I believe I can speak on the subject of the '50's wedding with some degree of knowledge if not expertise – at least as it occurred in my small, rural home town. I was a child in the '50s, but oh! – one of my favorite things was a wedding. I had a bride doll and wedding paper dolls. (I can't find the doll but still have the paper dolls on display in the vintage sewing room.) There were lots of weddings – my parents put on three themselves – and it was a time when many of their friends were also putting on weddings.
The format of the wedding was always the same -- that was the point. You've probably heard that we were sheep in that age. My mother had her copy of the wedding bible authored by Emily Post, and whether she was hosting a wedding or attending as a guest, she always – always – consulted Emily Post on the proper protocol. When I could read, I began to study the wedding bible myself. Fascinating! In the weddings section were all kinds of instructions, including diagrams of how the wedding party should move down the aisle.
So anyway, you would receive your engraved, double-enveloped invitation. You might note some deviation in card stock and type face but that was about it. Oh, I was thrilled if my name appeared on the envelope, and I was allowed to go only if specifically invited, as stated in the wedding bible. I was positive not everyone knew that rule; they really meant for me to come, I was certain, but didn't realize the omission of my name would cause me to be left out. I knew that some folks didn't follow the wedding bible like my mother did, but Mother followed the wedding bible strictly. I remember only two occasions when she took me when I wasn't invited – once because the wedding in question was in Lewiston and she couldn't leave me behind, and once when my dad couldn't go and she didn't want to go alone. (By the way, I still have a soft spot in my heart for children at weddings. I will tolerate that.)
Because the wedding was a church event and the wedding party would be beautifully dressed, we honored that by also wearing our best – and our hats and gloves. We arrived at the church in a timely manner 10 or 15 minutes before the appointed hour and sat quietly while someone played the organ, watching the aisle as other guests were seated. When things were rather quiet, that's when I would strain to see what was happening at the back of the church. The seating of the mother of the groom and then the mother of the bride signaled that we could expect to see the bridal procession soon. Oh the anticipation! And we knew these people – that's why we were there. We knew the bride's family and perhaps also the groom's family. And we knew most of the other guests. That's one reason it was such fun to go. After what seemed an eternity of waiting, the organist (either Beulah Shields or Joanne Hutchinson) struck that wonderful chord and the first of the attendants started down the aisle – oh so slowly. Oh what pretty gowns! And we watched carefully – we strained to see all the attendants. The number of attendants was an indication of how fancy this event was. There weren't a lot of ways in which to make a statement, but the number of attendants was one of those ways. Were the attendants all dressed alike? Were the gowns all the same color? Is there a flower girl? Now from whatever point in the wedding march, the organist makes a dramatic pause and again strikes a chord for attention. The bride's mother stands – or everyone else stands, taking the bride's mother by surprise. "Here comes the bride" on the arm of her father. Oh, we haven't seen such a pretty dress since the last wedding!
It was difficult to sit through the ceremony – the worst part of the whole event. Mother would feed me LifeSavers to keep me from fidgeting. But eventually the ceremony would come to its happy conclusion and the wedding party that moved in so slowly and solemnly would exit so quickly. Hopefully no one would trip. And row by row the guests would be dismissed to the reception, which was more than usually in the church basement. My parents hosted the receptions for my sisters at our house, and I remember going to the Ted Walrath home when Margot was married. But most receptions were at the church. You mingled with other guests and visited about the wedding and other topics of general interest. At some point a receiving line would be organized so that you could greet the attendants, tell the mother of the bride how wonderful everything looked, and wish the happy couple well. "Kathy was so pleased that you included her on your guest list," my mother would say. "Oh yes! we're so glad Kathy could come," the bride's mother would reply. It seemed a long time until they cut the cake, but eventually it would be my turn to choose a piece of cake and other treats off the table. Often there would be groom's cake – usually a little bit of fruitcake wrapped in foil and then netting and tied with ribbon. If you were unmarried, you could slip that little piece of cake under your pillow and dream of the one you would marry – or so folklore has it.
The wedding was usually a Saturday afternoon event – sometimes Friday night. I never heard of a wedding event that involved dinner or dancing and we didn't expect that. And if these families were attempting to out-do one another, I wasn't aware of that. There may have been some sense of competition, I suppose, but I think for most families it was about doing the standard thing for your daughter. What made it special was that it was this young woman's turn to be the bride, her family's turn to do for her – her turn to be feted, her turn to wear the beautiful gown, her turn to be surrounded by her friends in dresses she chose. Her marriage might be blessed or unblessed, but no matter what the future would bring, this was her day. And while this type of event may have strained the family budget a bit, I think it was doable for most families. KW