I married into a large, traditional, first generation, straight-off-the-boat Polish family when I was in college. As a result, I ended up attending more than my share of Polish weddings.
For reasons that I am about to describe, one wedding stands out as particularly memorable. It was a classic Hamtramck American Legion hall or St. Ignatius Catholic Church basement affair. The food and drink was bountiful and sumptuous: chicken, ham, beef and sausage, stuffed potatoes and beets, cakes and pies of every sort, coffee and tea – all mixed with cigarette smoke. Lots of cigarette smoke.
A team of bartenders poured vodka, champagne, whisky, gin and beer non-stop. A five-piece accordion band led by a round man with greasy hair and a pencil-thin mustache was pacing through the standards from Bobby Vinton to the Beer Barrel Polka. Everyone from the ring boy to the bride’s mother was plastered to the gills.
The bride's father, the owner of a small refrigerator parts factory in Melvindale, had spent a considerable sum of money to insure the perfect wedding for his youngest daughter. He was holding court at the bar, laughing loudly and consuming aggressively, intent upon getting his money's worth.
"Have more, have more,” he laughed nervously, “for what I’ve paid there should be more food than you can ever eat. Here! Uncle Felix, take some sausages home to your fat wife and underfed dog!". More laughter, clinking of glasses and swirls of fresh cigarette smoke.
The party continued. But suddenly around 2:30 a.m., after hours of music, dancing, eating, drinking, kissing, laughing, yelling, quarrelling and marveling at how the children had grown, the party hit a lull. The wind went out of the room and the collective wedding wisdom assessed the damage. It was done, they concluded, it was time to go home.
And so, with a unified nod, the reception ended. As sure as it started, it ended. Guests dug for coats and purses. Sleepy kids were sorted out and retrieved. Kisses, hugs and the last of the good-bye’s were exchanged before heading for the parking lot.
On a table near the door, many pies of apple, cherry, minced meat, chocolate, lemon-meringue and coconut remained uncut and uneaten. The father of the bride stood proudly by the table, receiving the complements of his guests, shaking theirhands, and handing them pies to take home. "Take a couple," he chuckled, "they're already paid for." And so to coats, purses, keys, cigarettes and children, the guests added pies as they exited the wedding hall.
Just outside the door, the white noise and sticky warmth of the party was met by the sudden quiet cool of a Michigan early-summer late-night. Last minute comments, jokes and insults were hollered back and forth between the parked cars as furtive good-byes were said amongst old friends and family members who just-never-got-the-chance-to-see-quite-enough-of-each-other. As the noise died down, a momentary stillness fell over the group. Hands hesitated at door handles and fumbled through coat pockets and giant white vinyl purses for keys, cigarettes and a light.
It only took one pie.
It was either coconut or banana cream based upon the filling that slopped from the sides as it spun unevenly through the night air. It crashed against the windshield of a Chevy Impala sending pie shrapnel in radial arcs. Within seconds, pies of every sort were being hurled back and forth by otherwise proud people wearing their very best clothing. Apple pies ricocheted off the hoods of Buicks from Lansing and meringue splattered on Fairlanes from the Wixom Ford assembly plant. The night air became thick with pies. Husbands pelted wives and aunts pelted uncles. Cousin was turned against cousin, neighbor against neighbor, stranger against merry stranger. Errant pies became secondary sources of fresh ammunition as handfuls of pie-fillings were scooped from the asphalt and off windshields and then hurled again with gleeful abandon.
The one minute and twenty-seven second episode ended with a flourish. Daring last minute attacks and counter attacks sent cursing and giggling revelers quickly into the safety of their family automobiles. Car doors slammed hurriedly, excitedly, shut.
"Oh my god… look at your rented tux!".
"Can you see out that window well enough to drive?
"Damn, I missed… “
The father of the bride was leaning against a green Rambler, coated with pie, laughing breathlessly and coughing up cigarette phlegm - grinning ear to ear. He waved to the honking and departing guests, flicking pie-filling from his hands and from his best silk tie.
Behind him, his daughter, the beautiful bride, stood at the door of the wedding hall, peering out at the scene of destruction with abject horror.
She looked at her father in disbelief and to her mother for an explanation. There was none forthcoming. Her parents were giggling like twelve-year-old children. The father gave his daughter a huge hug and, catching her eye, winked.
“Don’t worry Sweetheart,” he smiled, “ they were already paid
for. Every last one of‘em".