50 Years Ago Today
July 31, 1967
It' was already hot at 6 a.m. when I woke up. This would be the last time, I thought, that I would be sharing a bed with my sister, Judy. She was awake early too and there was loads to do. Our half sister, Kathleen, and her husband and five kids had arrived the day before, and some of them were sleeping in the basement, where it would be nice and cool, and the others were in their Volkwagon camper, parked in front of our house, 221 11th Street, Bismarck, North Dakota.
I had a hair appointment at 8 a.m., which was to be done by Cheryl Warner, whose grandparents lived just down the road from us. She was only about 18, and I was 23, so I didn't know her well. In fact I hadn't been living in Bismarck except for vacations for the last two years, so Cheryl
hadn't done my hair more than once of twice before.
I knew Philip and his friends would be getting up at their motel, one with a swimming pool, and near the Missouri River, which separated Bismarck from its twin town of Mandan. Mandan was where the west begins, and going west from there is liking going into a cowboy movie set I had introduced
Philip to the Badlands on his trip here with me over the Easter break, when he had also met the rest of my family.
Mom was up too, and the kids from the camper van started coming in for their breakfast. Our
little house was quite crowded with 11 of us in it. We had an extension leaf which had been added to the round dining room table, and we put out bowls and packets of cereal for people to help
Mom had had a stroke in 1964, the December after she had retired from teaching. She had
recovered quite a bit from it, and could walk with a support, and could manage most things except cutting up her meat. She was worried about people staring at her as she walked down the aisle for the wedding. So it was arranged that she would go early and be in place before the others of the 50 or so relatives and friends that would be coming.
I had asked my cousin Marilyn to be the person in charge of proceedings for the planning on
the wedding. She was eight years older than me, the same age as Philip, but got along great with Mom and she and her young son had spent much time at our house, now that both Judy and I lived far away. My home was in Evanston, Illinois, on the outskirts of Chicago, where I was a diet therapy teacher for the Evanston Hospital School of Nursing, and Judy lived in a little town in Minnesota called Foley where she taught English, and French, I think, at Foley High School.
I had met Philip on the day he arrived in Evanston from his home in England. I think one of the things he was told by his mother before he left was to make sure he didn't marry an American. But from the day we met, our fate was pretty much sealed. On his side of the church would be Bob Denning, his best friend from England, and also living in the States for a post-doc. His job was in Urbana, Illinois, and we had visited him a couple of times during the months we had been together, so I knew him
quite well. Another couple, Dave and Diane Bright also came. Dave was a post doc at Northwestern with Philip, and we had socialised with them a lot over the last months. They, with John McGinnety, the Englishman who shared the apartment with Philip, also a post-doc at Northwestern, were on a tour of the States, and were happy to include Bismarck in their schedule. It was John who introduced me to Philip. I had met him on the day I moved into my apartment, across the alley
from his. He was out cleaning his red Mustang convertible in the alley, when I drove my rented car to the back entrance of my apartment. I had three huge suitcases, and a trunk, and my apartment was on the third floor. He didn't looked at all phased when I asked him to help me carry the stuff up the wooden outside steps. I knew he was foreign from his accent, but had no idea that he was England and the New Castle dialect sounded so strange to me.. But he was friendly and I liked him. And although I didn't have anything in the house to eat or drink at that time, I said I hoped he would
come over when I was settled and have a beer. He agreed to that, and when he came a few nights later, he brought Philip with him, fresh from England, and in our very hot weather, still wearing his long sleeved checked shirt (sleeves rolled up) with a green knit tie, and heavy twill trousers and thick
socks with his sandals. But as funny as I thought he looked, I couldn't stop looking at him, as much to hear his beautiful Queen's English voice as to hear what he had to say. I really had had my sights on John up until then, but I knew it was Philip that I now had to try to impress. But he looked old to me, and I was afraid he was married, or divorced, as that would also keep me, a staunch Catholic,
from having him.
But back to my story, I drove up to Arrowhead Plaza in the north part of town (population about 35,000) to get my hair done. I had had a perm a few weeks before, and my hair was overly curly to say the least. So I was hoping Cheryl would work wonders to make me look more normal on this,
my big day. But when I got there, everyone was confused. I wasn't listed as having an appointment. Cheryl wasn't even due in that day. I must have looked as shocked as I was, but luckily they phoned her and she agreed to get out of bed, and come to do it, and it was only about half an hour later that she was doing my hair. But she was grumpy and so was I, so I guess it wasn't the friendliest of encounters and I wasn't happy with the way she did my hair, but had to leave it as there was no
time to do anything else.
The wedding was at 11, at St. Mary's Catholic Church, about four blocks from our house. It was where Judy and I had been baptised and confirmed, and in three weeks time, Judy was to be married there too. Judy was marrying another teacher from Foley High School, Larry Fredrick. Judy hadn't wanted a big wedding, so as one time there was the talk of us having a joint wedding. But Judy said no to that, as she felt she would be needed to deal with Mom and Kathleen and her family. Her wedding would only have immediate family and closest friends, so maybe 20 people in all.
And there would be no reception, just a meal at a nice restaurant.
We all liked Larry. He was also part of the wedding party in that he was in charge of driving Dad, Judy and me to the church, and then to the reception afterwards, and then onwards to the airport, as we were flying to Britain for our honeymoon.
When I got home, Kathleen and her family were all dressed – the girls in pale bluedresses with white trim, that Kathleen had made to match her own. Mark, the only boy, looked unhappy about being there, and Neal, Kathleen's husband, looked relaxed and happy as if everything was going to be all right.
I needed to get into my wedding dress, and it was hanging in our room. I had made it from a pattern I had really liked, and Judy's bridesmaid dress in beige was exactly the same, except 8 inches shorter as she was 5'1” and I was nearly 5'9”. The fabric was thin cotton with overlapping tiny pleats. It was sheer so I needed to line it all. The pattern was princess style, which meant high waisted, and had three quarter sleeves that belled out, and a scoop neck. I also had a train on my dress that was attached with hooks and eyes to the back neckline. My dress also had wide lace trim, and Judy's was as plain as I could make it, as that was how she wanted it. I had also made a similar dress out of her material for me to wear as matron of honor at her wedding, where she would wear my dress, but cut down to knee length, with a small headdress instead of the veil I had. I think the three dresses probably cost about $50.
Our flowers were gold and bronze chrysanthemums for the church and Judy's bouquet. Mine was
an orchid with stephanotis. It took apart so that I could wear the orchid afterwards as a corsage.
I remember standing all dressed and ready to go, when Kathleen's youngest, Margaret, came up
to me and wanted to show me how much she liked my dress. I shouted at her to stay away. Poor kid. It wasn't my best day, and I so feared chocolate hand prints on my dress to add to the funny looking hair.
Mom and Bob drove off, and Kathleen and her family went on their way to church. Larry picked
up Dad and Judy and me. We were certainly on time, if not early, but I was so relieved when I saw Philip and Bob, standing outside the side door, so knowing that it was really going to happen.
The priest I had asked to do the service was Monsignor Feehan, who had been in the parish as
long as we had, and we knew him pretty well. As Philip wasn't a Catholic, our service was going to just be the wedding ceremony, without a Mass, but Judy and Larry would be having the full works
from the religions point of view in a few weeks' time. We went into the front side door where there is a sort of waiting area, so we couldn't be seen until the march started. Our hired photographer took
a picture of dad and me.
The organist was the mother of one of Judy's friends, Mrs. Bartunek. When I lived at home, I was the usual organist for this church. She was the organist at the Cathedral, the only other catholic church in town, and a place where I also had played the organ ocasionally for many years when I lived at home. Philip particularly wanted the Minuet from the Fireworks Music for the processional. I had never played it so we had to buy the music. Mrs. Bartunek didn't know it either but said she would
learn. But she made lots of mistakes, which I noticed as I walked down the aisle on Dad's arm. I was nervous, and probably looked it. I remember being annoyed when David Hamm, a cousin, stepped into the aisle in front of me to take a picture.
Philip and Bob stood at the front of the church, waiting for us. Philip looked reassuringly confident.
There were a few words and prayers. One of the readings said that it was hoped that our children would be like olive branches around our table, or something like that, and Philip almost burst out laughing and squeezed my hand. Then, a high school friend of mine, Karen, sang The Lord in My
Shepherd, a hymn that Philip knew. Then we exchanged vows, and we both managed to say the words without messing them up. Then Monsignor Feehan pronounced us Man and Wife, and the recessional began. This was a song that I knew well, and luckily Mrs. Bartunek did too, so it went without a hitch. We weren't invited to kiss in church, but as soon as we got out the door, Philip kissed me. Then we waited a bit and looked back to see if Mom was doing okay, without her stick,
coming up the aisle on Dad's arm. And she was.
We hung about outside the church for awhile, talking to relatives who had come quite a distance, some of them, to be with us. Then Larry drove us to the Knights of Columbus Club – a Catholic Men's social club in the east side of the town. My niece Janet and my cousin Carol poured the
punch. Carol had her eye on John the whole time. Mom's friends hadorganised the serving of the meal. Maybe they provided the food too, I don't know. Anyway, we had sliced ham, potato salad, jello salad and rolls, with wedding cake for afters. And the bridge ladies served coffee. No toasts or wine of any sort.
I don't remember there being a reception line or anything like that. It was air conditioned
in the KC Club, which was very welcome, as the temperature outside had risen to well above 100°.
Our photographer was very much in evidence getting all sorts of posed pictures taken. My best friends from high school we in charge of the present table, and unwrapped and displayed the goodies we had been given. The photographer got a picture of us cutting the cake, but none of us noticed that we were holding the knife the wrong way up.
There were no speeches. I don't think Dad even stood up to say thank you to people for coming. We had been sent a telegram from Philip's brother Nick, who was living with his family in Australia, but it didn't get read out. That wasn't a tradition with us.
The party was continuing at one of the local parks, so the guests went there, while I went home to get changed, and then my parents and Judy and Larry went with us, and Bob Denning to the airport so we could get our 3 p.m. flight back to Chicago. My going away suit was brown linen with a pale blue sleeveless top.
I was very pleased that Mom decided to make the trip to the airport as that was a very big deal for her to be in public. She was very self-conscious about her disability. But she made it, smiling and happy, or at least it looked that way, as we walked out to get on the plane with confetti wafting over our heads.
Our hnneymoon trip was booked from Chicago to New York the next afternoon, and then onwards
to Prestwick Airport late the next night. Bob sat next to us in the plane to Chicago, and he and Philip talked chemistry most of the way. I felt as if I was pretty irrelevant. We would have our honeymoon night back at Philip's and now my apartment. John was gone for his vacation, so we had the place to ourselves, but Philip's bed was a hidabed that turned into a couch, so not the most comfortable of beds, and the heat in Chicago was almost as bad as the 107° it got to in Bismarck.
But it was finally over, and we were married, and I was so happy and excited about having found and married Philip. I guess we didn't think about what things would be like in 50 years. I didn't expect that I would be a widow for the past eight years. But I am very sure that it was a good decision. I've still got bits of my dress, now made into blouses, and Judy's dress, still whole and probably only ever worn once.
My introduction to Britain wasn't terribly successful. My new in-laws provided a second reception in Oxford for us, and I met 50 strangers who couldn't understand much of what I was saying. I was expected to reply to the Oldest Mrs. Day's speech, and I didn't know what to say, so didn't say anything. And after 3 weeks of cold and rain and staying with his family, I ended up by telling Philip, "I hate your mother and I hate your country." But it did get better.