The Shivaree and Farming Community Wedding Customs Prior to WWII

Posted: September 15, 2012 in Letty Owings
Tags: , , , ,

FDR Profile
photo: dctourism/flickr

This is a true account of wedding customs in a rural Missouri farming community prior to WWII, as told by Letty Owings, age 87. The account is limited to the small geographical area. Customs may have been different, twenty miles down the road.

The Shivaree and Farming Community Wedding Customs Prior to WWII

Most country weddings in our community took place in the home. The bride and groom dressed nicely, but there were no bridal shops or wedding dress makers. A preacher would come to the home to perform the wedding. Even if people were not churchgoers, the preacher would “marry and bury.” At the wedding ceremony, someone, usually a couple, would stand up as witnesses for the couple being married.

The usual refreshments and a small reception followed the wedding ceremony. A few days after the couple got settled, the community held a shivaree. The shivaree was a post-wedding noisy party for the community where the newlyweds were pressed into service as hosts. In short, the shivaree was a mock serenade and a roast of the newlyweds. People brought all sorts of noisemakers and pots and pans to bang on, and they sang songs and enjoyed refreshments, compliments of the newlyweds. Adding to the atmosphere of friendly ribbing and polite mockery, nobody bothered to dress up. Supposedly, the shivaree was spontaneous and clandestine. However, it was an organized spontaneous that wasn’t really a secret. Since the newlyweds were expected to provide the refreshments for their own roast, they had to know where to be and what time to be there. Community members organized the shivaree by word-of-mouth instructions. Everyone in the community had plenty of advance notice for this ‘spontaneous’ post-wedding party, and looked forward to the fun. Newlyweds looked forward to the noisy event as well, and they would have been insulted at not being forced to host the shivaree.

The marriage rate in the community was nearly 100 percent in those days. Not getting married was almost unheard of, and for the most part, people married their neighbors. Courtships lasted 1 1/2 to 2 years, and people rarely waited past age 22 to marry. Women were younger than men in almost all cases, so you might typically see a 19-year-old woman marry a 21-year-old man, give or take. During the courtship, the woman never, ever called or contacted the man to ask the man out on a date. Men initiated all the courtship contact.

There came a time when a lot of social customs were clouded by the war overseas. Word trickled in that there was a war raging in Europe. One must bear in mind that we had no television or organized press in our community at the time. We only got our first wind charger radio in 1938. Rumors spread, conversations ensued and people exchanged opinions. Some people took the position that the war raging in Europe was none of our concern. It was Europe’s war and Europe’s problem, not ours. After all, WWI had been a bunch of foolishness that we had no business getting involved in, and there was no need to repeat the foolishness. People voiced this opinion even as Churchill was down on his knees begging Roosevelt for help. Others countered this view with, “Yes, but there’s a crazy man Hitler and listen, this man is a maniac, the rumors are true, he’s killing Jews and he is a madman.” During this time there was a pall hanging over America and it extended to social functions in our small farming community.

No one ever came out and said, “There is a pall hanging over our social functions.” However, it was apparent. For one thing, people had a sense of unease about enjoying themselves at social functions while there was so much suffering going on in Europe, and the conversations often turned to that subject, even at the likes of a shivaree. Also, people began to be self-conscious about speaking German out and about. My father’s side of the family included ancestral illegal immigrants from Germany who did not care for German militarism of the time, so they bribed a ship captain and came to this country to escape it. They brought the language with them and the language sifted down through the generations, even to me as a young child. In one case, a boy’s folks did not want him going out with me, because of the German. It was lost on some folks that descendants of German people from generations past were a peaceful lot. The remnants of the language became associated with the current doings of a madman in Europe.

Everything changed on a Sunday. I had come home briefly from college where I was enrolled in a nature class. I wanted to collect some puffballs from the woods for my class. My father knew where to find these things so we went to the woods where they were, collected some samples, and returned home. I sat in a room with the sample collection, and my father went to the other room to listen to the wind charger radio.

He returned a few moments later and he said to me, word-for-word, “Honey, we’re in a war.”

  1. ed nelson says:

    I remember “Puffballs” down ’round here, once found one just about perfect for eat. And it was the size of a mellon. When they are around somewhat longer they dry out and explode in a Puff of brown dust… spores ya know. What they are is like a mushroom but all in a ball. They can be found in nice wet meadows in the spring.

    • I had to look them up, but once I did, I recognized what they were. I also remember them, from when I was a kid.

      Good to see you!

      • ed nelson says:

        Yup, you would remember… ” that time in… September!!! When we were… “… ?

        … It is a song, it is one great song too! TRy to remember a time in September… when… dadada…

        One version had Robert Goulet singing it, but before that one, was some other character who sang the heck out of it,

        I can’t remembrey all of everiesville… admittsville!

  2. ed nelson says:

    Oh yeah… Crane Stay… Where are the comments? Where are them comments, such as you should have here on your blog, other than just moi, I mean FCSakes, all them cat worshipers and bread bakers and garden variety garden enthusiests…. (like me… hee hee…) I garden with the best of em… I took classes in gardening, doesn’t seem to do much good, sad to report. I can’t get peppers to do much, one year, they were comin’ along ok then just stopped. Found out that there were mealy bugs in the roots, with little Argentine ants as the vector going in and out to the roots, the mealy bugs, like aphis, and scale and other insects like that, are bad news!

    Argentine ants, little black bastards no more than about an 1/8 inch long, are not supposed to live in our…””” himisphere, so that is a great thing to study, about some of the damage done… and it isn’t over, those ants can really kill your little backyard farm… They killed the chicks that were living on the top of a compost pile I made, ants got into the eggs and killed the chicks as they were trying to exit the shells, bastard little black ants, and nobody has much answer to stop these little tiny things… Well if you’re a big farmer, they might sell you some kind of poison, but Jesus what are you killin’ on the side with that heavy duty crap?

    • Far as where the comments are compared to a year or two ago, I don’t know, but it is pretty apparent (I think you are referring to another site). It could be anything- the time of year, possible burn-out- anybody’s guess.

      I do remember the song you referred to in your other comment here.

      When Letty says, “Everything changed on a Sunday,” of course she is referring to Peal Harbor. She will be continuing the story next with how this was announced to people, as well as some of the immediate, drastic changes that did take place. I am currently researching on my end, and we will be corroborating on another essay this week.

      Thank you for stopping by, sorry to miss your call. I get some pretty incapacitating migraines on occasion, and I was really pretty ill last night. Sorry about that!

  3. ed nelson says:

    Your mom does a great job of telling of the old time farm life, and what is surprising to me is, that she is only 87, like my late mom would become next week, were she to be alive, (died in Dec.)

    And to that point of the surprise, it is because my mother, knew next to nothing about farms and the hard scrabble stuff there, but her mom, my Granny did, she was born 1891, so not that old either… haha, but I knew her until I was 43 years old, and in all that time I always was close to Grams, I was close to all my fambly people, until they started to move away or WTF.

    I used to ask a lot of questions, I have an oversized curiosity to put it mildly. I should have been some kind of ”grand inquisitor or sompin, but she liked to tell the stories, and to explaine the terminalogy or wthe hech, now on one of Lettie’s deals, she was talking about a big kettle where you would make applebutter, well my Gram, used to talk about a big kettle, but it was called a.. “Wash boiler”, and that thing was for every thing. I had to ask here quite a few times to explaine it, but eventually I got the picture.

    No my Mom was raised in Fabulous Marin Co. (before the bridge… ), she took ballet lessons and piano too, her midwestern parents gave her nice chance to be middle class.

    So to complete the thought, I am glad to hear your mom’s story, even though it is one that is virtually the same as what my ole gram’s who was about 35 years earlier on… in South Dakota. Like two of her brothers died of the 1918 flu epidemic: the first (so we think) “designer bug.”

    • Well, it sounds like your mom had a very interesting and special story, how you must miss her.

      I am currently in the business of trying to coax my dad into joining in. He is 89, and rarely speaks of his past, or in particular, of his experience in the Pacific Theater…but recently he has expressed interest.

  4. ed nelson says:

    Hope you can get him to put in something, boy oy boy you have some good genes there with the age. Did your dad go to Guadal Cannal? we had a couple of our folks that were there, in particular, cousin LLoyd, who was in the First Marine Division to Guadal, and he was one of three, to survive that deal. He was trained for about two weeks, and sent off and went to the Pacific Theatre, and well he did learn how to kill a dog, cause he demonstrated that here to his little bro by breaking the back of a sort of mean dog… and well done LLoyd!

    LLoyd went on to Guadal, and since they gave em the wrong ammo for their guns… hey they mostly all got wasted, but ole LLoyd hunkered down and lived off the land, and got a hell of a case of Jungle Rot for all his efforts… He did survive, got the Silver Star and lived until about 1985 I think.

    Another fambly friend Frank Soldovini was in Quadal cannal, and he showed us photos of making soup out of … you know … head soup!!

    My budd’s from high school told me about some of the wonderful activities taht they done… like taking all the peeps they could round up and go up in a hellicopter and interigate em, and one after the other, you get the point…

    • My father was on USS Lacerta, an Artemis class attack cargo ship:

      After shakedown, Lacerta cleared Norfolk 18 January 1945 for Pearl Harbor where she loaded hospital crew and cargo for the Solomon Islands. Arriving Guadalcanal 27 February, Lacerta discharged cargo and embarked troops for the Okinawa invasion. She departed Saipan 27 March for the operation that would advance American troops to a strategic position almost next door to Japan. Arriving in the transport area 1 April under heavy enemy air raids, the cargo ship remained off the southeast coast of Okinawa unloading supplies, 150 mm howitzers, and Marines from Guadalcanal for Marines fighting ashore.

      Lacerta departed Okinawa 9 April for Saipan, where she remained until 3 June. In the months prior to Japan’s surrender, she ferried cargo among the Solomon and Mariana Islands before arriving Manila 22 August. Loading troops and equipment there, Lacerta participated in the movement of occupation forces to Japan, arriving Yokohama 13 September. She then went to Hai Phong (French Indochina) took on 6,000 Chinese Nationalist troops (1,000 each in six ships) carrying them to Qinhuangdao at the northern tip of the Yellow Sea, remaining in the Far Fast until 19 November when she cleared Tsingtao, China, for Seattle.

      She was decommissioned in 1945.

      These are all fascinating histories. A while back, family procured the log book from the national archives in DC, for the Lacerta, and gave it to my dad for Christmas.

      • ed nelson says:

        That was great, here I looked up the type of ships like the Lacerta,

        I didn’t go, so I don’t get to talk about it, much, well, we worked on Liberty ships, and Victory ships, during the VN war, many were constructed right here in the bay and up north too. They were made quick and fast, but they continued to sail for many years.

        Moms got her first job here:

      • In case you were wondering why this comment sat in the “pending” box, I think that WordPress does that when there are links. No worries, I love links! Thank you.

        On Marinship- I think it would probably be one of the coolest jobs in the world to work for a shipbuilder or to work in a shipyard.

        I remember when we lived practically next door to Naval Station Everett (Seattle area)- I was working for a medical company where I called on the Navy, so I met a doctor there, and he took me on a tour of the USS Abraham Lincoln. Talk about jaw-dropping. I’ll never forget that visit!

  5. ed nelson says:

    Yes the Puget sound has lots of navy stuff, what with Bremerton, and now you say Everett, that was a port too, where there were log loading operations, as in so many of those small ports up there, I worked a day or two in Bellingham, Seatle only three days, but loading one of those aforementioned Liberty ships, that was in about ’80, and that old skow… Liberty ship was still delivering to Alaska, a ship from ww2 that remained useful. One feature of that story, is that we put lighters, which are small craft, on the deck of that ship, pre loaded with the supplies that were to be delivered to many ports, far from navicable waters.

    That may be what we used to call: Lighters aboard ship…. the little boats are put in the water, and they go in and can go into really shallow water, and deliver their cargo.

    I wonder if you know somebody I know, in that area… I have a story to tell, but it isn’t too bad!

    I promise I won’t put in the bad stuff on the story, unless I get pissed off… haha.

    ONe thing I remember about my “working vacation to Bellingham WA, was: the smell of the place, to me it smelled kind of like coconut or something, not too bad of a smell, just that it was everpresent, and it was the identical smell I remembered from my trip to San Francisco, to the Sears Robuck store, with my friend Robert and his father Stan Field, back in the ’50’s…

    Of course later I figured out, that that smell was from some processing plant, I believe it was the copra dock. Copra is what they call raw coconut. There was a legacy of them guys who worked with pick and shouvle in those tubs with the stinkin’ copra, (
    .. ).

    In Bellingham it was the same smell, but that was from the paper process, which is full of acid and pollutes that whole bay and all that stuff!

    • Fascinating. I absolutely loved reading about this. Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest I am very familiar with the paper mill smell. Paper mills smell awful!

      Anyway, I love anything related to working around docks or shipping, how they get cargo from one place to the next- all very interesting.

      It tends to be a small world and it is possible that we have bumped into some of the same people over the years. I have family in Bellingham, Edmonds, Mukilteo, Yakima, and I know a bunch of people and have family in Portland as well. You are making me ‘homesick!’

      I think I just missed a call. My phone has been dropping a lot of calls this evening, so I have given up on talking and have plugged the phone in to charge overnight. Perhaps we could speak tomorrow or sometime in the next couple of days. I expect the problem will be resolved.

      I just finished proofreading for Fred. He has written a technical post on DNA for his site. Yes, we proofread each other’s work! Amazing the little typos and stuff you miss when you are writing something.

  6. ed nelson says:

    The Puget Sound is something like the Bay, lots of little places to sail to, go boating. And fish in, but that is in the past ( check out Jack London books, and the biography of him, in the 19th century Oakland, and how he not only fished the North, but they were fishing the South bay for shrimp and salmon and others in that sort of pristeen bay, (it had already been put to a test, with the horrible things done to the Sacramento river tributary system: Hydraulic mining”… which put several cubic miles… think about that… of fines=mudd, into that bay, killed most of the thing.

    because the toxic load is bad, we tried to eat the little fish we caught, but they tasted weird.

    My Gandpops came by just when I caught the dambdest biggest “pogey perch” ever, and he said, as we walked up to the house, “Oh Eddie, you should catch salmon, that’s a “‘junk fish'”, at the time I almost thought he meant that my..” great fish” was a “loser”, but I came to understand over time, and rethinking, do you ever do that? Do you ever recapitulate the events of the past, and gain some insights? Just through reminiscence of it, and/or in a dream something is changed in the script? OR waht.

    that, as he spent his early years, and some of his middle years as a fisherman, he was telling right!

    The fishermen use the term “Junk fish” as all ” by-catch ” that comes up with, nets, hooks, traps, etc, fish that are not the main target of the deal, are called by-catch, and some, or a lot of em, are “Junk”, so I wish I would have knowed that then, when my soon to be gone Norwegian… authentic “fisher folk” from the far North of Norway, told me that, cause I just wish I could have had a more adult conversation with the man, and not to remember my take: that he was putting my great exploit… the junkfishz_______________


    I don’t want to use and abuse the tele, so Here though this is supposed to be a kind of forum, I don’t see any ” reliable contributing posters and commenters” which to me sort of says, hey! ” They ain’t nobody here but us… chickens!”.


    Here is my main thing I wanted to tell you about, I get RT, on the TV and on the internet, which is easy to do, and I sure liked this program called “the Alonya Show”, today on the second half hr. it featured, a movie about the “ship breakers in Bangladesh”, that is a must see!!

    I know you are interested in maritime stuff like I am, and you will love that movie/documentary!!

    Oh my god! what footage, what stuff, you must see that one. Here is some of the particulars, but I don’t know WTF is the way to find it, it was put into the Alonya show 2nd half today.

    FNS presents a film by Bong-Nam Park
    ( breaking ships).

    • Oh thank you, I will search around.

      I do that thinking thing all the time, so I can really relate to that. I enjoy your sharing of experiences, some of the stories bring me near the salt water that I miss so much, and I appreciate that. When we were in Seattle, we scuba dove in the Puget Sound, in dry suits- quite an experience. I miss diving so much. If there is one thing I have to do before I die, it is that.

      Sorry for the delay in reply, my recent essay took quite a bit of time to write. Anyway, I love the stories, more please!

  7. ed nelson says:

    No Crane Stay, Please realize, that you don’t need ever to think of to have any apologetic deal !

    that said, uh… the most important thing is that, I really like your stuff, (even if I am now in my cups)

    what I mean: is you done good, you done a good thing… and you will do more good things too!!

    PS: LIsten here, I don’t adhere to any of this crap!! all I done is put it forward, so’s you see what I dun been talkin bout gadamnint….

    and gaddamit…. That was a little demonstration of…. being in the cups… haha… good luck!!

    And no… No is the answer, to

  8. ed nelson says:

    Well when I get ready to go… if you know… I will start to get into scuba…. I am getting over this thein where I want to go to sea in some little boat… that is sort of suicidal in some kind of way.

    Did you read that great book: “A voyage for Madmen”? I liked it!!

    I have a bunch a books I would like to send to you… and I will, in time send them!!

    You are somebody that might could be able to read any of the books that I might could … !!

    I ain’t that smart, No of course not, but in the long run… fuck the bastards, we can understand this shit… we the peeps will prevail…! The peeps will prevail!!

    And if the Peeps don’t prevail, well, then… fuck it, let’s think about another… “venue” sweets..

    • First of all, do not underestimate your intellect!

      I have not read the book you mention, but I have read quite a bit about diving accidents and disasters as well as stuff about dive medicine and dive physiology. I first got certified by NASDS in 1981 and then later by PADI. The NASDS course was no joke. Very intense. Our certification dive was in Battleground Lake in the shadow of Mt St. Helens in 41 degree water. I remember the cloud of ash at the bottom.

      Anyway, that course really pounded safety into our heads, and ever since then I have read as much as I can about dive accidents and how to avoid them.

      • ed nelson says:

        Rachel, I commend you for your courage and stuff doing that diving course, that isn’t for the timid or physically weak, I didn’t ever try it, but my dad did, and I remember going with him to a swimming pool where they worked out on it… and one guy, he went down with all the scuba stuff, and he pannicked! We sort of laughed at the fact that oh… so and so, pannicked!, poor fool, but that isn’t a thing to be taken too lightly… (Mike Nelson: ” Sea Hunt”… ), and I think I remember that is where the term originated: “Buddy system”, you must always have at least one other to do that kind of things.

        So when we see these ridiculous TV or Movie things where there is some great copper going in to a strange building, like all alone, or WTF… to find out the monstrous criminal… hahahaha: [that never happens, not with the cops,] and [not with the crooks either,] put that in your pipe,

        That guy pannicked!, well tell you what!:

        I have a sort of case of “asthma”, cause I didn’t use a dust mask ripping the redwood boards that I done ripped, and breathing in the sawr dust like I done… (what a gd dumnass I was!!), but what I mean is:

        I would not do anything with scuba, just because. But on one of my few trips, I did dive about 40 feet down free dive, down at the Is Mujaris, where there is a sunkin ship, what you do is, blow out your ears as you go down, and hey, just look up and see all them peeps on the surface like 4 stories up, it was a great sight to see.


        Oh yeah, great to hear your nice comment, about: not ” to underestimate your intellect…” however, I don’t think you have either underestimated nor, overestimated my so called intellect, because, I don’t take any umbrage from our conversations. Far from it!!

        You have been a great…

  9. ed nelson says:

    I guess I was going off the board on that last thing, but what I really meant was: gaddamit lets go an sail the seas….go and sail the seas… live until you die… who cares if you or I die…?

    Answer: nobody cares… if you or me or I… die, nobody gives a good gadamned if you or me die!!

    So gaddamned sorry to tell you about that kind of facttoid…

    • I have a rock solid plan to move to a deserted island when the hell of my gigantically bogus legal case ends.

      I’m serious.

      • ed nelson says:

        I got my eye on a boat, but I don’t exactly know where the ‘there’ is, the island… well when I get there is there going to be a whole tribe of… ‘rose is a rose’, Gertrude look alikes… in grass skirts, hell! Let’s go! Time’s a wastin’.

  10. ed nelson says:

    Hi Rachel, I checked in and reread, like I mostly always do, cause I am of a persuasion that might have been referred to by some hack psuedo’s as… “obsessional”, which… ok, I am that, but I think it is a good thing!

    What that means is, (in my view): is: is, that one… well say… “ruminates” on things, on and on, through the years, through the decads.

    One of the best features of obsessionalism… is: that it has some very good side benifits: such as: (joke poor little young and dumb Miss S/N Carolina… Pretty as a picture, and they made a fool of that beauty, but I’m with here, and I don’t think she could possibly ever be dumb. (naive).

    Oh… On the above when I was… lost the thread, so I will go to a new one:

    See, as it goes forward, it is seen, (seen by me anyhow… ) that there is a feature of the mind, and that is the human mind, and (not discounting other andibules that they have some features… well of course the do, it has been and will be, and all the DNA is of … (Well you might start looking to that code. because that is what is… )

    And it true that I have my eye on a boat, but I guess the guy bolted when I sent a bunch of links to the books I have read: Alex Rose… Chichester, Slocum, and my fave… “Race for Madmen”, a true story, (the movie is pretty good, but as always the book.!)

    And to close, I need to reemphasize that, I am not only a subject/devotee/designated hitter…, but I have to say: to be “obsessional” is not… so good, not so bad… but one damned thing is,, that somebody who has this… “proclivity”. will rehearse the memories, and keep them alive!




  11. ed nelson says:

    …. ah… like… Keep on keepin’ on… or what? Not say’n …. dadadda but you didn’t get back much there, and that’s… ok….. ……… bs… I don’t abide with it.

    • ed nelson says:

      Thanks so much for giving me this kind of forum, where… “stream of conscious” and/or, so may other stuffs, could be… entertained.

      Hope I didn’t abuse it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s