My oldest sister Susie, at 90, had to be kept in the dark about the party until that morning, because the family feared she would slip up. I call both sisters everyday and many times found myself biting my tongue to keep the secret. Imagine my poor brother-in-law’s dilemma: being on guard every moment every day for over a month? Well, the ruse went well — Jennie was surprised.
After the tears of joy, and initial shock was over, she and Leo looked radiant. They looked almost ageless among their contemporaries. There were just a handful of us that were at their football wedding 60 years ago at Hennington Hall.
In case you were too young to have ever attended a football wedding, you don’t know what you missed.
They were Italian wedding receptions in huge catering halls where entire families came on a single invitation. In some cases, all the tenants from the building came. The kids went wild running and sliding across the dance floor. The footballs were labeled sandwiches placed on each table for the guests to eat; being thrown from adjoining tables were rolls with bologna, salami, capicola, ham, provolone to other tables to be exchanged, a far cry from the elegant dinner served at Sirico’s.
The football wedding had soda, beer and wine on each table — and if it was a top-notch affair, a bottle of rye whiskey, the predecessor to the manned liquor bars.
Every wedding ended with a grand march in which the newlyweds were brought down the center of the ballroom with their wedding party in tow, followed by the family, and then the guests. Each couple were cordoned off to the left or to right circling the dance floor, joining up, until finally rows of celebrants marched down the dance floor.
Every family gave “boosta” to the bride and groom, usually $5 or $10 in an envelope, with or without a card. Relatives gave more. Don’t forget this was during the ’40s and ’50s, when $2-$40 was a week’s pay. Every boosta received confetti in white netting, the confetti were white sugar-coated almonds, these evolved to be the wedding favors of today. Cream Puffs and wedding cake signaled the end of the affair.
That was 60 years ago and time has taken its toll on many of the guests, coming in with canes and walkers. But they came, and they came happily to celebrate Jennie and Leo’s 60th. Neighbors, friends, church members, family, extended families, and all those that knew Jennie and Leo for the past several decades. Jennie and Leo’s children and spouses, grandchildren and great grandchildren now number a dozen, but their children’s-in-law and their families brought scores of revelers to this happy occasion. And that doesn’t include Leo’s family or my side of the family, my children their spouses and six grandchildren.
There were 130 celebrants who were able to come and witness Leo and Jennie renewing their wedding vows for the third time, having celebrated their Silver and Gold. Monsignor Guy Massi, an old friend from most Precious Blood, oversaw their Diamond Anniversary.
Kudos’ to my nephew Anthony and his wife Donna, and my niece Barbara and husband Billy, who, with all their children, pulled off this wonderful surprise party. Sirico’s catering, cuisine, and service was excellent. The ambience was joyful, each detail meticulously themed to the Diamond Anniversary: Diamond Bracelets hanging from branches on top of the centerpiece. The DJ’s video screen continually showed a collage of photos throughout the 60 years of marriage. The DJ was even playing songs from the ’40s and ’50s — much to the senior guests’ delights — including Jennie’s favorite song, “I Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” which I remember her always singing when she started keeping company with Leo.
In this mad, mad, mad world, where some marriages don’t last 60 weeks, and some don’t even last 60 days, it was a joy and privilege to see this happy couple celebrate 60 years of wedded bliss. Auguri per cent anni!
Screech at you next week!