped down Rte 84 in the early afternoon, made sure we were in the right town, refreshed ourselves on Dunkin' Donuts' flat bread sandwiches, and arrived at Presentation Church within a half hour of the stated hour for the service. When we stepped out of the car we were greeted by Suzanne's aunt and uncle from Lakewood NJ and then her cousins from Staten Island; each of whom were parishioners or acquaintances from our seventeen plus years in Brooklyn. Eventually I scouted out the presiding priest's office and introduced myself to Father Bob Stagg, the church's pastor and a golfing buddy of Suzanne's Dad. Fr. Bob showed Pastor Bob what his duties would be in the service: an opening statement, a prayer, and the exchange of rings.
Here is what I said and prayed:
Tim, I phoned Dave, your father-in-law, New Year’s Day to report that I had been contacted by Father Stagg, and that I would offer a few minutes of explanation for your benefit as to why this old preacher is here. Dave didn’t think it necessary, said you already understood why. But I want to push ahead on that theme anyway, if not for you, then for the others here who know and love the two of you and have only hearsay to explain Brooklyn.
Which is where I met Suzanne’s Mom and Dad. Sonja was a teenager in the church youth fellowship. When she was in her twenties and the men’s church basketball team needed a big man, she volunteered her boy friend, a budding lawyer with some good inside moves. We, Sonja, Dave, and I, never forgot those early connections. Sonja wouldn’t let us forget. And so through the years, nearly fifty of them, over the miles and the changing circumstances, I continued to be Sonja’s “Pastor.”
When Suzanne (and Michael) came into Sonja and Dave’s life and took permanent residence in the Ethel Avenue house. Sonja phoned me her good news and wrote about it in her Christmas letter to us. When Suzanne was to be baptized, who should appear but the old guy from Brooklyn. When Suzanne underwent a series of medical procedures early in life, Sonja phoned me her worry and detailed her strategy with the doctors. When it was time for Suzanne to learn a musical instrument, Sonja phoned me for information about troubadour harps, like the one on which our second child learned to play glissandos. When Suzanne’s Mom was in hospice care and I paid her a visit, who should appear as I was preparing to leave? Right! Suzanne, your beautiful bride, ghost writer, professional woman through and through, a perfect reflection of the hopes and dreams for her that that young girl I met in Brooklyn long ago cherished for her daughter.
So here I am again, that priestly shadow hovering around Suzanne’s life. I suspect Sonja, from her window in the Father’s House looking down upon these proceedings, gave you, Suzanne, and your Dad a big nudge in anticipation of this celebration: “Get Pastor Howard!” Sonja was one dear friend to whom I never could say “No.” Fact is, I wouldn’t ever want to turn her down. Sonja is one of the several reasons, but maybe among the biggest, to explain why it is when someone mentions “Brooklyn” my heart and mind are flooded with warm and blessed thoughts.
There you have it, Tim… and others. I come here from Brooklyn by way of West Hartford CT to offer you my prayers and best wishes for a life together as full of good things as Sonja (and Dave) want for you and as they shared themselves.
May God’s richest blessings and generous grace be yours.
Gracious God, in whose providence Tim and Suzanne have been led to one another, and in whose care they shall go forward from this celebration to build a life together rich in love and purpose, fill, we pray, this day with anticipations of all that is to come. The high spirits. The overflowing cup of love. The warm memories of the good days that brought us here, and the people along the way who helped us get here, remembering especially Sonja, Suzanne’s Mom. That Tim and Suzanne’s life may be perceived for what it is, a piece of eternity, beneath the sunlight of your love and the reflected light of our love for them. When things go right and everything is going their way, smile with their good fortune; and when things go wrong and the way ahead seems troubled, hold them in your supporting arms until the sunlight shines again; and move us to be those through whom the light breaks through. For we want for them what you want for them, an abundance of life, here on earth and then forever; through your son our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Fr. Bob Stagg, in his message to the bride and groom, listed two of the most important ingredients in a successful marriage, faith and a sense of humor, each of which the priest himself embodied in full measure. Early on in his message he turned to me and asked me how long I had been married. When I reported that it was more than half a century, he elicited from the congregation hearty laughter with the observation about his own community of faith, how crazy it is, that it would expect him, who had never been married, to offer advice on marriage when a fellow in Calvin's black robe with extensive marital credentials sat nearby. Something like that, only he said it better and funnier. The bridal party, twenty-two strong, lots of cousins and siblings, filled the front benches. The church choir, the one to which Suzanne belongs, led the responses and accompanied the cantor with the singing of "The Wedding Song." The Eucharist was celebrated following the announcement of Suzanne and Tim's marriage. Presenting the gifts for the mass were Bob and Marilyn Garbutt, Suzanne's godparents.
Two hundred twenty-five of us two hours after the final blessing gathered for the reception in West Orange, New Jersey, at The Pleasantdale Chateau, once the estate of Charles Nichols of Allied Chemical & Dye Corporation, now a distinctly upscale catering palace in the heart of suburban Garden State. Some of you may recognize it as the home of "The Sopranos" AJ's girlfriend.
The cocktail party which preceded the dinner enabled us to roam through the mansion, finding hors d'oeuvres serving tables and bars in several rooms. I stayed with the Pepsi in anticipation of a two hour drive home later in the evening; but, of course, I sampled the Italian table. The dinner followed in the ballroom. Choices choices! But Barbara and I took the filet mignon instead of the salmon.
During the eating and the dancing we had ample opportunity to renew acquaintances with friends of many, many years, mostly Petersens from the Norwegian-Danish Methodist Church in Brooklyn.
We never did get to see the cutting of the cake and throwing of the bouquet. We left the chateau at 10 PM while the party was still in full swing. We arrived home at 1:15 AM... not bad for a 76 year old and his much younger bride.