The Good Ol’ Days: Hot Springs
As the wedding season approaches and in honor of newlyweds Ashley & Joel Berg, I’m reminded of marriage ceremonies that I’ve attended. My very first was on June 8, 1954 when our dear family friend Elizabeth Volk married Howard Duchscher at Little Flower Church. I was six years old.
It was raining that day (which I’m told is a good sign) and I wore a little yellow raincoat and hat. I knew Elizabeth as “Lummy” back then (and still do) and she was a most beautiful bride. Howard was handsome in his Marine uniform and the church was magnificent. I was fascinated by the statuary, the candles and the special nature of the wedding Mass. I have visited some of the great cathedrals, including Westminster Cathedral in London and the Seville Cathedral in Spain, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. But Little Flower will always be the most special to me.
I actually went to Westminster Cathedral by mistake, intending to visit Westminster Abbey. Had Prince Charles shown up at Westminster Cathedral, his ill-fated wedding may not have happened, as Diana was waiting just down the street at the Abbey.
There was no mistaking the cathedral in Seville. Because it is an important tourist stop, there is a constant din in the background, even during the most solemn of Masses.
In August of 1961, my cousin Alice Jean Skyberg wed Thomas Rand at Bygland Lutheran in rural East Grand Forks. Dad chauffeured Mom, Grandma, Benedikte Egeland and two aunts in a Cadillac. I went on my first solo train trip with the luggage that wouldn’t fit into the Caddy’s trunk. It was a hot day and they had a flat tire enroute. Dad had to change the tire with his sisters and elderly mother kibitzing in the background.
During the ceremony, Alice Jean and Tom were kneeling with their backs to us when it was time for the solo. I heard a beautiful voice lifted up in song and strained to see the singer. I looked and looked only to realize that it was Alice Jean herself.
In the 50’s and 60’s newlyweds would promenade down the street, with tin cans and shoes trailing behind their newly-decorated cars, with soaped windows and freshly-painted slogans, including the obligatory “Hot Springs tonight!” in large white letters. Other vehicles tailgated and horns were honking in a sort of conga line of cars. The motorcades would meander through Rugby, often making a pass around Ellery Park as we looked on.
At a gathering at my grandmother’s when I was quite young, the topic turned to a recent wedding. I innocently reported that the couple had gone to Hot Springs for their honeymoon, which led to silence and embarrassed eye contact between the adults. I assumed Hot Springs was in Wyoming, which was a long way to drive to spend one’s first night as man and wife. But that was marriage for you.
I had the honor of being an usher when my fellow Class of ’66ers Delby Hager and Janice Richter married in September of 1968 at Little Flower. During the ceremony and on into the reception we had agents out scouring the city for the couple’s blue Chevy. They looked and looked, but no joy. Janice’s father was an X-ray technician and had gotten Lila Topness (of Johnson Clinic) to store the getaway vehicle in her garage…right across the street from the church! The reception was still going strong when I left. An hour or so later the newlywed Hagers, with their Chevy all lettered-up, led the car conga past Janice’s house, which was kitty-corner from mine.
I’ve been best man at a few ceremonies, including an interfaith Jewish wedding on Long Island at a “marriage mill” (four huge reception rooms taking turns sharing a chapel). When I was unexpectedly asked to give a toast to my college friend and his new bride, I inadvertently sounded pessimistic about their future together. After a stunned silence, the emcee struck up the orchestra by saying, “Everybody be happy!”
I also best-manned at a ceremony that was performed in the chapel of a large funeral home and memorial gardens in west Orlando. My late parents are interred there, so I guess that everything does come around full circle. Nobody gave Mom and Dad’s marriage much hope. It only lasted 71 years, God bless ’em.
Bill is a Rugby native, graduating from RHS in 1966.
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