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Despite It All: They Do

Wedding, Plan B, Take 2

Cindy Gabriel
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Barry and Ailee Tomasetti

FIRST A PANDEMIC, THEN A FLOOD Despite it all, Barry and Ailee Tomasetti celebrate beneath a 9-foot line marking where Hurricane Ida remnants threatened a third wedding attempt. (Photo: Aubrey Montgomery, Brey Photo LLC)

This is the story of two weddings, one marriage, a pandemic, and a hurricane. It’s a swirl of a story that a blackboard and chalk would aid in the telling, a 2020 nuptial theme reflected in the bride’s vows to my nephew, Barry Tomasetti, a year and a half after Wedding: Take 1.

“If the world falls apart, I can’t think of anyone I would rather be with than you.” – Ailee Levesque Tomasetti.

It was Wedding: Take 2, Plan B, in the Brandywine River Valley area of Pennsylvania, an event I was honored to attend, though it looked doubtful at times. The date, Sept. 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of 9/11, no less – the most open date for a caterer – though not, thankfully, the couple’s actual anniversary date.

Wedding: Take 1, April 4, 2020, was simple and small, in front of that same Brandywine River. I wasn’t there, but my sister, Linda Tomasetti, said it was a heart-grabber – just a river, a grazing flock of wild geese, a minister, and immediate family. With the final “I do,” the geese took off across the river, as if on cue; summoning tears to the eyes of a small flock of humans peering above facemasks.

Wedding: Take 2, Plan A was optimistically reset for August 2020, four months later at Morris Arboretum, in the heart of Philadelphia. But alas, it would be Covid-cancelled a second time as the couple’s first anniversary came and went.

Ailee is the youngest of three children and was the last to refuse the offer to get married on the family’s Brandywine River Valley campgrounds, initially. “It just felt like getting married in my own backyard,” she said. I guess living in a forest rolling down to a sparkling river valley every day of your childhood can seem a tad ho-hum.

Back in 1991, in a move that now looks ahead of the times, her parents, Gary and Lori Levesque, gave up their corporate careers, sold their large St. Louis, Missouri, home, and bought a 21-acre KOA camping franchise near Philadelphia in the Chester County town of Coatesville. Their first son, Ryan, was 2 at the time. “Gary and I saw it as an opportunity to work together as a family venture,” said Lori.

This is not your basic KOA campground on the side of the road. It’s a destination, with organized off-site tours, putt-putt golf, lodging, and space for RVs and tents. As the kids grew, they took on jobs at the camp. Ailee life-guarded and helped with arts and crafts. Brother Ryan worked the grounds, and sister Cara took on the reservations/gift/convenience store. 

In the present day, time was ticking. With the couple's second anniversary looming, Ailee warmed to the “backyard” ceremony idea. The September 11th date was set, and the “Let’s Try This Again” invitations arrived.

But there was one more hitch. Remember Ida? That hurricane that missed us, picking on poor Louisiana before stretching up to Philadelphia? It made a bullseye hit on the KOA campground. The morning of Sept. 1, 10 days before Wedding: Take 2, Plan B, nine feet of water spilled over the river banks right where the wedding tent would be, with two washed-out bridges leading to the grounds. Fortunately, the water went down quickly. Detours were planned and wood chips were spread, just in time for our arrival.

Seeing my nephew Barry, Jr., the first of my sister’s three scholarship-prone, football-playing, math-wiz boys, raised so far away, evoked my own sense of water under a bridge. I had missed his transition to adult. Now he cocks his head to the side and smiles like his father. He was quarterback of his high school and college football teams, but I never saw him play. I missed his graduation from that small but hard engineering school at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Indiana.

It was fun hearing his groomsmen rib him with stories of his reputation for spilling things. It was also fun seeing Ailee’s Instagram post later of Barry spilling a cup of iced coffee while boarding the plane for their honeymoon.

His mom, Linda Tomasetti, is my younger sister by nine years. Our mother died before her boys were born. In Mom’s absence, I felt like a junior mother/aunt who was failing at my job of knowing and appreciating her brood of boys. Now at this Wedding, Take 2, Plan B, my own tears also felt somehow our Mom’s, on her behalf, sensing her pride in the engaging, comfortable person Barry had become.

Something about this wedding-not-wedding felt right. Here’s how Barry put it. “The first time we hoped it would work. Now we feel like we know it will.” Mom would have liked hearing that.

It’s easy to see a world going wrong. It’s more work to notice a new authenticity emerging in the detours, when old bridges wash out, along with preconceived ideas. There’s more than one way to get where life wants to take you. Here’s to hoping that as the world falls apart, it is, also, in some way, falling into place.

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