Wedding in the Wilds (from my memoirs)

As small family weddings in remote places go, it was absolutely perfect. Picture a beautiful June day, a lovely little chapel in a scenic valley next to a rushing river, and a blushing bride with her nervous groom, ready to step into their future. Our oldest daughter, Mimi, and her husband-to-be, Howard, were the leading characters.

To complete the scene there was a misty eyed mom (that would be me), a beaming dad (my husband Lynn), a fluttery sister and a fluttery best friend as bridesmaid and maid of honor, and a proud young brother and brother-in-law-to-be in their roles as usher and best man. A very likeable family of new in-laws, a pair of pleased grandparents, mischievous uncles to decorate the getaway car and doting aunts with helping hands filled in the picture. All these plus a bubbly 7 month old baby girl added to the fun. A pleasant young minister with a sense of humor was the final touch.

Yes, the wedding was a delight. The preliminaries and the aftermath, not so much.

The happy bride-to-be, our oldest daughter Mimi, was 800 miles away that spring, too busy being engaged, graduating from college and nailing that all important first job to worry about wedding plans. Once she and her equally busy guy settled on a date, the rest was turned over to me.

“It’s all good, Mom. Whatever you want to do is fine with us. Just keep it simple.”

That was all this old do-it-yourselfer needed to hear and I leaped into action. Lists first of all, lots of lists. Living as we did in eastern Idaho, 54 miles from everywhere, planning was all important. Invitations, the DRESS, the rest of the attire, the food, the flowers, the cake, photos, just some of the dozens of details to be worked out. The venue was simple, the lovely little chapel was just down the road from us and was quickly reserved. A treasured piece of creamy white raw silk brought back from the Orient on one of Lynn’s trips was just waiting to become a wedding dress. I sent off a sample invitation, a snippet of the silk and a dress design  for the bride’s approval. Her answer came back, “Sure, Mom, all fine.”

Invitations went out.  24 acceptances came back. Looking around our modest little 3 bedroom home, we shook our heads. The first and oldest motel in history may have been in Central California, but surely the 2nd oldest was just down the road, right there in Swan Valley, with maybe a total of 6 or 8 rooms, all shabby. We sent our expected guests lists of accommodations in Jackson, Wyoming, 50 miles east and in Idaho Falls, Idaho, 54 miles west, the best we could do. They came anyway.

The weeks flew by. I sewed, I shopped, I cooked, filling the cupboards and my new copper colored freezer-fridge with everything I could think of. I sewed some more, I shopped some more, I cooked a whole lot more. Soon 4 new dresses and 3 headpieces were hanging, ready for the event. Thanking my lucky stars for the A-line dresses then in style, I guessed at approximate sizes. With daughter Kerry at hand, I knew she and I would fit into our finery, and last minute alterations could be done on the other 2 dresses if necessary. Miraculously they were perfect fits.

With time growing short, our neighbors all took an intense interest in the proceedings. We were living in a small government camp of 24 houses at the time so our situation was quite a diversion. A friend’s mother came out from the city to visit her. Being employed at a bakery in town, she gave me a very welcome lesson in making icing roses. I soon had a tray full of creamy roses tucked into the freezer for the finishing touches on the cake layers I had wrapped and waiting.

There were a few glitches. Snow filled the cups of the spring tulips 3 days before the wedding. Not to worry, this was Idaho, weather changes fast. And it did; the tulips weren’t even damaged. The day before the wedding Lynn and I had to make a last minute run into Idaho Falls to pick up the flowers, fresh grocery items and such, leaving all 24 guests plus the baby to do some sightseeing, which they seemed happy to do. We provided local maps and directions, and eastern Idaho at an elevation of 6,000 feet provided the scenery.

Lynn pulled a hilarious faux pas that started the festivities off in the right mood when the car loaded with our bride, groom and her best friend pulled into our driveway. In the general excitement Lynn rushed out, clasped Howard’s hand and welcomed  “Harold” to our home. HOWARD never let him forget that greeting.

A few days earlier Lynn had talked me into taking a short ride up the mountain just behind our camp. He had a new little mountain bike of some sort and convinced me I needed a relaxing getaway from all the preparations. Against my better judgement I hopped on behind him and we putt-putted away up the trail.

I wasn’t exactly relaxed but I was trying to be when Lynn suddenly spotted a side trail that needed exploring. A sharp turn to the right and I slid off the seat, hands and knees  down in the gravel. I shrieked out a few bad words, my mouth being all I could move for a few minutes. Just then faint voices were heard from the camp below. My friends and neighbors were clustered in the road, hollering up at me, “Joan, Joan, are you alright?” Pride came to my rescue. I leaped up, shook myself and shouted back through gritted, gritty teeth, “I’m just fine, thanks.”

I had no way to get down off that dratted mountain except to climb back on the devil machine and ride back down, muttering imprecations all the way.

My Mother-Of-The-Bride dress was knee length, just right to display my scraped and abraded shins in all their glory. Fortunately my raw silk dress was a soft dusky rose that matched my scarred, scabbed legs perfectly as I hobbled into the chapel on my son Kirk’s arm.  With his assistance,I sat down very carefully.

And at last, the wedding! The entire day turned out to be everything we wanted it to be, a beautiful, memorable experience for all of us.

So afterwards?  Well, things could have gone better afterwards.

Somewhere along the line, in the midst of the whirlwind wedding preparations, Lynn and I had made a fast trip to Yakima, Washington. Realizing Idaho was a bit too rustic for us with two high school students still at home, we drove over to check out his new job offer. Liking everything we saw, we quickly rented a house and arranged for a moving van to show up two days after the wedding.

As we stood on the curb the morning after the wedding, waving good-bye to the last of the guests, we looked around and watched in shock as our moving van came barrelling down the street a full day early. The driver had a good story. He had inherited some money back east and, being very anxious to collect, he thought we just might be able to get away a little ahead of time. He’d help us with whatever needed doing just to get under way. A quick sidewalk conference was held  with our kids and our sister-in-law June, who was staying over an extra day, and we all decided “Why Not?”

Never was a household packed up and transported in less time. June spent the entire day packing the kitchen, the kids took care of their rooms, the driver willingly took on every job we gave him, and Lynn and I worked like dogs. For those who might wonder why nothing had been done ahead of time, we’d had 24 wedding guests and a baby to entertain and everything we owned had been in use.

The crack of dawn the next morning found us loading up “Snowball,” our old blue-eyed white cat, along with a cooler full of leftover wedding goodies. We gave the van driver our new Yakima address, dropped June off with her son in Pocatello and headed west.

The first night in our new home found everyone almost too exhausted to sleep. Poor Snowball kept falling off the end of our bed and I was just too tired to pick him up. Somehow he’d manage to get back on the bed, only to fall off again. This went on all night and I just couldn’t wake up enough to help him.

We never did hear if the van driver got back to Maine to pick up his inheritance but we certainly did our part.

Looking back over the years, we all remember that wedding in the wilds as a lovely, calm interlude between some really hectic experiences.

Oh yes, moving day also happened to be my birthday, a totally forgettable detail under the circumstances.


Jeepers Creepers!! The Jitterbug! …

… How 1940s Hep-cats Learned To Cut A Rug.

Was there ever a dance more aptly named than the Jitterbug? The dance craze inspired by Cab Calloway in the mid 1930s swept through the 1940s like a …well …like a jittery bug. It kept everyone hopping, leaping, dipping and throwing themselves and their partners around for the next few years. Just reminiscing about it decades later can give me a flashback sciatic attack complete with spasms.

The original version of the Jitterbug was a sexy, seductive glide with both partners snuggled tightly together. I have an idea it was a far cry from the jerky, acrobatic version my high school friends and I, all about 16 years old, were attempting to learn in 1942 at “The SURF,” our local ballroom.

After a week of school, with my afternoons spent working from 2:00 to 5:30 at the local Kresge’s dime store, Saturdays were a mad rush. I’d put in a long day at work from 9:00 to 9:00 with 2 half hour lunch breaks. As soon as the store closed and we got checked out, I was off to the “SURF” to meet my friends. Admission was nominal for those times, with maybe a few coins left over for a couple of sodas during the evening. Our  anticipation ran high as we burst into the noisy, dimly lit ballroom, music already pulsing away. We were ready to jump in.

Both Swing and Jazz music were hugely popular at that time, and both were perfect for the dance we loved, the Jitterbug. Songs like “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree,” “Chattanooga Choo Choo,”  and “Jeepers, Creepers” would have us on our feet in no time, bouncing around like jumping beans.

None of us were very good dancers, but I was especially clumsy and inept, all bony elbows and knobby knees. Add to that a certain amount of shyness and timidity and I was not the most sought after partner by any means. The below-the-knee dresses and rubber soled saddle shoes we girls wore didn’t help much either but I was enthusiastic and determined.

Some of my partners were strapping farm boys, used to tossing bales of hay and corralling stubborn animals. Timid as I was, I lived in fear that one of them might decide to throw me over his shoulder or slide me down between his feet. What if his hands were as sweaty as mine were, too slippery to hang on?  What if he threw me out so far I couldn’t swing back? What if he dropped me? Or worst of all, what if he lifted me so high my skirt fell down around my ears, exposing my sensible cotton undies to the whole world? All too terrifying to contemplate!.

Fortunately the guys were usually as inexperienced as we girls  were, but what we lacked in skills we made up for in enthusiasm. We ended up with kind of a spastic combination hop, skip and jump. Whatever we were doing, we thought it was great fun as we puffed and panted, our ears rang and we perspired rivers of sweat. We rarely sat down between sets, eager for the downbeat and the next song. We thought we were really cutting a rug!

Our evenings always ended at 1:00 a.m  with one slow dance to a dreamy version of “Sentimental Journey,” “Deep Purple” or “Begin The Beguine.”  A quiet ride home and off to a bed that never felt so good as it did in the wee hours of a Sunday morning. I’d fall into it, ears still ringing as I Jitterbugged off to sleep, already looking forward to the next Saturday night.

Time passed, we finished growing up, graduated and moved off toward our futures. Before I knew it we were into the 1950s and something called Rock and Roll burst on the scene, eagerly embraced by a younger crowd of energetic kids. It quickly replaced the Jitterbug everywhere except in my memories.

Jeepers Creepers, what a groovy dance that was!