The first wedding I went to was my cousin’s back in the early 1960’s when I was about 5 years old. My family was seated in the church balcony where I had a bird’s eye view of this new and spectacular event for me. The church was bright from the strong sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows. Below me was a sea of lovely women’s hats in every summer color.
I liked everything about weddings from the pomp of the ceremony to the pretty dresses to eating cake and exploring the nooks and crannies of the church with the other kid-guests during the reception.
Neither the ultra formal Cathedral wedding or the casual hippie wedding were a part of our world in small town Minnesota. We were hard working, middle class folks who didn’t seek etiquette books or even imagine trying something new. We had our own unwritten rules for milestone ceremonies. Every wedding was pretty much the same. Each one beautiful yet predicable.
I remember most weddings were in June on a Saturday afternoon. Weddings were always at a church, Baptist or Lutheran for us. Inside the foyer, a young girl wearing a corsage, would stand by a white guest book. My dad would sign for our family. Ushers dressed in rented tuxes wearing dyed carnation boutonnieres, gave each guest a program that looked a lot like the Sunday bulletin. Guests never seated themselves. The ladies, wearing hats and gloves, would take the arm of the usher. The husband and the children in their Sunday best, would follow. The bride’s guests were seated on the left side of the church and the groom’s on the right. I’d scout out the crowd for familiar faces to play with later.
The front of the sanctuary would have flowers or greenery and sometimes long white candles in a candle stand. The prelude music was played on the organ. Hymns, classical music and a few low key secular love songs were played. When the mother of the bride was escorted to a seat in the front pew, you knew the wedding had begun. The pastor, groomsmen and the groom entered from a side room off the front of the church. They stood in a line facing the guests. The pastor took his place front and center. Two ushers rolled out a long white runner from the alter to the back of the church.
Guests would turn their necks to see the young, fresh faced bridesmaids each take their turn to walk very slowly down the white aisle. The silhouettes were a simple design, and there was never bare shoulders in the sanctuary. Sometimes they wore netted micro-mini veils in their stiff hair sprayed hair, to match their dress. They often wore gloves. I dreamed of being a bridesmaid and in later years would have the chance four times.
When the maid of honor took her place up front, the organist would bring up the volume and go into “Here Comes The Bride”. A flower girl and a ring bearer would briefly upstage the wedding party, as they made their way to the front of the church. Guests would stand as the bride and her father entered the sanctuary for their slow journey. My heart pounded when I watched the lovely bride in her glorious gown. The white dress made a swishing noise when she walked. Brides wore a white, floor length dress maybe with a short train. Small crown headpieces held layers of light, billowy veiling that covered her face. The groom and his men were handsome yet appeared uncomfortable in the rented tuxes.
When reaching the front of the church, the father would lift his daughter’s veil just enough and give her a kiss on the cheek. He’d take a seat next to her mother and the entire wedding party would turn to face the minister. He would ask “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” to which her father would say “Her mother and I”.
The reading of the scripture, a sermon on marriage, prayer, the vows, the rings and a soloist all took under an hour, hopefully. The final of the ceremony was when the couple was pronounced man and wife. They would exchange a polite kiss. They’d face the guests as the pastor introduced them and Mr. and Mrs. The organist would go into an upbeat song as the bride and groom walked briskly back down the aisle.
The bride and groom, their parents and the wedding party lined up in the very back of the sanctuary or out in the vestibule to greet guests. I’d go through the line with my parents to be certain that I got an up close look at the main attraction from head to toe. I could study the bride’s hair, makeup, nails, diamond ring and dress in 10 seconds flat, a natural ability all little girls have. I wasn’t shy to tell her that I thought her dress was pretty.
The guests continued to the basement of the church for the reception. Decorations were scaled way back from what we see today. White streamers of softly twisted crepe paper would give a party feel. Jonah and Moses cut-outs graced the bulletin boards used for children’s Sunday School. The miniature tables and chairs were piled neatly in a corner. The guest tables had white tablecloths with a flower in a vase as the centerpieces. Chairs were the cold-looking metal folding chairs that were used for any function in the basement be it a funeral or a wedding. Guests sipped on 7up-sherbet punch and visited with one another.
Women looked over at the opened wedding gifts that were on display. During the ceremony, the gift takers had been opening gifts for all to see. It would be a while before the food was served because once the wedding party had received the guests, they returned to the sanctuary to take professional wedding pictures. Since the bride and groom didn’t see each the day of the wedding, the wedding party pictures had to be sandwiched in between the ceremony and the reception . When the bride and groom finally made it downstairs they’d pose for the photographer as they fed each other a sliver of cake. Us kids hoping one of them would smash the cake into their new spouses’s face.
A usual menu would include, ham salad on tiny white buns, a fruit salad, ring macaroni chicken salad, sliced sweet pickles, olives, mixed nuts, homemade butter mints and white wedding cake. A plastic bell or wedding couple placed on top. Coffee and punch was served by aunts or neighbor ladies. Women on the church serving committee worked in the kitchen. Many times a square slice of vanilla ice cream with a pink shape of a bell in the center was served. The were no toasts or roasts. There was no music, just the sound of happy folks visiting. Young girls with baskets would hand out tiny wrapped groom’s cake for the guests to take home and put under their pillow.
As soon as we could, us kids left the basement to play on the church lawn. Ignoring the fact that we were wearing our best clothes, we did cartwheels and played statue. We’d snoop around the church looking for back doors that took us to a maze of hallways. We’d go into the sanctuary to have mock wedding and if the microphone had been left on, well better yet to put on a performance. Some church sound systems went through the entire building including the basement where reception was. There’s nothing like a group 5 year old girls singing “He’s So Fine” and telling knock-knock jokes over the visiting guests. In that case, an adult would kick us back outside.
Word would spread when the bride was about to toss her bouquet to all the single gals and throw her garter to the single men. After this, the new couple was often the first to leave the event. Guests would follow them to the outside steps. There the groom’s car waited. It was decorated with tin cans and ‘Just Married’ on the back window, all work of the groomsmen. As the bride and groom rushed to their car, guests threw rice. The wedding party and some guests followed in their cars while honking their horns. The groom would take them on a winding drive taking several laps up and down main street. It was still early evening by now and townsfolk didn’t complain. Everyone in town would read the wedding details in the local paper in a few weeks.
It was just a part of a summer Saturday evening to hear horns honking.
Back at the church, the kitchen ladies were cleaning up and the parents of the couple were loading gifts into the cars. The church decorations had to come down and the janitor started to vacuum, after all, Sunday morning church service was in the morning. When the bride and groom ditched their car-honking friends, they’d stay in another town on their wedding night where nobody knew the location.
My playmates and I said goodbye and I’d climbed into the back seat of our blue green Dodge, (with no seat belts), for the ride home.
My mom and dad reviewed who they’d talked to, and any new news among their friends and I of coarse was thinking about the beautiful dresses worn by the pretty bride and her lovely maids and also thinking about how I was going to explain the grass stains on my white tights to my mom.