Monday, September 04, 2017

A Tale of Two Weddings

The wedding of my parents was a relatively simple affair.

My father's Air National Guard unit had been activated, and he was heading off to join the occupation forces in Germany. But about a week before he shipped out, he married Mom. When I was a boy, I would ask him where they went on their honeymoon. He said he was still on it. Only years later did I learn, that it too was rather scaled-down as well.

IMAGE: The wedding of Dorothy Rosselot to Paul Alexander, with their attendants, Margery Rosselot and Raymond Alexander, St Patrick Church, Fayetteville, Ohio, June 1952.

That was sixty-five years ago this past summer.

Closer to the present, it was just thirty-five years ago today, that I was treated to the most fun I have ever had at a wedding -- believe it or not, my own.

The day was picked out well in advance using The Old Farmer's Almanac, and we got the sunny and mild weather that was predicted. It was meticulously planned to the last detail, with invitations personally silk-screened by the groom, and addressed by hand in calligraphy. As it was a daytime wedding, the groom and his attendants wore morning coats. God forbid they appear in black tie before six in the evening. There were little more than a hundred people in attendance, making the little church just over half full. The choir from the parish in Georgetown where I sang was present, singing Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus and Duruflé's Ubi Caritas in Latin, as the Divine Liturgy was chanted throughout in English and Slavonic. We exchanged custom-designed rings, each bearing a simulation of the wreathed crowns that we wore as the Gospel was proclaimed.

IMAGE: A scene from the author's first marriage, Epiphany Byzantine Catholic Church, Annandale, Virginia, September 1982.

The reception was held at the old Evans Farm Inn in McLean, Virginia. (A luxury townhouse neighborhood now stands in its place, for reasons that defy all good sense.) Papa was a rough-edged steel mill foreman from Cleveland, who dropped out of school in the ninth grade when his father died, leaving him to support the family. By this time retired, he would accept nothing less than a show of his generosity. And so, the bridal couple's choice of chicken cordon bleu for dinner was abandoned in favor of prime rib, and the event is, to this day, the only wedding I have ever attended, with an open bar.

You read that right. Open, as in, all you can drink without falling down.

We had an old-fashioned square dance. Obviously the amplification did not blow the doors off the place, so people of all ages could relax and hear themselves think. Indeed, it was a central tenet of the couple's plans, that everyone of all ages and stations in life would feel comfortable at the event. Even the priest stayed for dinner. (They don't always, usually for reasons stated above.) As for the then-happy couple, they were last seen at ten o'clock in the evening, dancing with "Doc" Botzer on the piano, doing the Salty Dog Rag.

VIDEO: Dancing to Red Foley's 1952 hit song, "The Salty Dog Rag" has been a Dartmouth College tradition since 1972, where it is taught to freshman during orientation. Don't ask me why.

The total cost of the 1982 event was roughly four thousand dollars, an expense shared between the bride's parents, the groom's parents, and the couple themselves (with descending percentages of the share in that order). Using the consumer price index, this amount would translate in 2017 to just over ten thousand dollars. The average cost of a wedding in the United States is presently estimated at just over twenty-seven thousand dollars.

The bride's sister later said that the wedding was not only excruciatingly correct, but was one where everyone was made to feel at home. The marriage was a complete disaster, but the event that started it, in this writer's estimation, is a model for all the world to follow.

The marriage lasted just under ten years. After twenty-five years, if I tell a devout Catholic that I've been divorced all this time, they'll go "Awww" and tell me how sorry they are. I state here for the record that, first, she left me, and second, after a quarter of a century I'm not sorry anymore.

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It is the observation of this writer, generally speaking, that there are only six kinds of people for whom a Catholic wedding in this day and age, especially in North America, is suited in terms of feeling at home.

1) The bride and groom (we can only hope),

2) The bridal party, as the event revolves around them, if to a lesser degree than the couple,

3) The families of the bride and groom,

4) Single young men and women of marriageable age, as such events tend to inspire them to follow suit,

5) Other married couples, for whom this occasion is to welcome the newlyweds to their mutual state in life, and finally

6) Two or more women in a group, if only to talk about what everyone else is wearing.

IMAGE: The author plays his great-uncle's 1916 Stewart banjo with the band. Fiddler-pianist Dennis "Doc" Botzer is to his left. Opposite is the renowned dance caller Louis Shapiro.

Now that may appear to cover a lot, but you may notice the absence of two categories.

One of them is celibate clergy. Priests who officiate at weddings are often invited to the reception, but they usually leave as the party is getting started. Such events as these are not the most comfortable for those who choose the celibate life, and after some years of taking the cloth, they develop an aversion to very loud music, (I'm a musician by avocation, and even I don't get the idea of cranking up the volume.)

The other is divorced or unmarried people of middle age, especially men, especially when unaccompanied. The best dancer among them will be turned down, either by many a married woman for whom this is not her husband or close friend, or an unmarried and eligible woman who does not see her unborn children in his eyes. (See item 4.) Of course, it is ill-mannnered to presume to bring a guest who is not invited by the bridal couple. It is certainly not for relationships that are less than serious, and publicly so. The guest must receive a separate invitation, or the invitation may be addressed to the invitee "and Guest."

IMAGE: In an old Eastern European custom, the bride relinquishes her veil for the babushka, signifying her entry into womanhood. Note the bridesmaids' dresses (from Garfinkles), in a style which they would be most likely to wear again.

A few years ago, one of the best friends I ever made in this God-forsaken city after more than three decades, married a young woman who is just right for him. I had occasion to meet her and her mother for brunch after Mass. The groom has also met Sal, and we have both been to his house. Our association was no secret, and he had no cause for that association as a source of scandal. So when I received the invitation, I was taken aback that it was addressed to me alone. Now, Sal is a woman of a rather high degree of breeding, born and raised in the Philippines to be well-versed in old world Spanish manners. If she was insulted by the exclusion (and she was), then she had a reason.

Nevertheless, it was the prerogative of the happy couple to decide that which was in their interest, and one should take pains here to lay stress. Mine was to decline the invitation, send them a very nice gift, and wish for them nothing but the best. He and I are still friends, but it's not the same.

Harry Truman was right about this town. If I had a much bigger place, I'd get a dog.