By Una Howell (USA - circa 1880)
Chapter 35 - The Wedding
Copyright Scott Dunbar 2010
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“How the memory cuts away the years and how clean the picture comes of autumn days brisk and busy,”
busy with preparations for a wedding on Hallowe’en. It was an incongruous date for a marriage. Almost as ironic as April Fool’s day in its implications. But Lilly had said she would be married in October, and every hour was conscripted.
Those were gala days. Our family was determined to make the wedding as happy a memory for Lilly as possible. Father gave her a check for six hundred dollars and she and Mother went to St. Louis to buy the trousseau. Lingerie departments were unfounded then and Mrs. Ackley had shed her fragrance over the spare bedroom for weeks, turning out corset covers and billowing petticoats. There had to be a dozen of everything (so Mrs. Grundy said) all painfully tight and sure to be unwearable with the advent of the first baby.
Three weeks before the exciting day, Mary and I harnessed old Dock to the family surrey and drove all over town, delivering the wedding invitations. A Negro flunkey with white gloves bore a silver tray to each door and personally proffered the polite summons. I haven’t any idea where we secured this emissary. He was probably some business firm’s errand boy dolled up for the occasion. After the news of the coming event was thus broadcast, Lilly was sealed in the house as effectively as a nun taking the veil. From her point of view it would have been more accurate to say that we had caged a wild bird. She was so gay we were obliged to put curtains on the carriage and sneak her out heavily veiled for fittings or for a bit of fresh air. The Emily Post of the period would have condemned her to social ostracism for such a display of indecency had she been seen. Yet she was barely twenty-one.
Because our house was not large, in order to allow the guests to see the ceremony, the first floor had to be cleared of furniture.
“We can use Papa’s and my room for a supper room. The back stairs are convenient to it and best of all it’s large enough.”
“The dining table can be carried up the stairs easily.”
“I hope it will be cool enough for a fire in the fireplace,”
“There’s something about an open fire that’s so cheering.”
“If we use your room for supper where will the presents be?”
“The spare room, wouldn’t you think?”
“We could have an open fire in the grate and there’s space for a big table. The other two bedrooms could be used for guests.”
With these important questions settled, Lilly and Mother went on to the matter of decorations. Our friends the Geigers were eager to have a part in the preparations. Their two sisters lived in Kansas City, and they wrote them to consult caterers and send on suggestions for up-to-date decorations, menus and service. This wedding business was a serious affair.
We were a busy household at all times now and callers dropped in at all hours. Lilly had very definite ideas as to whom she wanted at her wedding. She selected three former pupils and me to be her bridesmaids and her closest friend served her as maid of honor. For days our house was in a state of upheaval but everyone was happy. Lilly was the top executive who passed on everything. Old Dock was kept hitched most of the time and I carried notes back and forth as regularly as a special delivery carrier between the groom and Lilly. Occasionally Ben would break away from the routine of business to consult with his ladylove and we would unexpectedly walk in on a love scene.
Wedding presents, arriving daily, were my prize thrill. When the great day dawned and the leading jeweler in town sent an employee who was a friend of Lilly’s to arrange the gifts for display, I almost burst a blood vessel. My feet barely touched earth at the haul Lilly had made. I decided that marriage could be profitable providing you found the right person to share it with you. I immediately took tally of the stock at hand. I knew a number of boys from families approved by my own and I considered the assets of each. There seemed to be a hitch with every one. Will Jones had curly eyelashes that made him look effeminate. Selden Brooks had red hair so he was out. Charles Bangs was bashful which disqualified him and Will McGowan I just didn’t like. Those were the particular boys that liked me and I was thumbs down on every one of them. I finally decided to let the matter ride for a few years. After all, I was only thirteen.
October happened to be our wet month that year and rain fell steadily for a week. On the eventful day it turned to gloomy sogginess that was depressing rather than cleansing. The kitchen alone cheered. Its savory odors pervaded the rooms teasingly and when I could stand them no longer, some obliging soul would give me a taste of icing, pickles or the neck of a chicken.
All day Lilly flew around in work regalia, her hair done up in curl papers. Mother tried to shoo her away from the kitchen.
“Lilly, please go and lie down. You won’t look a bit pretty when you are tired and your feet ache.”
“I will, Mommy, as soon as I do a few more things. What a day to pick for a wedding, water, water, everywhere!”
Lilly stopped to look out the window as a bobbing umbrella turned in at the gate.
The doorbell had become the harbinger of something nice to me ever since the invitations to Lilly’s wedding had been out. I rushed from upstairs to see if another gift had arrived. But it was one of Lilly’s friends who couldn’t come to the wedding because of a sick mother. She wanted to see the house decorations and the presents, so Lilly and she went on an inspection tour and I tagged along.
It’s always a wonderful thing; I think what pride does to a family at such a time. Everyone wants to put his best foot forward and hopes that people will believe that they live everyday on the same high social and financial level that prevails when a party is staged. I’ve always liked the frankness of the woman who in telling about a wedding in her family several months after it occurred said,
“We women looked our best and the men so ‘tony’ in their tails, and we’ve most of the bills paid.”
Bills in our household were like forked-tailed devils running around, scaring everyone into subterfuges. So much help in the kitchen, the black-faced waiters, and the flowers and food were certain to cut into the family serenity beginning with tomorrow, each of us knew. The one bright spot was Brother, who was to be at home till after the weekend. So far, Father seemed glad to have him around.
The house looked grand, I thought, when the last touches were added. The florist brought a white chrysanthemum bell, which he hung in front of the double windows in the parlor where the ceremony was to take place. Green smilax climbed over the mantle and trailed over the lace curtains. Potted palms softened harsh outlines and I remember thinking that all we lacked to give it a rich tropical splendor was oleander trees such as Tim Brady’s saloon and the meat market displayed.
“I hope this rain don’t mean that Miss Lilly and Mr. Ben’s goin’ to have a sad life,”
Judy, one of the darkies in the kitchen, commented,
“But I don’t like it, I tell you, I don’t like it,”
and she gave the oven door a quick jerk. Lilly appeared in the door just in time to hear the gloomy speculations about her future.
“Pshaw, Judy, I’m not afraid. I thought Mama was going to die when she was forty because some superstitious person told me she would, and now she’s fifty and better than she’s ever been,”
“I hope you’re right Miss Lilly. I sure do.”
Judy shook her head ominously.
“Want to see my bouquet and the maid of honor’s?”
Lilly asked as everyone crowded around she opened the package. The flowers had been shipped in from St. Louis. Lilly’s was all white, stiff little buds, dozens of them set with the rigid white lace paper outside. Formal and tailored in style but quite perfect. The maid of honor’s was identical in pink.
My, Miss Lilly, you shore will make a lovely bride,”
Judy sucking in her breath as she gazed at the bouquet.
“I’m more anxious to make a good wife, Judy,”
Lilly said and she tucked the box of flowers in the corner of the cool cellar stairs and took her way up the back flight to finish her packing.
The tension of excitement increased as it began to get dark and the street lamps were reflected in the puddles and gutters. Nature seemed to be aware that the coming climax called for something special from her and she finished off with an electrical display that shook the calm of the hardiest. Carriages arrived and disgorged their passengers “in lightning and in rain.” We had a carriage drive from the street to the stable but no sheltered porte cochere, and Negroes were stationed to shield the ladies costumes as they dashed up the steps.
A wedding is one function at which guests are prompt. When all the guests were safely indoors, the music started. We had a string ensemble for the occasion, and Dr. Winston, who had received Lilly into the church, was the clergyman. Our staircase had two landings and made an effective setting for the party.
The men all wore conventional Prince Alberts, Father had sprung a surprise by having his beard shaved off and it made a big difference in his appearance. He looked so kind of bobby that we didn’t like it at all.
Since I was one of the bridesmaids I couldn’t see the bride as she descended the stairs. Anyway, my whole picture of her is light struck. She was so in love with Ben that that is all that I remember. Her radiance vied with the lightning that played over her figure like a spotlight, to fix it in our minds. Lilly’s dress was a sheer white silk crepe very much shirred and extremely simple in line. The neck was slightly low and finished off with a full Bertha of wide Duchesse lace. For some reason Lilly didn’t want a wedding ring. A wide band was in style and she voted it down.
“Everybody has a ring and a veil so I think I’d rather not have either. A veil is utterly useless afterward and I’m satisfied to merely wear my engagement ring.”
Lilly was nothing if not original.
I have sometimes wondered how Dr. Winston modified the service. I didn’t think of it at the time. If Lilly didn’t want a wedding ring it was all right with me for I was sure she had the last word on everything. Everything she did was of super importance to me and I intended to copy her as far as possible. I had no expectation of ever reaching her heights but I intended to do my best toward achieving that goal
As soon as the ceremony was over and the congratulations had ended I followed the bride and groom to the supper-room to watch her stab the cake. I remember nothing about the table. I recall a boxed cake and that we had the inevitable concomitant of all bridal functions, chicken salad and its usual accessories. The novelty new to Springfield, was individual serving trays which gave comfort to the lapless and saved many a suit from the clutches of cleaning.
The storm continued all evening with electrical displays. The bridal pair was to leave for Chicago by train and I can still hear Mother begging them not to go out in the storm.
“Couldn’t you wait over and take the train tomorrow morning? The storm is so bad.”
“Oh, by the time we get to the train it will probably be all over,”
Lilly comforted her, while Ben looked on with amused silence.
“Take good care of her, Ben,”
Mother continued as if he needed to be persuaded.
As I kissed her goodbye, admiring her travelling outfit of London smoke broadcloth with a silk matelassee wrap fastened with copper clasps at the waist and throat, I was sure that any couturier in the land would choose her for a model. Naturally not even a picture of her was printed in the paper; nice people didn’t do such vulgar things. It was just another wedding to most people but not to me. We were losing a most important member of our circle. Home would never be the same. There were compensations, however. When Lilly returned, I could help her settle a house, and her clothes were lovely.
As the two dashed to their carriage in a shower of rice and rain, the official bridal coach with white horses was missing. The best man’s carriage was there however, so they popped into it and were driven to the depot. When the driver of the deluxe conveyance finally put in an appearance, he refused to permit the best man to seat the maid of honor in his carriage.
“No sah, I’se drivin’ the bride and groom. I’m sorry sah, but this carriage is fo’ the bride and you all can’t get in it.”
“But the bride and groom are gone. You weren’t here so they had to take my carriage,”
the Best Man insisted. The rain was wet and the gentleman assisted his lady into the vehicle and closed the door on the unhappy coachman.
I slept with my wedding cake under my pillow, night after night, until it was hard as a brick. I was much too healthy and slept far to soundly to catch a glimpse of my future husband, and finally I gave up the quest. I knew well enough that my family would have to make so momentous a decision anyway. In the meantime there was always music to cushion me through the days of gloom that were sure to follow Lilly’s departure.
Cymric Strain, by Una Howell (USA - circa 1880)
Chapter 1 - Introduction
Chapter 2 - Father
Chapter 3 - Dartmouth
Chapter 4 - Killolog
Chapter 5 - America
Chapter 6 - Arrival
Chapter 7 - Gracious Living
Chapter 8 - I Am Born
Chapter 9 - My Name
Chapter 10 - Neighbors
Chapter 11 - The Cyclone
Chapter 12 - The Old Cemetary
Chapter 13 - Music
Chapter 14 - Religion
Chapter 15 - The Circuit
Chapter 16 - Hero No. 1
Chapter 17 - Pageantry
Chapter 18 - Mommy
Chapter 19 - Mental Quirks
Chapter 20 - Decoration
Chapter 21 - Domestic Animals
Chapter 22 - Episode
Chapter 23 - Barn Life
Chapter 24 - Vanities
Chapter 25 - Happy Hollow
Chapter 26 - New Horizons
Chapter 27 - Disciplines
Chapter 28 - An Experimenter
Chapter 29 - Health
Chapter 30 - Murder
Chapter 31 - Misunderstandings
Chapter 32 - Charm
Chapter 33 - Problems
Chapter 34 -Coming Events, Etc.
Chapter 35 - The Wedding
Chapter 36 - At Home
Chapter 37 - Cross Currents
Chapter 38 - A Baby
Chapter 39 - Dr. Winston
Chapter 40 - The Visitor
Chapter 41 - Buffetings
Chapter 42 - Agenda
Chapter 43 - David
Chapter 44 - Exit