Thursday, June 25, 2009

Family Weddings

A cousin of my husband mentioned on her facebook page that today was the 36th anniversary of her wedding. When I sent congratulations she replied, "Do you remember making that lovely wedding cake?" I hadn't thought of that in years, but the scraps tumbled out of the mental closet ready for review. We lived in a farming community, extra money was scarce and many weddings of the day were still home made occasions. The bride, then and now an excellent seamstress, had made her pretty dress, flowers were gathered from the gardens of friends and relatives, and I, armed with instructions from a Farm Journal cookbook, volunteered to make the wedding cake. I borrowed cake pans, bought the requisite boxes of Betty Crocker White Cake Mix, carefully made the fondant roses and stored them in tupperware bowls. From somewhere I procurred a cake decorating tube with interchangeable tips, and without any practice run, assembled my goods at the church social hall on the morning of the wedding. All went well until I began to apply ropes of colored frosting to the edges of the cake layers and found my decorating set completely unequal to the task. The bridegroom hastily borrowed a professional decorating apparatus from a relative who had owned a restaurant; the two of us squirted frosting and left to dress for the event. Until I walked into the reception and saw the cake intact and reasonably photogenic I wondered what had possessed me to take on such a project!

My family and my husband's many cousins have carried on the older tradition of weddings that are staged with the considerable help and talents of family and friends. As a competant seamstress I have produced a few bridal gowns and quite a number of lovely bridesmaids dresses.

In the past year I have searched the on-line archives of the newspaper published for over a century in the upstate New York area where my mother's family has lived for generations. The accounts of family weddings are delightful to read. Most took place at the home of the bride's parents or in the local parsonage. Then as now, the details of the bride's and her ladies' clothing were described as were the flowers and refreshments. A nice suit or dress which could be worn again for church occaisions seemed to be common rather than elaborate gowns with trains and tiaras.

The top photo, shared by my cousin Barb, is of her two aunts--who married two brothers in a double wedding in 1941. My mother, herself a bride the previous month, is the bridesmaid on the far right of the picture. I have no photo of my parent's wedding, but I well remember my mother's wedding dress, a navy blue crepe with a swirling bias skirt and a tucked waist. She wore it, with a tiny veiled hat, to church for many years.

The second photo, from the collection of my cousin Bruce, is of my mother's cousin and her new husband. Their marriage took place in 1928.

The last photo is of my great uncle and his wife on their wedding day in 1914.

I have no wedding photo of my grandparents, but here is the announcement of their marriage in 1913.

A beautiful wedding was solemnized at the home of Mr. And Mrs. Edward Ross at 7:30 p.m. Monday evening, December 22, when their eldest daughter, Helen, was married to Mr. Mac Lewis of Hague [NY] the Rev. L. M. Issac officiating in the presence of the two families and many friends. The ceremony took place in the parlor, which was decorated with evergreens, cut flowers and choice plants. The bride, who was given in marriage by her brother, Lawrence Ross, was beautifully gowned in a blue broadcloth traveling suit with hat to match. The bridesmaid, Miss Myrtle Burt wore a gown of blue and white serge. Following the ceremony, refreshments were served in the dining room which was beautifully decorated with cut flowers and choice plants.

The announcement continues with the plans of the "honeymoon", a list of those attending and mention of gifts. My mother told me years later that she understood the honeymoon journey, a train trip to Montreal, had to be postponed due to a snow storm!

Having grown up next door to my grandparent's farmhouse I can imagine it decked for that event so near to Christmas Eve. I can see the dining room table extended with all the "leaves" covered in stiffly ironed damask. I expect there was a Christmas cactus in full bloom. Perhaps the "cut flowers" had to be fetched from the branch line railroad station, shipped in from the next town, or maybe they had been chosen and carefully wrapped for the journey when Grandmother Helen and her friend Myrtle made a shopping trip to Brandon a few days earlier as promptly reported by the local news "correspondant."

I have been a guest at some beautiful and elegant weddings. Some have been grandly orchestrated events which left the participating families exhausted and in debt. My favorites will always be the ones which have been planned and created with the skills and the love of families and friends. I'll do anything to help--except the cake!


  1. I enjoyed reading this, it's always fun to look at old wedding pictures. You were very brave taking on the cake! I agree that the nicest weddings aren't the ones that cost huge amounts of money. The nicest wedding I've ever attended was that of my younger son and his wife which took place in our garden and which I put together in a couple of months with the help of family and three of my friends who volunteered to'wait on' on the day. There's a blog post about it somewhere in my archives -June 2007 when I posted about teir 1st anniversary. The guest book was full of remarks about how much people had enjoyed it.

  2. Hullo MM,
    Although I've been reading your blog for a while I have decided to go back to the start to get a better feel for you and the life you have in Wyoming.

    This post remnds me of how my Uncle, a fine baker and craftsman of wedding cakes, made our cake 20 years ago and how I transported it - each tier carefully wrapped and in the boot of the small car I had at the time - at 30-40 mph for 130 miles across country to leave it at the reception hotel the night before the wedding. If anything that journey was more fraught for me than the wedding itself.

    Cake tasted really good though!!!

    The wedding was ok too......