Chivaree!

Do you ever awaken with a word on your mind?  Probably no one else in the world does this, but it happens to me pretty often.  This morning I woke up “hearing” the word chivaree.  I hadn’t heard the word in years, and thought it strange that it would just “appear” on the movie screen of my brain out of the blue. 

But wait, maybe it’s not out of the blue after all.  I’ve been planning a 40th anniversary party for my husband and I for the past year or so.  I’m making decorations, putting finishing touches on the menu, gathering serving pieces, and tying up loose ends for what I hope will be a fun and memorable celebration.  Perhaps my preparations,which might certainly seem wedding-like, have caused me to conjure up old memories–old fears, if you will, from a time when I felt very threatened–by a chivaree!

Those of you who have never heard the term, or are too young to remember when they took place, a chivaree happens on the night of the wedding.  Friends, relatives, and various other folks come to your house, wait quietly outside until the lights have gone out, and then they start banging on pots and pans, blaring car horns, aiming spotlights at the windows, and yelling at the top of their lungs until you open the door, invite them in, and offer this rag-tag bunch of hooligans refreshments!  If you don’t, they might abduct you, leave you somewhere in the dark and let your spouse try to find you.  Or they might blindfold your sweetie, put him in a wheelbarrow, and truck him off into the woods, then make you go find him.  Fun times.

There are lots of “fun” pranks that go along with the tradition.  The pranksters sneak into the couple’s house before they return from the wedding, and have a high old time putting crackers in the couple’s bed, removing paper labels from all the cans in the pantry, and applying Saran wrap to all the toilets.  

The custom of chivaree has been around for at least a couple of hundred years, and seems to have its origins in the midwest and south.  It’s the community’s way of blessing the marriage and putting its seal of approval on the choice you’ve made in spouse.  It’s a welcome into the “family” of both blood kin and close neighbor.  The tradition has morphed over the years into what we have now–people sneaking out during the wedding reception to decorate the car with shaving cream, crepe paper, and tin cans attached to the bumper.

When hubby and I tied the knot in 1973, the tradition of chivaree was dying a slow death in these Ozark foothills, but was still a very real possibility for the unsuspecting newlywed.  And though I have never taken part in one, my hubby fondly reminisces about his part in such atrocities.  It’s hard for me to believe that my quiet, soft-spoken, shy husband would ever have taken part in these raucous adventures, but it turns out he was a very active participant in the hooliganism. He speaks fondly about the time he helped put the groom’s car’s back wheels up on blocks the night of the wedding. A not-so-nice surprise for when the loud noise prompted the couple to try to make a get-away!

Which brings me to the reason I was terrified of that word.  The first few months we were married, my husband introduced me to a friend of the family, Johnny Newberry.  Johnny was a very different sort–a bit odd, but lovable.  Johnny had quite a unique appearance–large blue eyes that seemed to bulge from the sockets; a huge smile with wide-spaced teeth; very little hair, and a distinctive, high-pitched laugh.  He always wore a plaid shirt and blue overalls, and walked with a pronounced hitch.  When we were introduced, the first thing Johnny gleefully told me was, “We’ve got to get you a chivaree planned!” to which hubby responded, “Oh, no, Johnny; it’s much too late.  We’ve already been married several months.”  It was then Johnny informed us that a chivaree can take place for up to two years after a couple is married!  

I had no clue what a chivaree was–had never heard the term!  But when hubby and I were alone and he explained to me what to expect, I let him know on no uncertain terms that I was not having that under any circumstances!  He just shook his head sadly and said, “There’s not a thing I can do about it.” Every time I saw Johnny Newberry, he grinned that big grin of his and said the word that made my blood run cold:  Chivaree.

I lived in fear of the dreaded chivaree, but finally the two years passed, and Johnny became my beloved friend, and there never was a chivaree for us.  I had all but forgotten even the term until this morning when I awakened to those frightening syllables whispering through my subconscious until they became fully formed as a very real thought, and a very real memory of something I dreaded with all my heart.

I’m smiling as I write this, because I realize that there never really were any plans for a chivaree.  Johnny was enjoying a silly joke at my expense.  It was his way of welcoming me into his family of friends and neighbors.  As the years passed, hubby and I spent many an evening at Johnny’s table, playing dominoes with he and his sweet mother.  We were sure to be beaten, and sure to be rewarded with Johnny’s laughter as he cleared away the dominoes.  Johnny and his mama are both in heaven now.  I’ll bet when Johnny got there, the good Lord gave him a proper chivaree.

About prroberson

I am a southern writer/teacher and proud grandmother.
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