Every Thanksgiving I think about November 26, 1949, the day Denny Auchard and I got married in Englewood, Colorado. I was barely nineteen and he was an older man of 23 from out-of-state.
Some of his family had arrived from Kansas, just in time for dinner. My family was financially strapped and didn’t have the means to purchase a turkey that would feed a crowd in addition to paying for a $150 wedding. But, my mother had a creative way with food and molded a huge meat loaf into the shape of a roasted turkey. It was a wonderful meal with all the usual Thanksgiving trimmings, minus the bird. My future family appreciated the good food and the humor with which it was offered.
In spite of having little money, we had a lovely wedding. Mom and I made my taffeta gown, complete with a train, zillions of loops, and hand-covered buttons that ran up the long sleeves and down the front of the bodice. It took forever to make all those loops and buttons, but even longer to button them. My veil was a gift from a neighbor who created accessories for a bridal shop.
We still had some other expenses to cover when Denny and I actually found a $20 bill on the sidewalk in downtown Englewood. We assumed it was a gift from God to pay for our flowers. In addition to these many blessings, it seemed we might even save on Denny’s haircut by following my father’s advice. He announced, “My barber offered to cut the groom’s hair for free. Just tell him I sent ya.” What a deal! We couldn’t pass up that one. Denny went straight to the barbershop and announced he was the guy who was marrying Butch Peal’s daughter. The barber’s only response was, “Congratulations! How nice. Where ya from?” It was awkward, to be sure, so Denny paid full price, $2, for the worst haircut of his life. It was shaved high up on the back of his head and straight across the bottom like an old-fashioned bowl cut—not at all stylish in 1949. From the back it looked terrible, and that’s primarily what the congregation would see. I was anxious for people to notice that his face was better than his hair.
We had other wrinkles that needed smoothing. Denny’s father was a minister and had performed the weddings for all of his other children. But, because of restrictions in my church, he would not be allowed to assist in our ceremony. Undaunted, Denny was determined to find a way his dad could play an important role in our wedding. He demoted his best man to head usher. Then, my sixteen-year old brother was demoted from head usher to just plain usher, and Reverend Auchard became his son’s best man.
However, the wedding events were not without more anxieties. Our rented house had a major sewer problem the week before our wedding. My dad was determined to fix it himself and dug a deep pit exposing our ailing septic tank, which was now bordered by a mountain of stinky dirt. I assumed this would be corrected before my wedding day. It wasn’t, and the whole neighborhood smelled like excrement, which is a nice word for poop. Our toilets wouldn’t flush, and we couldn’t use the bathtub. So, on the day of my wedding my family of five took turns bathing in a tin tub in the warm kitchen. Mom heated a boiler on the stove and kept adding fresh, hot water to the tub for each new bather. Since I was the bride, I was allowed to choose my bathing order. I could have gone first with just three inches in which to wash, but I chose to immerse in deeper, slightly used water so I went last. It allowed me to shave my legs high up above my knees, where I had never shaved before, so I would be wonderfully smooth everywhere on my wedding night. It gave me a rash.
Finally, my hair and makeup were complete. Perfume, deodorant, and wedding garter were in place, as well as something old, new, borrowed, and blue. My ultra sheer nylon hose were eased onto my legs with glove-covered hands. Then came the taffeta gown with all those loops and hand-covered buttons. It was truly a robing ritual. My legs and skin felt oddly smooth all over, even where I had not shaved. Oh, Lord! It was then I realized my slip was still on the bed instead of on me. We had no time to unhook and rehook a zillion covered buttons, so my mother got a seam ripper and picked out the two side seams of my gown. She then pulled the slip up from below, cut off the straps, stitched the slip to the top of my bra, and hand-sewed the side seams back together from the outside. We were now actually late for my wedding, and I was beginning to feel sweaty with anxiety.
We were breathless when my family of five finally got to the church. The music had repeated several times, and I had broken my deodorant barrier. The guests were visibly relieved as we arrived, and they settled into their pews as the ceremony proceeded. I heard the Reverend’s voice, but wasn’t really listening. I was vaguely preoccupied with thoughts of my hastily attached slip. Would it hold? I also wondered how Denny’s hair looked from behind. I repeated my vows quietly and watched Denny’s lips move as he repeated his. I wouldn’t be able to kiss those lips until we were alone. Kissing during a wedding ceremony was not part of my church’s practice, but whatever we said and did allowed us to become man and wife. We had our pictures taken by everyone, and I found frequent opportunities to explain Denny’s bad haircut, as if people gave a hoot, which they didn’t. Our wedding guests were mostly impressed with my twenty-three-year-old guy from Kansas for his unpretentious manner and stunning good looks. He was remarkably handsome and likable. I was so proud to be marrying him.
Our reception was held in my parent’s rented house outside of historic Fort Logan. The event was nothing upscale, just cake, punch, and coffee in a warm, crowded, happy atmosphere. But I was praying so hard, “God, please don’t let anyone use the toilet since it won’t flush, and puhleeeze don’t let the whole neighborhood smell like poop!” And that night, for some miraculous reason, no one used the toilet and the neighborhood did not smell like poop. God is good.
We opened our gifts and mingled with guests, enjoying refreshments while my dad sat in the kitchen being a good host to my new father-in-law. Being a good host meant offering Reverend Auchard a shot of whiskey so the dads could drink a toast to the newlyweds. Denny’s father declined the liquor, but graciously raised a cup of punch alongside my dad’s bourbon glass. No doubt he was also offering a silent prayer for all of us.
Meanwhile, my brother stuffed potatoes in the exhaust pipe of Denny’s coupe and tied a million tin cans to the bumper. He must have saved tin cans for a month. My teen-aged brother and sister had a ball during the celebration, my father had his occasional shot of whiskey, Denny’s folks had the Lord on their side, and Denny and I had each other.
We stayed that night in the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, returning the next day to have more pictures taken and give my brother a serious lecture regarding potatoes in the exhaust pipe. Then we collected our wedding gifts and all my earthly possessions, which included my violin, love letters, yearbooks, photos, dolls, artwork, and two foot-long braids that had been cut from my head only three years earlier. For reasons I didn’t understand, the simple act of packing up all of my personal belongings was a real shock to my mother. I was barely nineteen and the first child to leave home, so it must have been hard for her to see me leave. My mother struggled with the realization that I was uprooting myself for good. I hugged and kissed everybody, and Denny assured my parents he would take care of me always. I promised to write as we drove away, but I could still see my mother and sister crying, my brother waving his hands off, and my father smiling as I left my family forever.
My family was sad to see me leave, but I was ecstatic as I headed east to start married life in York, Nebraska with my brand new husband. At twenty-three, he was the youngest instructor on the faculty at York College and at nineteen, I would be the youngest faculty wife. We were also “house-parents” to male students who lived upstairs. That meant we were rarely alone and would be living with 12 men. * * * Living with 12 Men to be released sometime in 2015 by Betty Auchard