In the history of long wedding days, my mom and dad’s has to be near the top. They got married at St. Killian’s Catholic Church in Blenker, Wisconsin at 9 am on a Wednesday morning, September 1, 1948. After the mass, Mom and Dad and wedding party drove twenty miles to Stevens Point for a formal portrait taken at Tucker’s Studio.
Then they drove back to Mom’s sister Ida’s farm for a wedding breakfast with their 200 or so guests. Later in the day, there was a wedding dinner put on by Weinfurter aunts, roly-poly ladies who apparently liked to cook for crowds. My dad paid for the meat, and Ida and her husband, Ed—who were my dad’s neighbors on the farm when he was a boy and surely had a hand in my parents getting together—put on the rest of the meal.
Finally, there was a wedding dance from 8 pm to midnight at Lang’s Ballroom, on the same dance floor where my dad wooed my mom when she was just a girl. Lang’s was where her older brothers worked as bartenders or bouncers, and they let in my mom and her sisters, even though they weren’t eighteen.
Recently my sister, Juliann, came home to stay with Dad for a few days. She has two 20-something daughters getting married sometime next year. I tell Juliann my plans to host an engagement party for her oldest. I say that I won’t call it a “shower,” because it’s co-ed.
Dad often sits with his daughters when we talk at his kitchen table or on the livingroom couch. He just listens, I’m sure learned behavior from years of Mom dominating conversations or from decades of all seven of us women talking at once.
Today as I tell Juliann about my menu for the co-ed shower, Dad interrupts me : “Your ma and I had a shower at Lang’s Ballroom. A big meal. And a dance.”
“Wow,” I say. “That’s something.” I love it when he tells a story he’s never told—like someone breaking into song at a bus depot. I stop everything and listen closely.
“Ya, so time came to open all these presents and someone had given us this old pot.” This is how his stories go. He launches in with wonderful details that make me think You had this story inside your head my whole frickin’ life, and you never told me before? Then he pauses to get the right word.
“Ah, not a pot. But one you pee in, you know: in the house?”
“A commode,” Juliann says. I don’t want to tease her about going uptown. I won’t break my dad’s story-telling rhythm.
He says, “More like a bucket we used on the farm to pee in, inside when it was cold outside. So anyway, someone put yellow Jello inside the bucket and a weiner in the middle.”
I crack up laughing. “Like a hot dog?” I ask. It was 1948 in rural Wisconsin, so it could have been an animal penis left over after the slaughter.
“Ya,” he says. “A hotdog-type weiner. People thought it was funny. I just thought it was gross.”
Juliann and I laugh and laugh. I have never heard him use that word, gross. What’s next? Awesome?
He says that a month later they returned to Lang’s Ballroom for their wedding dance. Wally Ives and the Jolly Dutchmen played all night. Just a month or two ago my dad printed out Wally’s obituary from one of the online newspapers he reads from Marshfield or Stevens Point. He followed Wally’s musical career his whole life. Who knew he was famous? In fact, you can hear Wally on Youtube singing “Milwaukee Waltz,” which is really a polka, complete with a band member whooping between accordion beats: “ . . . the beer flows like wine . . . the band she sounds fine doing the Milwaukee Waltz. . . .The people are happy, the band even more. . . .By the end of the evening we can’t find the door.” Pretty raucous for my parent’s wedding dance, but it’s fun for me to imagine.
Just four and a half years after my parent’s wedding, in January, 1953, Wally and his band were listed in BillBoard Magazine for their Mercury Records singles “Schtinker Waltz” and “Oody’s Polka.” Even when my dad tells the story now, I can see the twinkle in his eye. Wally Ives played at Dad’s wedding dance before Wally got famous. I know what this twinkle means: I’m guessing Wally’s price went up substantially after his first record out of Chicago, but Joe See got a deal.
But here’s what I really want to know. What did my mom think of that weiner wedged in a solid yellow Jello mold at her bridal shower? She had turned eighteen in the spring. A woman, technically. Did she turn away and blush at the chamber pot, at the hot-dog-as penis? Did she giggle into her hand and secretly think it was gross like my dad had said? Did the gift givers—surely some of her older brothers or a gang of my dad’s railroad roughneck friends—get the response they wanted: a rise out of this young beauty who had to unwrap a gifted fake penis in a slop bucket . . . in front of a hundred guests?
And I wonder, too, about the flutter of my parent’s hearts on that exhausting fifteen-hour wedding day sixty-four years ago.
Earlier this June my husband and I threw a wedding dance to celebrate with family and friends. We eloped last January and planned a summer celebration when all of our adult children could attend. Since our dance was 7 to 11 pm, it would have been difficult to bring my mom, even in a wheelchair. I wore my mom’s wedding dress, and though I was so, so sad she couldn’t be there, I felt her with me. What a kick she would have gotten out of her nearly 64-year-old dress paired with my new little red velvet boots. I always miss her most when I experience something I know she’d love, too.
At our dance, on a warm June night at the village golf course, for much of the evening my dad sat at one table and friends and relatives approached him to talk. Many of our colleagues and old friends of course came to celebrate with my husband and me, but they were most interested in my dad. One after another went up to him to say, “You’re Patti’s dad? I’ve been waiting to meet you.” My husband and I may have been the wedding couple, but my dad stole the show.
A wedding guest who knew Dad when he first moved to Chippewa Falls and now is a dear neighbor to us—a woman who experienced firsthand the history of the land and lake we live on—nudged Dad and said, “You’re responsible for all of this.” Helen waved her hand in the direction of my parent’s children and grandchildren and great grandchildren milling around or busting a move out on the dance floor. “You and Virgie started all of this.”
“Ya,” Dad said, between bites of cocktail wieners and Swedish meatballs. “I guess we did.”