At the last minute, with an unfortunate combination of bad news and gratuitous drama, the divorced father was unable to attend his daughter's wedding.
Who hasn't heard a version of that story? It's always something with these broken families, as we love to call them. As if every intact family were not a collection of negotiated crevices and mended cracks. These fairy tales about marriage run deep.
This is where it gets complicated. This particular wedding would be watched by nearly 30 million people in America alone, and the bride was about to become not princess for a day but a princess for real.
We could work up only the most temporary bout of sympathy in light of that, even if her father's heart — the health of it, understand — was at issue. After all we've been through lately, this is the love story we wanted. So we agreed to pretend it's not ridiculous in 2018 to have worried, for even a moment, about who would walk a 36-year-old woman down the aisle.
Part One of the happy ending, totally nailed.
The bride's fans heaved a collective sigh of relief and turned their concern to one of America's favorite objects of curiosity: the single mother. In this case, she was the single mother of the bride.
Doria Ragland was alone — oh, no! — and a different shade of proud in a sea of pale faces. Surely, strangers speculated, she was girding herself for the swell of pity. Her arm would not be hinged to a man, any man. How would she do it?
She's been divorced since 1987, so she's had some practice at this. She's her daughter's hero, too, but that didn't seem to stem the wave of social media memes lamenting her condition. As if single motherhood were a disease — or at least a chronic case of an incurable something.
Finally, Lesle Honore, a single mother of three in Chicago, stepped in, writing a poem that quickly went viral after she shared it on Facebook.
She had watched Ragland, who was dressed in that pretty mint green, smiling and waving as she sat next to her daughter, Meghan Markle, on their way to Windsor Castle. Honore's single-mother pride bubbled up.
"It's not always sad and somber," Honore told Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich. "Sometimes it's a celebration of having made it. You stand there by yourself, and you know you're not completely alone.
"You stand shoulder to shoulder with other women — and men too. When your kids are successful, you get to revel in that, but when there are missteps, there's no one to pass the baton to. You are the disciplinarian and the nurturer. You do it to the best of your abilities, knowing there will be failures. Watching Doria, I saw all that."
Her poem began:
For the Dorias of the world
Who will sit alone
At graduations and weddings
At baseball games and school plays
At proms and award ceremonies
Who will carry the load
For just a little while, Doria Ragland was that strong, bright light for every single mother who has ever wondered how this will all turn out.
But let's not get too caught up in that limiting vision of her as the proud and dignified mother. She's so much more than that. Markle gave us a glimpse in her glorious 2014 blog post about her mother, titled "Love Letter":
"Dreadlocks. Nose ring. Yoga instructor. Social worker. Free spirit. Lover of potato chips & lemon tarts. And if the DJ cues Al Green's soul classic 'Call Me,' just forget it. She will swivel her hips into the sweetest little dance you've ever seen, swaying her head and snapping her fingers to the beat like she's been dancing since the womb. And you will smile. You won't be able to help it. You will look at her and you will feel joy. I'm talking about my mom."
Save your pity, dear strangers.
Happy ending, complete.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.