‘Gen. O’Meara’ arrives at Philly wedding HQ to take command

Try as she might, Molly O’Meara couldn’t really sustain the pretense that Suzanne Levy’s crazy wedding calendar was spoiling some glorious, sacred O’Meara family traditions for Christmas day.

For Molly and Mike and their three boys, Christmas Eve had always been the heart of the holiday.

Part 2 of 10

The story so far: Rachel Levy and Aaron O’Meara are getting married.  Both families are happy about that. The bone of contention was the wedding date. The O’Meara side had doubts about the Levys’ plan to hold the event Christmas weekend in Philadelphia.

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Try as she might, Molly O’Meara couldn’t really sustain the pretense that Suzanne Levy’s crazy wedding calendar was spoiling some glorious, sacred O’Meara family traditions for Christmas day.

For Molly and Mike and their three boys, Christmas Eve had always been the heart of the holiday.  

On Dec. 24 each year, her boisterous men played two-on-two football (Mike and Aaron vs. Trip and Sean) until dusk fell on their big backyard in Brecksville, outside Cleveland. Inside, Molly cooked the big pork roast with the roasted potatoes, and baked her cherry pies.  

The boys would rumble into the house, muddy, stomping snow from their feet, and be hustled into baths or showers.   Magically, Santa would slip in to leave his annual deliveries while they were upstairs getting cleaned up. This tradition continued long after Aaron, the youngest, had dropped any pretense of believing in St. Nick.

Once they were presentable, Molly made her men eat dinner first. (The aroma of roast pork had power to seduce them away from even the delicious mystery of wrapped presents). Then came the riot of ripped paper, tossed bows, yelps of joy and peals of laughter.   Later, once the boys settled down into bed, Molly and Mike would share a bottle of white wine, and give each other their gifts.

For the O’Mearas, Christmas was a lazy, sleep-late-as-you-can day. No Mass; Mike had been done with The Church from the moment he’d marched out of Cathedral Latin high school for the last time and enlisted to go to Vietnam. At 3, everyone trooped into the car, with moans and whines, to head for the big, formal, coat-and-tie Christmas dinner at Aunt Bridget’s pseudo-castle in Shaker Heights.

“Michael O’Meara, how in the name of all that’s holy did you come out of the same house as that social climbing, self-involved yammermouth?” Molly would ask in the darkened car as they drove home Christmas night, the three boys a snoring tangle of arms and legs in the back seat.

“Now, Mol, it’s the birthday of Christ, our Lord and Savior, so could ya kindly keep a civil tongue in your mouth for at least another hour?” Mike would reply, trying to contain his smile. “Bridget is my very own blood, now, isn’t she, and on this holy day I won’t have you calling her a yammering old idiot – no matter how accurate that may be.”

So, Molly had to admit, in her heart of hearts, the odd wedding date chosen by the Levys did have one considerable payoff: sparing her from another Christmas dinner at Bridget’s.

In the end, that is why, after a brief fuss to uphold her reputation for iron will, she gave in with a speed and grace that astonished her boy Aaron.

3 p.m. Dec. 25

And, that is how it came to pass that around mid-day on Christmas (after a flight which turned out to have fares so economical that Mike O’Meara – a CPA to whom saved money sang like the Sirens to Odysseus – could not stop exclaiming over them) the O’Mearas’ cab from Philly airport pulled up to the Omni Hotel in Old City.

The Omni would be the O’Mearas’ HQ for the weekend, with Molly playing the role of George Patton.   She’d written out index cards for all her men, with the tasks and duties she expected them to handle over the next 24 hours laid out in crisp chronological order.   She would have command of the nuptial bridge through the rehearsal dinner that night, plus the out-of-town guests’ brunch the next morning, at which point she’d turn the con over to Suzanne.

The mother-of-the-bride’s graciousness in letting Molly call some of the shots had been matched only by Suzanne’s ferocious competence in planning her part of the deal, the ceremony and reception, both at the Downtown Club.

“Whatever, Mom,” had become Rachel’s mantra.

Rachel had not been a Knot.com kind of super-bride, fussing over the aesthetics and grace notes of her big day. Rachel had a tough, 32-kid third grade to manage that semester, and that left her only enough energy to plan their honeymoon trip and to hunt for a new apartment with Aaron. She’d been glad to leave the other details to her mom, who, in turn, found herself surprisingly glad to have, in Molly O’Meara, a partner as detail-obsessed as she.

Bubbe weighs in

Suzanne had also been relieved to discover that the interfaith marriage was a much bigger deal on the Levy side than the O’Mearas – who were content to have the Levys’ Reform rabbi do the honors at the wedding.

Things were a little trickier with Bubbe Peskin, Suzanne’s tiny, talkative, 80-year-old mother – who’d never had much of a filter on her tongue when young and had absolutely none now.

When Bubbe had first met Aaron, this was her verdict: “A lovely boy. Very polite, and so handsome. And, ooh, such muscles.”

Of course, back then, based on his first name, she’d thought Aaron was Jewish.

Aaron was named after his dad’s best friend from Vietnam – “Finest man I’ve ever known” – who’d not made it back from their time “in country.”

When Bubbe finally twigged to Aaron’s Irishness, she told her granddaughter,

“That’s OK; with him, you’ll practice.”

Then, after Rachel, trembling with nerves, told her Bubbe that she intended to marry Aaron, Esther Peskin had said, “I thought I told you just to practice.’”

But that had been the last barbed opinion she’d issued on the matter. When she saw Aaron these days, Bubbe Peskin once again fawned over him: “Such a lovely boy,”

On that point, Bubbe and Molly were in complete agreement.

Molly’s lovely boy was getting married, and Molly intended for it to be a perfect pageant, wintry weather be damned.

The general reviews strategy

The O’Mearas’ plane had bumped its way through a layer of leaden clouds on its descent into Philly; as they bustled into the lobby off Chestnut Street, the scent of snow was in the air, but the sidewalks were still dry.

No sooner had Mike lugged their two big suitcases into their hotel room and laboriously lifted them onto the little canvas stools, Molly barked at him: “Mickey, turn on the Weather Channel; we need the updated forecast. Where’s my bag with the master agenda?”

Mike fixed her with a pained stare: “Mol, for crying out loud, let a body get his shoes off, will you? Whatever happened to: Wear beige, smile, and keep your mouth shut.”

Mike had been valiantly repeating that First Commandment for the mother of the groom as often as he could over the last 12 months, trying to keep his wife’s fierce need to command in check.

“I’ll tell you who’s mouth will be shut, wired shut to hold up his broken jaw, if you don’t turn on that TV and get me a weather report,” Molly replied.

Then, alarmed at her own vehemence, she shot her husband a sweet, pretty-please smile.

Condition White!

For 35 years on, Mike O’Meara – hard-headed man of numbers – had been an utter sucker for Molly Duffy’s smile. He hunted up the remote. On the TV, some odd little man in a big bowtie and glasses was giving the weather report on a Philly station – if by giving a report you meant having a foam-at-the-mouth conniption fit in public:

“Get ready for Condition White, people. The Doppler shows the first heavyweight storm of the season is bearing down on the Delaware Valley, ready to hit us with a big wallop the day after Christmas and beyond.   We’re looking at least 10-15 inches in the city, with bigger accumulations in the western suburbs and Delaware. And winds could be up to 30 miles an hour with temps in the 20s; that means wind chills in sub-zero range and near-blizzard conditions.   So Santa’s bringing us a whopper of a storm for Christmas, so get to the stores now to stock up on supplies. Stay tuned with us for full team reports from all over the region …”

“I knew it. I knew it . I knew it.” Molly was somewhere between distraught and triumphant.   “Mickey, help me find my phone list.   People are going to have to move up their travel plans; if they try to get to Philly tomorrow, they might not make it in.”

“Mol, it’s Christmas Day. People have a few other things to do today.   Anyway, it probably won’t be that bad. You know how these TV stations hype the winter weather; it’ll probably just be a dusting. Philadelphians! Wusses. Just wusses about snow. Let them panic. ‘Lake effect’ veterans like us, we can handle a little snow.”

“Michael O’Meara, dig my phone list out of that bag, now. Then get out that fancy iPhone of yours and start dialing; you take your side of the family, and I’ll take mine and the Gallaghers, the Bontempos, the Wrights and the Potsics. We have to warn them what’s coming.”

“Mol ….”

“Do it, or I’ll throw a shoe at you. You know I will. And I’ve brought some very pointy heels to this wedding. Very, very pointy.”

“OK, OK. Let me see here … Oh, there you are, you little bugger. OK, here’s your list, Mol. Let me just do one thing first, and I’ll get calling.”

Mike O’Meara gave a tug to the handle of the room’s little fridge; he peered inside and pulled out a little bottle of Jameson. With an air of sacred ceremony, he dropped four cubes of ice in a glass (exactly four), slowly poured amber over the glistening cubes and settled into an armchair.

“Now,” he said. “Let me disturb ol’ Bridget’s dinner preparations.”

Part 3 – “How Rachel and Aaron got together – and how Pete never gets it together” – will appear on Newsworks.org tomorrow morning. To see earlier parts, go to the Whiteout Christmas archive page.
Radio play: Listen to a dramatization of “Whiteout Christmas” on WHYY-FM this holiday weekend. The radio play, with Tony Auth, Chris Satullo and WHYY staffers acting up a storm, will air on 90.9 FM at 8 p.m. Friday, 1 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Christmas Day.

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