November 2, 2007

Wedding Season

Category: News — Ira @ 5:05 pm


“An invitation to a wedding invokes more
trouble than a summons to a police court.”
—William Feather

November is here. On Tuesday and Thursday mornings on my way to work, dozens of buggies clog the roads. On the back roads, I have to be careful when cresting a hill, because chances are there will be a horse and buggy traipsing slowly down the other side. And another beyond that one. And another and another. It’s quite annoying, really. And dangerous, too. I mutter to myself. Buggies should be outlawed on the roads. But I don’t mean it. I just like to grumble.


It’s wedding season here in Lancaster County. In Aylmer, where I grew up, weddings were held at any time of year, whenever a young couple decided to tie the knot. But not in Lancaster. Here, almost all weddings are scheduled for a Tuesday or Thursday in November. Tradition, I guess. After the harvest and all that. It was no problem a generation or two ago, when there were fewer Amish here. But now, with well over a hundred districts, dozens and dozens of weddings are squashed into eight days. A logistical nightmare. And the aforementioned clogged roads. It’s gotten so bad that a few weddings even spill into December, perish the thought.

I have attended scores of Amish weddings. Most of my siblings were married Amish. I faintly remember my oldest sister Rosemary’s wedding. I was four or five years old. I recall much commotion about the house, nothing at all of the service itself, and boxes and boxes of hot dogs Dad had bought for the noon meal. Red boxes, with a picture of a chef waving a spatula. Hot dogs were a rare treat, fit for a wedding (in case you’re wondering).

Other than that, I don’t remember many weddings in Aylmer because there weren’t many. For some reason, the church fathers there dictated some very stringent rules on dating. This discouraged dating, I think, and ultimately marriage. At the time we moved from Canada in 1976, when a couple started dating, they could see each other once a month, or every four weeks. Then, when things got really serious (expressions of love, talk of marriage, etc.) and they were “going steady,” they could increase that schedule to one date every two weeks. Love made the days fly, I’m sure. And they had better not get caught sneaking around or even looking at each other between dates. Anyone caught in such verboten activity could expect a prompt visit from the Deacon, a gristled, imposing man. And he wouldn’t be there to chat about the weather, either. At least not for long. Unbelievable. I don’t know if the church fathers thought the end of the world was imminent, and procreation unnecessary, or what. But that’s the way it was. Talk about regressive conservatism. Or maybe just simple oppression would be a better word.

After we moved to Bloomfield, Iowa, we discovered that dating couples there could see each other every week. We felt very liberated. Or at least my siblings did. Within a span of about five or six years, five of them got married in that community.

I took part in many weddings. My favorite job was waiting on tables for the noon meal. As a table waiter, you got to putz around getting ready in the morning and you could leave the wedding service immediately after the vows to go and prepare to serve the meal. All told, a table waiter might have to sit for about half an hour/forty-five minutes as opposed to the full 3 or 4 hours the regular guests had to sit quietly on hard back-less benches.

Being a witness, or “Nava Hocca,” was the least favorite job. The wedding couple had two sets of such attendants with them all day. It was considered the higher honor, to be Nava Hocca, but I can tell you it was vastly more tiresome and boring. More than once, I fell sound asleep sitting straight up with no support to lean against. Try that sometime. It’s hard to do.

The wedding is an all-day affair. The morning service begins at 9 or 9:30. A good preacher can make the time pass relatively unnoticed, but chances are always that the preacher will be boring as chalk on a blackboard. And drone on and on. Few things in life are more irritating than a boring Amish preacher (or any preacher) who likes the sound of his own voice and doesn’t pay attention to the time. And there are plenty such out there. Sometimes the clock seems to sit still, or even go backwards. A dull speaker creates an endless day, and restless guests.

Another major irritant often occurs when the Deacon, whose only job is to read a bit of Scripture, for reasons known only to himself, forgets his calling and decides to deliver an impromptu sermon of his own. Some such have been known to ramble on for up to twenty minutes. Whatever good they might imagine results from their words disap-pears in the hostile gaze of seething listeners whose only wish is that the speaker read the assigned verses and sit down. And shut up.

Everyone is always greatly relieved when Bishop instructs the couple, if they still feel like they did that morning, to tread before him. I have never heard of a couple not feeling like they did that morning: namely, their desire to get married. They rise and walk carefully up to him and stand before him. At this moment, the Nava Hocca stand at attention. This is their official purpose, to “witness” the ceremony. After a prayer, the Bishop administers the vows and places their hands together. Pronounces them man and wife. They return to their seats as such. From that moment until death.

Once we turned sixteen, and joined the youth, or rumspringa, as it’s fashionably called by those who write about the Amish (and think they know something about it), we looked forward to weddings because we could ask a girl to the table for the evening meal and singing. This was not considered a date, and the girls almost never turned down an invitation from any guy. I remember escorting different girls to the table on wedding evenings. It always created a buzz, to see which guy would escort which girl. More than a few married couples today began their relationship at the evening wedding feast of someone else.

Many years ago I attended a friend’s wedding in a large community in another state. I had left the Amish and was in my first year of college. But I was Amish for one day, that day. For the evening meal, the adult single boys each accompanied a girl to the table. I didn’t know any girls present and was among the last to be seated. Only old maids remained, plain dull girls, unattached, unclaimed. I was randomly paired with one from the poor little bedraggled bunch standing there. She came with me and we walked in.

As we passed through the front room of the house, a group of young thuggish pre-sixteen teenage toughs lurked menacingly and made loud mocking comments about the older, obviously dateless girls. I don’t know where their parents were. The young thugs should have been spanked and sent to bed without supper. The old maids, their heads hanging, tried to slink through the gauntlet quietly, ignoring the jeers. One young tough came right up to my companion and got in her face, hooting and laughing loudly.

It was too much. I stepped over, grabbed his shirt collar and lifted him back and told him roughly to leave the girl alone. He was so shocked he whimpered like a scolded puppy. He slunk back to his fellow thugs, rubbing his neck.

The girl and I went in and were seated with the others at the long table. During the meal, I made small conversation with her, but she was very shy and uncomfortable. She spoke softly with downcast eyes. I felt terrible for her.

After the singing was over and it was time to take my leave, I thanked her for her company. I told her I was honored and had enjoyed it. For the first time all night, she looked me full in the eyes.

And she smiled. Naturally. Genuinely.

It was a startling and wondrous transformation. She straightened, her plain, homely face lit up and she glowed with a radiance from deep within. At that instant, for a brief moment, she was herself, the girl she really was. Beautiful, vibrant and alive. She stammered a few words, thanking me.

And then I left. I never saw her again.

I don’t even remember her name.

After a week of rain, much needed but nonetheless dreary, the sun has returned. Along with some cooler fall weather. It finally feels like fall. The last two times I mowed the yard, I thought to myself this is the last time before winter. Now the rain has sprouted the grass again. So it might take one more mowing, unless the frost saves me the bother.

Don’t forget to turn your clocks back this weekend. Or I think it’s this weekend. It should have been last weekend. I am highly irritated at Congress for messing with and changing the daylight savings time schedule. It messes up everything. Just like those fat blowhards in Washington to twiddle with our time, yet. All in the name of saving the environment. Unbelievable hubris. The old system worked well like it was all these years. Leave it alone. While you’re at it, cut my taxes and stop spending my money on your pet pork projects. And start doing something that really matters, like drilling our own oil fields, for crying out loud. Idiots.

On a brighter note, Fred the Curmudgeon, responding to vehment protests and fiery emails from his loyal readers (including one from me), has decided to keep posting his weekly blog. Good things do happen occasionally.

In football, there will be a clash of Titans this Sunday at 4:15 PM. New England at Indianapolis. Two unbeaten teams. I’m hoping Payton and the boys can pull it out, but I’m afraid the wicked Bellichek’s team will prevail. Brady has been on a real tear this year, with some real receivers for a change. He’s on pace to easily break the single-season touchdown record. Put this in your pipe and smoke it, put it in your drink and drink it, take it to the bank and deposit it: The team that wins this Sunday’s game will have home field advantage in the playoffs and WILL win the Super Bowl. Period.



(No Comments)

  1. You bring back all types of Aylmer wedding memories and Sunday evening singings. I am planning to return to Aylmer for one last Sunday evening before I die from old age for I want to see if a single rule has been changed during the last 30 years.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — November 2, 2007 @ 7:32 pm

  2. Ira, Great story. I particularly loved the part where you brought transformation to the face of the ‘old maid’ at the wedding dinner. (Do people actually still use this term?) It proves what the simple showing of respect can accomplish. Thanks for the good reminder.

    Comment by Rhoda Snader — November 2, 2007 @ 10:58 pm

  3. Yep, its a good thing you Waglers moved to Iowa when you did….People always look amazed when I tell them my two bros. just older then me married Steve’s 2 sisters just older then him!!Then you got to be a “waiter” at all our weddings. I strongly doubt you slept while “nava hocking!” Agree with you about speakers who forget to look at the clock!!!

    Comment by wilma wagler — November 2, 2007 @ 11:23 pm

  4. As usual a great piece, Ira, very interesting. In several places, I had to laugh out loud, I knew exactly what and who you were talking of. I can’t wait to see what you will pull out of your box next week. At our wedding you tablewaiters must have dwaddled too long. The bishop was waiting on you to marry us. What a big relief when you all finally came in, smelling like the kitchen. You forgot an important guest at Amish weddings, Tobais.

    Comment by rachel — November 2, 2007 @ 11:53 pm

  5. You forgot the wedding announcement, all the secrets involved up to when the bishop gets up after the service, shuffles his chair and says in a singy tone.

    ”A’hum, ah, it has come to, ah, my attention, er, that ah, ah, that so&so and so&SO desire to walk in the eh-stand, and this all being taken into proper consideration, this will be carried out Thurs. in a week” [all this said in German, of course].

    At this point, all the folk who are in the know have a very smug look on their faces, because they knew it was coming, they’re in for sure. The ones not in the know try to take it, well, as best they can, they realize they are not no.1 with that crowd, but just wait, they’ll get their’s when our Sammie gets hitched next yr.

    I never could figure out how they can do up a wedding in a week & a half..

    Comment by new grampa jess — November 2, 2007 @ 11:53 pm

  6. Your term “regressive conservatism” sounds quite painful. I am happy I had the opportunity to get married in a setting not like this.

    I suspect Uncle Jess is jealous he did not get to have an Amish Bishop anounce and perform his wedding. I also suspect Lynda does not share his jealousy.

    Comment by John Wagler — November 3, 2007 @ 2:01 am

  7. As the daughter of an Amish taxi driver I harbor a real distaste for this season. The weddings in Center Country often started earlier and there were more then just a few into December. This interfered with three important events my birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I remember laboring over the requisite 3rd grade essay “What I did over Thanksgiving break” and trying hard to elaborate on “nothing”. My mom considers her shunning a particular blessing this time of year.

    Comment by Glo — November 3, 2007 @ 8:54 am

  8. Yes, yes, wedding season. We are actually invited to an Amish wedding on Nov 15. (1 of our workers), looking forward to going & enjoying the (roasht). All weddings in Lanc. Co. have the same menu. I usally have no difficulty hob-nobbing w-the men, especially when they discover who my Dad is…….

    Comment by bro steve — November 3, 2007 @ 10:39 am

  9. Amish weddings are a great subject. As youngsters in school, my siblings and I were often envied because of all the weddings. My grandfather (a widower) with his second marriage to a widow lady had a grand total of twenty two children, give or take a few.

    With all these aunts and uncles, I remember one season having four weddings. That meant getting to skip school four times in a few short weeks, along with lots of cake, and all the candy we could stuff in our pockets (when nobody was looking) to show off at school the next day.

    A number of times, my brothers and I got to be (hosla) helping unhitch and tie horses in the barn, which meant if we goofed off with the feeding of the horses long enough, we could skip the early part of the service.

    In the evenings after dark, it was not uncommon for guests to show up that had no invitation, and the hosla always took it upon themselves to be on the lookout. Lots of stories followed (some lies) about what happened if you were not an invited guest. Many a hosla learned things not taught in school, out behind the barn of Amish weddings.

    Keep writing, always looking forward to the next post.

    Comment by Bear — November 3, 2007 @ 11:09 pm

  10. Ira,

    You were at our wedding on 24 October 2003 up in Walkerville, MI. We mixed traditions by blending Old Order River Brethren, Old German Baptist and Old Order Amish. We actually sat in an eck. Having a married Old Order Amish couple as our side sitters (Titus and Ruth Ann) was a change, one because of the church crossover and two because they had been married for 19 years already and had two children. We very much appreciated them doing that. Our cook corps (buffet service so no table waiters) was Old German Baptist, Old Order River Brethren, Old Order Amish and Independent Christian.

    In the borrowed Weslyan church house, we had Old Order River Brethren, Old German Baptist, Dunkard Brethren, Old Order Amish, Whisler Mennonite, Fellowship, independent Christian, Missionary Alliance, Methodist, Roman Catholic, agnostics bordering on atheists and a sign language interpreter signing for Jean. That was a very eclectic mixture. My mother regrets that no one could take pictures during the wedding itself but there are photographs from the reception.

    Comment by Mark Hersch — November 4, 2007 @ 1:14 am

  11. Are you sure about no couples ever changing their mind about getting married? Seems I heard a few urban legends (maybe rural legends would be a better term in this context, chuckle, chuckle) about the bride or groom getting cold feet…. Maybe someone out there knows some specifics?

    Comment by jason yutzy — November 7, 2007 @ 6:38 pm

  12. Jason-

    I have no die-hard evidences about couples getting cold feet. There is one instance in movie/book (I’ve seen both) “Devil’s Playground” where one bride wanted OUT at almost last minute. That is, if I remembered right. I’m pretty sure there are more out there but nobody talks about it… a taboo?

    Just me, Jean

    Comment by Jean Hersch — November 9, 2007 @ 7:07 pm

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