Go West, Old Man, Go West

Wedding cake topper

Many years ago, when Horace Greeley gave the advice, “Go west, young man, go west,” he was advising people in the Atlantic seaboard states to go to Pennsylvania. Back in his day, that was the west. Well, since I’ve been in Pennsylvania, I’ve made 8 trips east. I went to see plays, to visit friends, and to pick up my stuff. This weekend I made my first Amtrak trip west. I went to Johnstown, PA for a wedding. Not mine, fortunately.

My cousin Sharon’s son Frankie married his girlfriend Nikki, and a slew of relatives were there to celebrate the event. I might have met Frankie and Nikki at a family gathering in the past, but I wouldn’t have been able to pick either one out of a crowd. If they lived in New York, I wouldn’t even be invited to the wedding. In New York, the reception is extremely expensive and the guest list has to be trimmed down to close family, close friends, and generous rich relatives. In Pennsylvania, things are less elaborate and more people can be invited.

I like Pennsylvania weddings. In New York, weddings are carefully choreographed events with a highly-specialized staff attending to every last detail. All you bring is your checkbook. In Pennsylvania, they usually have a small staff augmented by dozens of relatives who take care of all the details. You still bring an envelope with cash for the happy couple, but you might also bring a bowl of homemade potato salad, or something else you prepared in your kitchen. Unlike in New York, where wedding guests witness an extravagant show, in Pennsylvania, you are part of the show. In the old days in Pennsylvania, there was one dance set aside where wedding guests would pay $1 to dance with the bride. This would help defray the expenses. Well, those few dollars don’t defray much, nowadays, but they still have that traditional dance and I’ve often ponied up the buck it costs to do the Pennsylvania Polka with the poor victim of my two left feet.

Well, this Pennsylvania wedding was different. It wasn’t at the local Fire Department or any place like that. It was at a real banquet hall, and the whole thing was catered. For a moment I was afraid it would be a “cookie cutter” wedding with everything carefully choreographed and routine. Actually, I think that’s what they planned. That’s certainly not what they got. I knew something was different when I looked at the dais and only the women were there. Then came the first toast of the evening and the toaster went on and on about how well the bride was taking everything. My cousin Debbie was the photographer for the wedding and I ran over to her to find out what was going on.

It seems that Frankie is not a drinker, but the men in his bridal party were. They had a bus to take them from the church, to an outdoor area for pictures, and then to the reception. The bridal party men brought a few bottle of liquor aboard the bus and they all did shots with the happy groom and they all got loaded. Frankie got beyond loaded. He was “legless.” They tried to carry him into the reception, but only got as far as the men’s room, and I don’t need to go into any of those details.

So, the reception went on without the groom. Awkward. The bridesmaids all danced with the bride for the first dance. It’s amazing how many of the wedding rituals require the presence of the groom. Without him, everything had to be improvised. Most of the time the bridesmaids all played the part of the groom. The removal of the garter was very surreal. Nikki, the bride, was handling everything very well, until rumor filtered from the men’s room that Frankie wanted to go to the hospital. His drunken buddies offered him various “remedies” which he wisely refused. He knew that he needed real medical attention. Some of his family members took him to the hospital and convinced Nikki to stay at the reception and keep the party going. With her brand new husband on his way to the ER, she wanted to go with him, but she reluctantly stayed and went through the rest of the bride and groom routines with her bridesmaids filling in.

Several hours later, a medically-revived Frankie returned to the party. He and Nikki had a tearful first dance and when everyone was invited to join them on the dance floor, everyone in the room got up, circled them on the dance floor and applauded. I got to do my dollar polka with the bride, but almost nothing else went as planned. It was one heck of a wedding, and I can’t wait to see the wedding pictures.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

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