I’ve never been a fan of the traditional Washington wedding. Too often, it’s all about the projection of wealth and power (real or imagined), in which the bride and groom basically become lesser actors in an over-the-top opera. It all can be strangely impersonal and surprisingly soulless.
That is not the sort of wedding I grew up with. Where I come from, a wedding often is a celebration in the best sense — a seriously fun get-together of families old and new. That’s even more true in the many tiny farm communities that dot the countryside near my home town. These towns typically have one (Catholic) church, a convenience store, a feed store, a bar and not much else — and when there is a wedding, the whole area comes together and joins in on the good times.
When I was a young adult, small-town weddings were an important source of entertainment. The celebration lasted all day and well into the night, and even if you didn’t know the freshly married couple, you could go to the nighttime wedding dance at the church hall if you sort of maybe kind of knew a relative of the bride or groom. The events started about mid-day and ended about midnight, and the whole town came and went to various events in shifts, and there was eating and drinking and dancing and flirting and joy and drama for hours on end.
I hadn’t been to one of these weddings for at least 25 years — until last weekend. That’s when my nephew/godson and his new bride threw their wedding in St. Elizabeth, a pretty little town of 250 or so people in central Missouri.
How little is St. Elizabeth? By Missouri standards, it’s mighty small and fairly isolated. You need to drive about 40 miles to hit a population center that breaks into four digits. Take a look:
On the day of the wedding, I showed up at 11 a.m. with some family members, helped set up the church hall and an outdoor pavilion, and then went to the wedding Mass at 1. The church had more plaster saints per square inch than any church this side of Rome, and the church hall had a kitchen that would put a lot of restaurants to shame — a sign of its role in the community.
There was the Mass, and an informal sort of reception-ish gathering at the pavilion on the nicest October day I can ever remember, and then the entire wedding party went on a hayride:
At 5, everyone had dinner — fried chicken and roast beef — and there was more celebrating. Some townspeople drifted in and out and had dinner — and they were most welcome and expected.
We all knocked down and put away a bunch of tables in the reception hall, giving us room for the dance that began at 8. The same DJ has played at three family weddings in the last few years, and he’s starting to feel a bit like family himself now.
Some younger people came in from the countryside for the dance, and everyone did the Chicken Dance and the Electric Slide and the Synchronized Team Gator (a family staple that modesty prevents me from showing here). The bride’s twin brothers had to dance to ‘Footloose’ — in a carefully cleaned hog trough. My oldest nephew — who’s well into his 30s now — broke it down to some Vanilla Ice. Some of my Minnesota relatives on my mother’s side, who I rarely see and don’t know nearly as well as I should, came down only a few months after they visited for another nephew’s wedding. We talked and laughed and danced and had a few drinks, and some folks had more than a few drinks, and a limo-bus hauled a crowd of people back to Jefferson City so the drinking and driving were kept separated.
And I felt reconnected — not just to my family, but to my roots. More importantly, the whole area celebrated the union of this new couple and felt connected to them. That’s what weddings should be about.
Update 10-13: Oh, all right: