Excerpt from “WE DIDN’T GET FAT AND WE DID HAVE FUN” – Boyhood Tales From The Thirties, which Ken hopes to get published.
There was a girl named Sarah Whittaker who lived a couple of blocks north of my house. We had the same birthday, so we had some birthday parties together. For this reason, Sarah said we were “soul-mates” and had to be nice to each other. I thought that was a bunch of baloney, but I didn’t argue about it. She was okay as a soul-mate — whatever that meant — but I didn’t see her as a girlfriend one bit. She was tall and scrawny and kind of gawky, if you know what I mean. I just tried to get along with her. But, the next thing I knew, she wanted to stage a mock wedding with her and me as the bride and groom. That idea really gave me the creeps. But she wanted to do this so bad, I just caved in, figuring no real harm could come of it.
Before I knew it, she had built this plan into the biggest Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer production you ever saw. Her mother thought the idea was kind of cute and really got into the act. She sewed a white bridal dress for old Sarah and she sewed me up a kind of formal coat like Fred Astaire, with a white shirt and wide tie and striped pants. Everything except a top hat.
In the time before the big event, I tried to put this stuff out of my mind. But the days came rolling in, until finally it got to be the Saturday I had been dreading for weeks. Desolate and depressed, I climbed on my bike and rode over to her house. I was filled with a sense of doom, helpless toward off my fate. When I got there, I saw her place was packed with kids who had come over for the show and for the ice cream and cake.
I parked my bike by the garage and went in the back door and into the back bedroom where my costume was hanging up. Slowly and painfully, I put it on. Then I walked out to the yard where the kids were sitting on folding chairs lined up in rows. Just sitting there, waiting for the victim and the hangman to show up. Up at the front was an altar, built by Sarah’s daddy from scraps of plywood and painted a real shiny brown from several coats. It looked almost like a real altar, close to what you would find in areal church. I walked up to the altar and stood there like a lamb waiting at the slaughterhouse.
Suddenly, I heard her mother banging away on a piano inside the house. It was a wedding march. Then the bride appeared in all her white splendor, walking real slow and milking this scene to the limit, smiling and handing off little waves to kids in the audience. I just stood there in front of everybody, helpless, waiting for the executioner.
Finally old Sarah got up to the altar and gave me a big toothy grin. As we stood there, she grabbed my hand. She grabbed so hard, it hurt. She had a really strong grip and wouldn’t let up one bit.
Then a guy came out from behind a hedge and walked up to us.It was that phony Borden Turnbow, two years older and a preacher’s kid. He was dressed up like a real preacher, too, with a black suit and white shirt and a cheesy tie. He carried a big Bible which he placed on the altar.His round red face was flushed with importance, and had a look of great and serious endeavors. This was no joke to him, I could see that plainly. It was no joke to me either. My legs started shaking.
That crummy Turnbow had a script to read and he followed it line by line, every single word, with a heavy-handed tone as solemn and deadly as a judge sentencing a defendant to death row.
“Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today in the presence of friends and witnesses, to give recognition to the worth and beauty of love, and to add our blessings to the words which shall unite bride and groom in holy matrimony…”
I was starting to feel dizzy now, like I might pass out. This was way more serious than anything I had planned on. It was beginning to look like I was gonna be hooked for good!
“…friends, we have gathered here to share with Sarah and Kenneth a very important moment of their lives. Their love and understanding each other has grown and ripened, and now they have decided to live their lives as husband and wife…” Baloney! I sure never decided to live my life that way! I was getting more dizzy and shaky on my feet, like I would keel over any time. “…a husband and wife should not confuse love of worldly goods with love of one another…(blah, blah, blah)…the measure of true love is love freely given and freely accepted…(blah, blah, blah)…”
All this time, I was staring at that Bible sitting there on the altar.It was big, almost too big for that little plywood altar to hold up. It was areal Bible that Turnbow had brought along and I knew it came from his old man’s church. It seemed to have a power all its own, this book with its soft black leather cover which folded down over the edges, and with a long black tassel that came down from the top to keep track of the pages. A terrible thought dawned on me. With this real Bible and with a real preacher’s kid doing the talking, well maybe I was really getting married!!
Then Turnbow asked me a question. I was staring at that Bible so hard I didn’t hear what he said. But old Sarah gave me a jab with her elbow to wake me up. Turnbow looked at me like I was a total moron.
“Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?” There it was, the moment I had dreaded. I wanted to turn and run away, run away fast as I could. But I was in too deep now to back out. “I do,” I mumbled, with a feeling in my gut that I was gonna puke.
He looked at Sarah. Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?” She flashed that big toothy grin and proclaimed “I Do!” in a loud voice.
I was getting dizzy again and felt like I would pass out right there on the spot. Sarah crushed my hand in hers, the sudden pain shooting me back into reality. Old Turnbow was asking more stupid questions. Each time, I mumbled “I do” so low you could barely hear it. Each time, Sarah flashed that goofy grin and proclaimed “I Do!” in a loud voice. On one of the questions, I didn’t give the answer quick enough and got another shot in the ribs from Sarah.
How long can this misery go on? I asked myself as Turnbow droned on about this holy sacrament and about the sanctity of marriage and some other junk he had in his script. Then, suddenly, he drew himself to his full height and said “I Now Pronounce You Man And Wife. You May Now Kiss The Bride.”
Without warning, Sarah grabbed me and spun me around and planted a big watery kiss right on my mouth. I felt like I was gonna puke for sure this time. But finally she pulled away. I took a couple of real deep breaths, just like Mom told me one time when I got carsick.
Then Sarah’s mother started banging away on the piano, a tune that meant I was really cooked for good. Old Sarah just stood there in front of the crowd, gripping my hand harder than ever, waving with the other hand,and grinning like an idiot. Nobody knew what to do next. Then some kids jumped up and ran over to the table with the cake and ice cream. Sarah chased after them, trying to keep them from fighting over the food. Suddenly,the coast was clear — -I was free!!
I ran into the back bedroom where my clothes were. I tore off the fancy costume and put on my regular clothes and ran out the back door. Nobody saw me escape. I ran behind the garage and jumped on my bike. I took off as fast as I could, riding down back alleys in a kind of circular pattern in case they came out looking for me.
Once I made it home, I just breathed a big sigh of relief and hid my bike out by the garage. Feeling better now, I ran inside and turned on the radio. I just sat there and stared at that wonderful old floor-model Philco with the soothing yellow light behind the line you moved to change stations. I didn’t even care what program was on. I was safe at home again and free from my scary encounter with the sacred institution of marriage.
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