Friday, December 10, 2010

Puttin' on the Ritz (Crackers?) in PA -- Chapter 3

The Parents
I was starving, and thankfully, the cocktail hour was in full force. The wedding party was ushered into a side room, and before I knew it, my groom and I were being whisked away for more pictures. I guess it wasn’t the tradition to give the wedding party any private cocktail hour privileges; they had to go and get their own food. Typically, in NY, where I'm from originally, the room for the wedding party has beverages and a selection of the offerings that are out in the main area for the guests. But, this was a reception procedure that had to be taught. My parents wanted a NY Italian-style reception for us, something not common to Pennsylvania Dutch Country, and that required much effort. I wish we had all been tuned into the following verse of Scripture: “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (Jn 16:33)

I remember in the planning, my parents were not feeling the peace, having to map out every step because this format for a reception dinner was so different from the way wedding receptions were done in Pennsylvania. Most humorous was the “money dance,” which my parents firmly rejected. They would not “sell” their daughter; no, instead I would walk from table to table with a silk bag to collect the money myself – it’s tradition.

Since no one but my family would understand what I was doing, it was going to be interesting to say the least. I could hear the questions: “Why are you carrying that bag on your wrist?” The answer in my head seemed so wrong: “So that you can give me money in a card.” I tried a few different versions and finally settled on: “If you had a card for us, I would have somewhere to put it.” Most people brought gifts which we were supposed to have a table at the ready in the foyer on which they could be placed. The only table was the one containing the seating chart and place cards (More on this in a moment).

Back to the reception: We were taking pictures, pictures and more pictures. It was getting harder to smile because my stomach was now audible in three states. We kept trying to get someone’s attention (particularly the photographer to make him stop) to go and get us something to eat and drink. Eventually, I believe my dad came to check on us, and he made sure that everyone, to include me, had a sampling of the cocktail hour offerings. I have to admit, although there was very little in the way of pampering for the wedding party going on, the food was excellent -- a real gastronomic highlight.

My mother was in constant, “here’s what you do next” mode as she tried to direct the band through the proper procedure for a NY reception:
1. Ring the bell for dinner
2. Have everyone go to their assigned table (this was an issue)
3. Announce wedding party
4. Announce Bride & Groom & their first dance
5. Invite everyone to join them
6. Dance with Father of the Bride
7. Dance with Aunt of the Groom (his mom is deceased)
8. Ask everyone to take their seats for the Best Man’s Toast.
9. Serve Dinner…etc.

It seemed fairly simple and straight forward, this is protocol after all. But, not when it's foreign to you; the fine folk of Pennsylvania have a completely different protocol. None of what I just outlined happens in a PA wedding reception until the after the meal is served. It threw everything and everyone off. The dinners were coming out and we were dancing, the band was announcing things that weren’t happening (money dance), my mother was composed, but irritated for sure. She just wanted to have a nice time and enjoy the evening. I think she felt more like she was on the payroll for the affair rather than the Mother of the Bride. And, then there were the pictures…more pictures…pictures, pictures, pictures.

We made our way off of the dance floor to take our seats at the head table. The Officer’s Club was beautiful and truly made for a lovely venue. But, we noticed some people wondering what to do when it came time to take their seats. The place cards had been carefully written and displayed in the lobby. Unfortunately, I believe they became buried by the gifts! Everyone should have had an assigned seat. Except for those who decided, instead of asking where they belonged, to take the band’s table in the back leaving a two of our guests without any table companions as a result.

I was so embarrassed. I tried to rectify the situation so that the couple wouldn’t feel so conspicuous -- but, go try to tell people who had settled into their seats and begun eating that they had to move. So, this poor couple had to eat dinner with the band – I’m sure the members were nice, but it wasn’t exactly the impression that I wished to leave with my good friends and former roommate’s parents. They were representing their daughters who couldn't come to the wedding. It was truly mortifying.

I still remember the sick feeling in my stomach when I couldn’t get those other folks to see reason and move their seats. That would become a standard in my life – working on swallowing my pride. I was being pruned in discretion and humility that evening, and each opportunity for grace was like having a huge branch removed! Isn’t God wonderful how he prepares the worker gradually in ways they can’t immediately recognize? I see it in hindsight.

The Cake Shoving, I mean Slicing Ceremony
The evening progressed and the band was on step #322 on the list: Cut the Cake. And, we did, but they were not prepared for what my mom expected.

“Play the music,” my mom said.

“What music?” the band leader asked.

“Oh come on, now. The music: [singing to the tune of three blind mice] The bride cuts the cake, the bride cuts the cake…” scolded my mother.

They were clueless! My mom was not happy. But, even without the music, we managed to cut the cake, offer each other a piece with smiles, and calm the mother and the band down after the fact. In retrospect, we should have done that money dance.

The merriment continued, and finally, it was time for him to sing the Pershing Rifles Fraternity song with his fraternity brothers. Oh, thank God -- I was exhausted and my nerves were frazzled. So, the Fordham Men of Company D-8 rose to the occasion and gave it their all. What I didn’t expect was to be foisted in the center of a competition. My sorority, the Women of Alpha Sigma Tau’s Zeta Chapter, not only raised their voices, but their attitudes, to out sing the men. And do you know what happened?  More pictures!

Just to balance things and be fair, there were many wonderful pieces of that evening that must be remembered:

• The dance with my Dad
• My Mom’s diligence in making the evening just perfect…thanks Mom!
• My little niece singing “Doe a Deer” with the band…
This was too cute, and she's going to be really angry with me for this photo!
• My brother-in-law giving a touching champagne toast…
• My sister, sister-in-law and the rest of my bridal party looked
    amazing (we never had one fitting together for the gowns! They did
    an awesome job making it work from different time zones)...
• The outstanding food...
• The fun that we had once the photographer lightened up!

But, even with that list of wonderful things as a bolster, one thing a new wife could never be prepared for is the “pants-ing” of her new husband by his fraternity brothers in front of her parents. Yes, in what seems to be another little known tradition and an extension of the Twilight Zone, his pants ended up torn off of him and somehow became an ornamental fixture on the awning to the entrance of the Officer’s Club. (Apparently, they were on display the following morning for all the guests who came back to have brunch! [Imagine another mortified look here]) Oh boy, that’ll be one to share with the grandchildren.

After finding him new pants to wear, and both of us being very eager to be on our way, we said our good-byes and got into the car to head to our hotel. The story should stop right there, leaving you with a knowing smile on your face…but no, there’s much, much, more that happens before that “knowing smile” can occur.

And so, the story continues…gear up for what happens next!


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