It was her brother who gave her the nickname. Kevin was all of 3, doing battle with words that wouldn’t wrap around his tongue quite right, including his older sister’s name. Consequently, Lauren came out Nonen. He became Kebbin, as in:
Kebbin, Kebbin, bo-bebbin, banana fanna fo-febbin, me-my mo-mebbin… Kebbin!
And boy, did we sing that song as Aunt Jan drove the kidlets around in her car, the too-funny kids who stood in for the ones I didn’t have, the too-smart-for-Aunt-Jan kids who pounced on the occasional bad word and fined her a quarter for each one. I never heard those kids swear until they were in college, which, I used to joke, Kevin must’ve partly financed with quarters he got from me.
And look at those decades swinging by us in a whoosh, so that this summer on my birthday, it’ll have been 31 years since my sister and brother-in-law gave me the best present ever: Lauren Michelle Just, the eighth grade teacher-now bride-now wife. I was 29 when she was born; I’ll be 60 on our birthday this year. Almost three years later Kevin arrived with a full head of blond hair (his sister’s head resembled a cue ball for the longest time) and a grin that melted us all the first time he flashed it… even if, as his Uncle Cliff said, it probably was just gas.
Speaking of… this was the kid who, as a little guy sitting in the back seat of my car, would holler, “GAS!” and hit the button for the window to roll down, Lauren next to him waving her hand at the stink coming out of her brother, who’d laugh like a hyena as Lauren protested with big-sister vehemence: “Kev-INNNNNN!”
They have amazing parents who did, as far as I can tell, most everything right with their kids, but honestly, Lauren did her best to civilize Kevin and turn him into a respectable brother and eventually a very fine man. (She showed her “leadership qualities” early.) It killed us when Kevin could finally pronounce his l’s and r’s, though, and even more so when his sweet boy voice dropped in puberty.
What I remember most about them as little kids was that they made me laugh a lot. It was hard to stay annoyed with them, even when they were trying to annoy me, because in the next minute they were cracking me up. And they knew it; they knew they had Aunt Jan wrapped around their little fingers… all their little fingers. They still do, but they have grown into kind, responsible grownups, both of them teachers like their dad, Eric, a high school art teacher—Lauren, an eighth grade English and history teacher, and Kevin, a middle school music teacher (band, orchestra, choir and guitar).
I am not in the least bit biased when I say that they are extraordinary humans in every way.
OK. Maybe a teensy bit biased. Which is why, at Lauren’s wedding on June 23, the hottest day of the year so far, it was all I could do not to blubber as she walked down the aisle on her father’s arm and the lines of “Sunrise Sunset” played in my head:
Is this the little boy at play?
I don’t remember growing older,
When did they?
When did he grow to be so tall?
Wasn’t it yesterday
Look at these two—Lauren and her new husband, Gerald Giel. They’ve been a couple for a decade, starting their relationship about the time Lauren came to live with me in Sacramento and go to Sac State. Gerald came with her, and they were inseparable. Now they’re both teachers (Gerald teaches mechanics at a specialized trade school in Sacramento) who live in Lincoln with their three cats. They are two of the kindest people I know.
At this point I was glad that I had fished out clean tissues from my bag for my sister to tuck in her dress because she knew she was going to need it, and if she needed one, I’d probably need three. We both needed those tissues.
Some of my favorite photographic moments came before the wedding, like this one of Lauren with her grandmother, my mom, Darlene Haag. I know that she was thinking of my dad, the late Roger Haag, who was undoubtedly there in spirit, as was my late husband, Cliff. Grandma has been a huge supporter of Lauren and Kevin in every way, contributing, among other things, to the completion of their teaching credentialing programs. Because she’s that kind of grandma. (Yay, Mom!)
This might be my favorite photo from the whole day. Donna and I had the great good fortune to have two older girl cousins, Dee and Pat, who in turn each had two children of their own. This is Lauren with Charlotte, Dee’s granddaughter, who happily stepped up as flower girl. Charlotte is 7, a smart, good reader, and she did a great job at the altar, even holding a bouquet at the side of her best buddy, Ashley, the maid of honor.
Ashley, by the way, will marry the boy we used to call Kebbin (I still do sometimes) next year in June. (That’s Ashley on the far right.) She’s already a cherished part of the family, but we will be most pleased to have her in it officially.
Dick, who has been my partner for more than 20 years now, has known Lauren and Kevin since they were small, and he has become Uncle Dick to them, as he is with his own niece and nephews.
Lauren and Gerald’s is the first wedding in their generation in our family, and I have to say, it was a fine occasion—beautifully planned and executed on the hottest day of the summer so far. But don’t these people look cool anyway?
Gerald’s family and old friends also turned out for the big occasion. And it was wonderful that the Southern Californians (cousin Dee in red, her daughter Marryn next to her and Marryn’s husband Jerome) came up for the big event, along with Dee’s second daughter Robyn, her husband Johnny and flower girl Charlotte. But also, in the second row, there’s the Bay area contingent—my cousin Pat’s family—from left, her son Stephen, then Pat and her daughter Suzie and husband Jeremy.
My mother’s father, James E. Keeley, used to say, “Each generation improves the breed,” and I have to say, especially looking at my sister’s and brother-in-law’s kids, that’s true. I can hear my dad saying to Donna and Eric, “Ya done good,” and especially applauding Eric’s superb specimen of a 1956 Chevy, which was the departure vehicle for the newlyweds. (Eric loaned it to Johnny and Robyn when they got married nine years ago, too, making them the coolest bride and groom in Tahoe that day.)
Yep, it was a classic, 100+-degree Sacramento valley day for Lauren and Gerald’s wedding, but the fans on every chair helped. And I sat there moistly with tissue and dabbed at my eyes as the little girl we used to call Nonen began her life as a grownup married lady. “Aunt Jan is so proud!” I used to tell the kids when they performed in the choir and the band or did some other commendable thing.
Aunt Jan is still so proud and wishes Lauren and Gerald a most happily ever after.