A young woman who is soon to be married was asking friends to share memories of their weddings. I sat back and listened with interest, noting how much such things had changed in the fifty years since my own nuptials. An enormous amount of time and money goes into the planning of today’s marriage galas. They are often so complex that it’s little wonder that some women turn into bridezillas. Things were so much simpler back in my day.
I actually went to work at Elliot Elementary School on the day of my wedding. It was a seven in the evening affair so I saw no reason to take time from my job. I would have four hours between the end of my work day and the time when I needed to walk down the aisle which seemed to be more than sufficient for getting ready. I don’t recall being especially nervous as I followed my usual routines with the students. In fact I suspect that working kept me centered and less prone to bouts of anxiety.
I had done all of the planning with my mother and together we created an event rather typical of the times. I found a dress on sale that was quite lovely. If I remember right it cost just a bit less than a hundred dollars which still seemed like a fortune to me. I enlisted the florist who did a majority of the weddings at my church and he promised to do a glorious job using white roses for me and red ones for my bridesmaids. He designed a beautiful white creation for the altar and great flowers for the moms and all of the men. I had every confidence that his work would be lovely and he came through with perfection.
My photographer was a member of our church who also did a great deal of work for special occasions. He had even done the photos for my graduation from high school. He was a nice man who understood the monetary restrictions under which me and my mother worked and he gave us an exceptional deal on his services.
I held my reception in the Parish Hall as was customary with the majority of my friends. A lady from the church made the cakes and included punch and coffee in her offer. My mom wanted just a bit more for our guests so we also purchased some lovely tea sandwiches from another neighborhood woman and to our delight they would end up being the hit of the evening.
Mrs. McKenna, the mother of one of my bridesmaids sang in her beautiful soprano voice and a young man who was a master of the trumpet played in cadence with the organist as I walked down the aisle. The music would not have been better if we had hired folks from Houston Grand Opera and the Houston Symphony. Best of all, back then the charge for singers and musicians was minimal.
After working at school on the appointed day I went straight to the hairdresser who washed and styled my hair and then attached my veil so that it looked right. I traveled home with time to spare and gathered my dress, shoes and such. Then my mom and I drove straight to the church. I wasn’t in the habit of wearing makeup back then so I didn’t even think to goop up my face for the occasion. I was soapy clean with only the complexion that nature provided on my beaming countenance.
A nice lady who worked with the photographer helped me and my bridesmaids to put on our dresses. She fluffed my veil and made sure that the train on my gown was well presented. Then I grabbed my brother Michael’s arm and floated down to aisle with my gaze set firmly on my soon to be husband Mike. I still remember all of the smiling faces demonstrating their love as I made that long trip to Mike’s side.
The rest of what happened is enshrouded in a bit of a fog. I was exceptionally pleased with the music, especially Mrs. McKenna’s singing of Ave Maria. The homily was profound with its message of hope in the face of the turmoil of 1968. It had been a tough year for the country and most of us were reeling from assassinations, protests and the war. The priest rightly noted that the exchange of vows until death was a leap of faith in such conditions. His words resonated with me and kept me going whenever difficulties arose over the next five decades.
After mass we convened in the Parish Hall with our guests and greeted them one by one with a traditional receiving line. We cut the cake and took silly photos feeding the sweet morsels to each other, threw the bridal bouquet to the single girls, and then had the usual ceremony with the blue garter that I wore on my leg. I have no idea who caught the cherished items but I hope that they one day found happiness with a loving partner like I did.
We left in a car decorated with tin cans streaming from the rear bumper and lots of shaving cream announcing our nuptials. Our destination was Hobby Airport which was only minutes away. Our cousins Alan and Susan followed us to the plane and the stewardesses were kind enough to allow Susan to come onboard to take photos of us just before we flew away to New Orleans. It would be the first time I had ever flown and I felt like a kid on a rollercoaster as the wheels left the tarmac.
We stayed in the Crescent City for the weekend enjoying accommodations at the Monteleone Hotel which was being remodeled at the time. We ate breakfast at Brennan’s and beignet at Cafe du Monde. We devoured the traditional muffulettas at the Central Grocery and sampled pralines at Aunt Sally’s. Mike’s uncle gave us the gift of an evening at the Blue Room in the Roosevelt Hotel were we enjoyed dinner and a show with a surprisingly wonderful performance by Fran Jeffries, an entertainer who was unknown to me. Of course we sipped on hurricane’s and feasted on gumbo. We fell in love with the patio at Broussard’s where we laughed at a salute to Napoleon. We rode the streetcar to Loyola University where Mike showed me his old dorm room and the places where he spent time as a student. We purchased gifts for our parents in the quaint shops and walked up and down the French Quarter on some of the loveliest autumn days that I have ever seen in New Orleans. When we left on Monday we had under a dollar left in our pockets but memories that would make us smile for all the years to come.
We both went back to school and work immediately. We would very soon be facing some very adult challenges that we somehow overcame in spite of our immaturity and lack of experience. We became a team and found ways to laugh even when we wanted to cry. We’d never forget how much fun we had with our very simple wedding that to me still seems the best of any I’ve ever experienced. We didn’t break the bank or send ourselves into gales of anxiety back then. Instead it was all about our promises to each other and the support of the people that we loved. That was all that we needed, and it was very good.