A Wedding in Town
by Joseph H. Wachtel with permission from the publisher
from the book: Escape from the Hounds of Hell
Excerpt from Chapter 2:
The wedding of Hannah, Uncle Yankel's daughter, was to take place at the end of the summer. The whole household of Uncle Yankel was in full swing with preparations. I had a crush on Hannah. I was about five or six and she was twenty.
As the days of the wedding came closer, the clothing of every Jew in the town had to be washed and mended and prepared for the event. Shoes were shined, everyone was getting haircuts. The klezmers (Jewish musicians) arrived two days before the wedding night. They came from Vizhnitsa. The cooking had begun a week before the wedding. The children were milling around sniffing the air filled with the good smells of roasting chickens, pot-roasts, cakes and cookies. Almost every house in town cooked something for the wedding.
The musicians started practicing and tuning their instruments. Even the dogs and cats in the village were excited, running around as if they knew that Hannah was getting married.
The day of the wedding arrived. The people in town were bathing and grooming, dressing up and getting ready to meet the groom, who came from another town near ours. The bride was in her parents‘ home surrounded by friends and family. It was the tradition for a groom who came from another town to be met by young people with decorated horses and wagons and with musicians and drinks. Then they all drove back to the house where the groom was to stay until the wedding. He was not supposed to see the bride before the ceremony.
My family was getting ready for the wedding. Almost everybody was dressed up. At the last minute I discovered that the shoes assigned to me did not fit. I could not pull them on my feet. I had shined them for almost an hour. They were like a mirror. But I could not walk in them. I tried again and again.
With tears in my eyes I went to my mother. She tried to help me, but without results. She sent me to my father. But he could not help. I was told to stay home and later someone would come to see what could be done. It was already time to go to the wedding. My whole family left, and I was alone.
Through the window I saw Leah, a friend of mine, walking with her parents to the wedding. That reminded me that they had gotten a package from America and that in it was a pair of shoes which Leah and I had tried on and that they fit me, were even a little big. I ran after Leah and told her to get the shoes and told her what had happened. It took me a while to convince her. She went back to the house and found the shoes for me, then went back to her parents. She did not tell them anything. After all, we were friends.
I took those shoes, went back home, cleaned them and shined them, and started to put them on. Not bad. They fit. They were ladies shoes: high heels, pointed toes, high uppers, with a lot of shoelace holes. There must have been about twenty—four holes on each side. When I tied the laces the shoes reached my knees. The heels were about three inches high. I pulled them on, tied them up, and tried to walk. I almost fell on my nose. But I did not give up. I figured when it got darker, I could go to the wedding and stay on the side and watch Hannah get married at the chupah.
The wedding was in full swing. The music played, the smell of food and cake was delicious. Children were running around. Uncle Yankel's house was four houses away, not too long a walk, and my dog was next to me all the time. I was afraid of the kids. If they saw me like this on those high heels, I knew I needed my dog.
Finally I got to the wedding. I stood in a corner and one of the boys walked over to me, bent down and looked at my feet. Without saying a word, he ran away. I knew something was going to happen. I stayed in that comer waiting for developments. My oldest brother came over to me and after him, a whole bunch of kids. They stood at a distance in silence. My brother tried to persuade me to go home and not embarrass him and our family. But I just stood silent, not saying a word. Then my father came. He looked at me with a smile. He picked me up in his arms, covered my feet with his caftan (black coat), took me into the main room where all the guests would sit for the wedding meal, put me down on a bench, covered my lap with the table cloth, and said to me, "Sit here until I come back."
Nobody dared to come close to me. My father told my brother to keep an eye on me and tell the kids to stay away. Everybody knew if my father approved what I did, no one could mock me.
The chupah ceremony was over. People started sitting at the tables. My family came too. My father told me not to walk around but to sit at the table and have a good time. My family and friends supplied me with food and drink, including wine.
After a while, I was encouraged to dance in my shoes and became the hit of the party. The news spread that I was dancing in American "shimmy" shoes. My father enjoyed my performance. When Hannah heard about it she came over, picked me up, kissed me, and said, "I love you for what you did. I know it meant so much for you to be at my wedding."
We all had a good time. The wedding was over. I returned the shimmy shoes to Leah. Next day I went barefoot to school and life went on as usual in town. It was the most beautiful wedding I ever attended.
from the August 2010 Edition of the Jewish Magazine