Memories for Miriam, Alice, Theo, Delia, Tessa
and anyone else who would like to be here
In 1897 my grandparents, each around 20 years old, celebrated their marriage, which I assume was at least partially arranged by their parents and possibly by a traditional matchmaker. I wish I knew if they had a wedding host leading a kletzmer band like the ones that are now once again popular — it’s a good bet that they did, as that was one of the principal functions of music in the little towns at the time. No one has ever mentioned music in telling these old stories. I don't think they had a photographer, either, though photography had become available, even in some villages, much earlier.
I hope the family managed at least this once to serve a rich, luxurious meal with such delicacies as roast goose, goose cracklings with onions, veal, vegetables in goose fat, pickled cucumbers or turnips, and sweets like cherry or plum preserves, waffles, pancakes, and apple strudel. At weddings where the family could afford to serve it, the guests toasted the bride and groom’s health and future with homemade brandy, vodka, and wine. I don’t know what reality brought to them — perhaps little more than their daily fare of bread, potatoes, onions, and a glass of tea with a small sugar lump.
As a bride, my grandmother had a special wedding dress with a lace collar. She remade and reused the lace and other parts of the dress for a long time. She was wearing the lace collar in the family portrait made in 1913, and scraps from this dress also ended up as clothing for two china “nickel dolls” that belonged to my mother later. So I can say that it was quite nice white lace, maybe handmade, maybe not. I don't think the villagers were using sewing machines yet at that time, Her dress was thus sewed by hand, and made generous so that it could be used for best occasions for a long time, including alterations to serve as a maternity dress. My father's father was a tailor in a similar village, and my father said a man would normally buy one suit for his wedding and use it for years if not for the rest of his life. So that could also be my grandfather's wedding suit in the photo. He wasn't getting that rich in America.
When my grandmother and grandfather became engaged, the bride’s mother and the groom’s father had both already been widowed. Thus Mottle (Baba) and Avram Nuchom, the parents of the bride and groom, each around fifty years old, were both eligible to marry. During their children's engagement proceedings, the two of them got to know each other. A few months before their children were married, they married each other. My mother thought there had been some sort of Jewish law that prescribed the order of the two marriages. While my mother always told the story as a kind of a love story, Aunt Sadie said she thought maybe Baba and her grandfather had had to marry for appearances, because the young couple — my grandparents — were responsible for housing them and could only spare one bedroom. As an old woman, my aunts say, Baba told her granddaughters that she had never loved, or even liked, her two husbands. (They told me these stories when they were in the nursing home in the late 1990s.)
This post is one of a number of stories from a longer write-up of family history that I did a few years ago.