I attended a wonderful wedding last week near Sarasota, Florida. It was perfect. The bride and bridegroom were young and handsome and very much in love. The ceremony was beautiful; the speeches were short, tasteful and to the point.
It was, in a word, civilized. So civilized that as the couple exchanged vows in front of a handsome, "right out of central casting" Episcopal pastor, I started to drift off, thinking about the wild wacky weddings of my youth.
When I was a young kid, the Italians in my old "Gravesend Avenue U" neighborhood were at the bottom rung of the economic ladder. The men worked on the docks or drove trucks; the women cooked and raised children.
For many, attending a wedding was the social event of the year and, if the truth were known, Italians in those days were much more comfortable attending funerals than weddings because one could cover the lags in conversation at a funeral by commenting on how good the dead person looked laid out in a casket.
One could kneel, make the Sign of the Cross and not say a word to anyone, feigning that you were so saddened by the death that you couldn't talk.
Weddings were different. To begin with, we were a fairly inarticulate group, and at a wedding you had to be happy and talk, and what could you say besides "the bride looks beautiful." As a boy I attended any number of "arranged" weddings of brides who were so homely that even the giant plaster saints in the church averted their eyes when the bride came down the aisle.
The early weddings I went to were called "football" weddings. They were held in a local catering hall and since money was a consideration (we didn't have any), the main source of nourishment was pre-made sandwiches wrapped in wax paper consisting of Swiss cheese or ham or salami or provolone or prosciutto.
The sandwiches were set up on two tables on each side of the catering hall and as the guests started to jam the room, the sandwiches would be grabbed up with a vengeance.
If the catering hall employee manning one table saw his table was running out of prosciutto sandwiches he would yell to the guy manning the table across the room, "Hey Jimmie, give me a dozen 'proshoot.'"
Jimmy would grab a bunch of prosciutto sandwiches and then, with the deep passing skill of Eli Manning, he would literally hurl each sandwich in a tight spiral pass over the heads of the guests right into the arms his partner.
Thus the name "football" wedding. Of course, just like in football, interceptions were a problem. People not satisfied with the amount of meat or cheese in their sandwich would intercept a sandwich or two as it arched across the room, discard the bread and build a super-size sandwich.
Then there was the "kids" problem. Italians would consider it an insult if the host had said, "Please leave the kids at home." First of all, there wasn't anybody at home to leave them with. So it would be chaos. Some families of 12 children would crowd the hall diving for sandwiches.
Little kids would be sliding all over the waxed floors and knocking over elderly relatives. People would be slipping on loose slices of salami on the floor and kids older than eight would get drunk and throw up from sneaking drinks behind their parents' backs.
Then, in time, my neighborhood moved up into the catered affair wedding and that brought about its own trials. The family had to deal with my Aunt Rosie.
My Aunt Rosie was a bit of a "klepto." I'm not using her real name because I'm still afraid of my Uncle Tony.
The fact is Aunt Rosie was a delightful woman whom I haven't seen in 40 years, but I remember that at family weddings she would drink eight or nine Manhattans and start looking for something to steal from the catering hall or restaurant.
Aunt Rosie's biggest score was at my cousin Mary's wedding, when she downed a record tenth Manhattan and decided to steal a coffee urn.
I was 15 at the time and my mother came up to me and said, "Your Aunt Rosie is drunk and she's decided to steal a coffee pot."
"That's not so bad, Mom," I said. "People get silly and take these tiny single-serving coffee pots." My mother giggled. "It's not one of the small pots they have at our table." She pointed to a waiter's station and said, "It's that big silver one that holds 60 cups of coffee that the waiters are using."
"That's bad," I said.
"It's even worse," my mother said, shaking her head in righteous disapproval while warming up to the heist with a big smile. "The pot is filled with boiling hot coffee. I'm scared she's going to burn herself."
Well, not only did my Aunt Rosie not burn herself, but also she managed to put her big, black woolen coat over the giant urn and then she triumphantly carried it past the unsuspecting catering hall staff and all my snickering relatives right out the front door.
No wonder they called them the good old days.
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