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November 12, 2009

Wedding Belles

While "big" sister Shirley busied her petite self raising three kids at her Thorncreek Township farm, "Aunt" Sarah and "Aunt" Susie remained at home in town lovingly clipping out paper dolls, replicas of Ava Gardner, Debbie Reynolds, Betty Grable, Liz Taylor, and a gigantic Esther Williams. 

 

The crinkly wardrobe of that Million Dollar Mermaid consisted of tabbed bathing suits designed by some person even zanier than an Oleg Cassini/Salvador Dali type. All of our cardboard movie stars remained flattened and lifeless in booklets, purchased from Murphy's dimestore in Fort Wayne or Raupfer's five and dime in downtown Columbia City, until we freed them with our scissors, dressed them and marched those beauties all about the house, either re-enacting our favorite films or manipulating the tiny celebrities into enjoying traditional family lives as neighbors to each other in far-away Beverly Hills, totally unconcerned if huge 10 inch Esther married diminutive Gordon MacRae or if Debbie hooked up with Desi Arnaz. The Lucille Ball and Shirley Jones dolls, not as pretty, would simply have to remain in their folders.  We played with the cut-outs we were dealt. 

 

Sarah and I also sang along with our 78 RPM breakable records and became an instant trio with either Kitty Kallen, Kaye Starr, Patti Page, or Gogi Grant.  Ah, "The Wayward Wind ", "The Wheel of Fortune", "How Much is That Doggie in the Window?", or "Have You Talked to the Man Upstairs?"  We transformed young Johnny Mathis, a 45 RPM crooner requiring a "spindle", into an Eartha Kitt torch singer by either slowing him down to 33 RPM or speeding him up; hmmmmmm, today, I'd have to experiment to recapture the crazy result of that feat of juvenile engineering.
I emulated Sarah always, even nagging to attend Camp Whitley, which would entail forfeiting part of my summer fun, immersed in my world of miniature cinematic stars and phonograph songbirds. 
Versatile, athletic Sarah survived several summers of camp life; for me, once was enough!  Riflery and archery?  Potato sack races?  Rowboating?  Spooky night-time TInkham's Woods tales 'round an eerie camp-fire?  Bunk beds?  Outdoor toilets?  Oh, please. However, Jane Sievers and I, sans life jackets, drifted away, after boarding a flimsy canoe as if we were a couple of  irresponsible Indian maidens, headed toward the core of the very deep "whatever-it's-called" lake, the focal point of that scenic rustic site.  (Perhaps this body of water should be renamed "Lake Stupid" in our honor to commemorate our ordeal?) 

 

We over-eager adventurers had forgotten to inquire of one another if either of us possessed a clue how to paddle a boat.  Two little non-swimmer girls hovered dead center over the shark-infested deepest depths of the Atlantic Ocean, crying and squealing, barely able to concentrate on that "dot" known as counselor Linda Gates, miles back ashore, as she frantically mimicked and pantomimed extemporaneous rowing techniques from the distant pier located somehwere near New Jersey. 
Searching through the annals of all of literature, only Hoosier author Theodore Dreiser presented such a comparably hair-raising moment via his novel An American Tragedy. However, during that longest week of my life, Director (as in "Camp") Arthur Lloyd discovered me, the next UN-squeaky-voiced version of Teresa Brewer (surely she herself the precursor to Bjork!) as I sang "Wouldn't Anybody Care to Meet a Sweet Old-Fashioned Girl?" in Tuesday's impromptu talent contest. Mr. Lloyd requested that I entertain all of the returning parents during the final program with a reprise-encore kinda thingie during "take-the-sunburned-kids-back-home" Saturday.  The birth of my brief, checkered singing career.  Marjorie Morningstar, move over!
School concerts, ladies' clubs, Sunday church services, Northern Indiana School Band Orchestra and Vocal Association
(NISBOVA!) competitions, high school and college and Wagon Wheel Summer Theatre musicals, 4-H programs, and countless weddings...I was everywhere, like it or not!  I achingly endured exclusion from our junior high class's "Girls' Sextette", a group-name which sounded a bit risque' but indeed denoted two sopranos, two altos, and two contraltos (or mezzo-sopranos; take your pick!) all blended together to produce sex...whoops, translation of the Latin here, six female songstresses. 
  
Obviously, those inventive students did not qualify as "the WE of Me"-- with the exception of empathetic soprano Mary Johnson--so I continued my F. Jasmine Adams fantasy that I never might become a Member of the Wedding. 
Carson McCullers nailed my social skills in her famous play. Thus, my solo engagements began in earnest, with the assistance of my voice teacher Miss Mary Dowell and accompaniment by pianists such as peers Richard Gall and Michael Rush or grown-ups Edwin Meitzler and Kenneth Growcock. Mr. Growcock, once featured with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, attempted to instruct me in the wiles and ways of piano performance or "tickling the ivories", but all involved agreed life would be happier if he would ripple the keys while I "chanteused", consistently billed as "that kid who SINGS at piano recitals."

 

Wedding singing figured predominantly during my Jeanette MacDonald phase, starting with the musical version of "The Lord's Prayer" on a sunny, "June-Bride" kind of afternoon; recently, I had turned fourteen. My sister Sarah and her Catholic-Youngstown-Ohio-Indiana-University-football-star-husband-to-be Mac knelt in front of me as I looked down upon them from my choir loft status.  "Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done....", and my tears welled up and my sobs interspersed with the the lyrics, and the fact that my sister and I had engaged in our share of sisterly strife whoofed away as I turned sentimental in front of God and everybody. 

 

The "Buck-Eye" groomsmen nick-named "Pickles" and "Shakey" and "A. G.", all Ray Liotta look-a-likes straight outta Scorsese's Goodfellas film and who had obtained permission from the Catholic Powers Who Be to deign to enter a Lutheran Church, registered amusement but stifled their giggles and guffaws.  Aha, though, the bridal pump one day soon would transfer to the other foot when Marilynn Mowery's betrothed Dan and she repeated that kneeling business, as I stood high above him and his bride. "Make of our lives, one life. Day after day, one life. Now it begins. Now we start. One hand. One heart.  Only God can part us now."  This time, the groom cried...tears streaming down his face, shoulders heaving up and down.  Maybe my performance had improved...or perhaps not?  A little disconcerting. Leonard Bernstein made me a believer in the power of his music that day, either way.

 

Summer weddings promise sunshine and fresh flowers, and daddies of those brides willingly or grudgingly give up golf games to give daughters away. Winter weddings, however, surprise! I know. My Christmas season nuptials? Characterized by an ice storm, an over-flowing toilet, a nearly tragic last-minute mis-communication between bride and groom regarding, "Shall we memorize our vows?" (One of us did so, while the other stood slack-jawed.), AND necessary budget-consciousness.  Seventy dollar Murray Hamburger clearance gown off the rack from L. S. Ayres, a maid of honor breathlessly-arrived from Virginia, and one junior bridesmaid--all gathered and at the ready. Susie, Laraine and teen-aged Kathy each carried a single poinsettia cuz such a large honkin' flower suggests a sizeable, high-priced bouquet. I tossed the Jackie Kennedy lace pillbox head-piece onto the top of my head as if I were "beanied" Jughead from the Archie comic book series, forgetting to perch the exquisite yet pesky thing onto the back of my cranium at which time it would have fallen off due to the weight of the voluminous, down-to-the-runner-covered-floor, trailing veil. (Of course, as a little toddler I insisted that my frilly "Carter's Spanky Pants" be worn backwards so that I personally could view the ruffles.  Perhaps my bridal crown's jaunty upfront positioning may have been a throw-back to an infantile philosophy.)  My dad wore a pin-striped 100% wool suit which he claimed he had borrowed from Grecian ship-mogul Aristotle Onassis.  "Jackie" had exchanged vows with "Ari" on the island of Skorpios one week prior to our humble little ceremony. 
  
Don and his entourage wore those incredible grey cut-away and tailed tuxedoes straight from the horse-racing, "Ascot Gavotte" scene in Broadway's My Fair Lady--those guys appeared to be a virtual chorus line of Freddie Eynsford-Hills!  Our requested soloist, a handsome African-American college friend named Roger Oliver with whom I had appeared in Once Upon a Mattress and who boasted a glorious tenor voice, opted out due to influenza--and undoubtedly stage-fright. My about-to-be father-in law, the clone of Steve Lawrence, substituted, even though we had wounded his pride neglecting to "book him for the gig" in the first place. ( Hey, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? reigned number one at the motion picture box office that year.)  A hush fell over the sanctuary as the service commenced.  Strains of "Gesu Bambino"--the initial vocal selection--filled the church. 
  
Probably, the entire congregation, if not well-versed in Italian, figured bride and groom to be infanticipating.  I often regret that Don and I, crazily attired as Jughead and Freddie replete with lotsa beads, didn't warble an endless duet-version of "MacArthur Park" as we gazed longingly into each other's eyes. "Someone left the cake out in the rain...and we don't think that we can take it cuz it took so long to bake it, and we'll never have that recipe again...Oooh ooh!  Nooooo!" 
  
My sis's wedding trumped mine, with one exception--popular photographer Bill Jones captured our special day in full kodachrome magnificent techni-color rather than black and white "glossy".  The down side?  The rose-tinged blush on my cheek forever and a day would be immortalized as I blundered through a rather lengthy and halting recital of wedding vows "unsure of my lines" while Don seemed to channel Sir Laurence Olivier on Benzedrine.  "SEND IN THE CLOWNS!"

 

FINALE:  Churchy atmospheres, once characterized by such an abundance of reverence and Phantom-of-the-Opera-grandiosity, surface frequently in my dreams.  An actual experience, which I drowsily re-visit occasionally, never fails to shake me to my very foundation. One sultry Sunday morning we choir members wore only the angelic, fluffy, white cotton tops of our choir robe ensembles over our street-clothes as in summertime we entered the loft via the winding back stairway and were shielded from full view by the wooden altar rail dividing the nave from the chancel?  (Where is Danny Kaye, when I need him?)  Banker Booney Feist and cousins Mary Dowell and Marjorie Keiser ...and I, the clueless, innocent teen-ager... stood and rose to full body height...and since only four choir members had bothered to show up, I had not realized WE were NOT participating in that congregational sing-the-anthem-from-the-opened-hymnal routine, up down up down--the three of them had prepared a lovely sacred selection delivering, as a trio, an unfamiliar tune which I had never heard in my entire life. 
  
Once I caught on that a quartet we were not, I slowly and sheepishly closed the hymn-book and returned to my chair by easing my long, lanky frame down verrrry gradually to assure possible invisibility until the end of time. Illustrator Norman Rockwell missed a grand opportunity to preserve the four of us in oils for a Saturday Evening Post cover!  Another unresolved dream involves my usually devout-Grace-Lutheran-turned-Columbia-City-United-Methodist mother placing a hex upon me on my wedding day to the effect that I might presciently realize "how tremendously hectic the holiday season is" as the years rolled by and that adding wedding pageantry may have been rather thoughtless of me to expect of my parents--an imposition?  However, the spell turned into a magnifcent one, and a happily repeated triple holiday celebration, as infant Roy arrived on our fourth anniversary!
  
All those years ago, nervous new father Don bought a little silver "Bootee" bracelet-charm engraved with--our baby's name and mistakenly, beneath "Roy Edward", our decidedly earlier wedding date!  Thus, at last I bonded with my very favorite paper doll and singer from the fifties and sixties, THE Doris Day, star of 1961's Lover, Come Back, who marries the man of her dreams the exact day she gives birth, and to think, Reverend Harold Oechsle who married Don and Susie (and we all three lived happily ever after!) likened my singing style to that of Jo Stafford.  "Shrimp Boats Are A Comin' "?  Hardly!  I prefer "Que Sera Sera!" 

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