My daughter got married just a few short months ago. The event was spectacular and one that I’ll relive in my mind for years to come. Every part of the wedding was so well planned and executed at the hands of my daughter and my new son-in-law ( an honorary hunky I might add). The church, the ceremony, the music, the reception, the food, the fun! It was quite an affair!!
During my moments of reflection on the events of her wedding day, I cannot help but to think about the evolution of weddings in our family!! Although the event has become quite a bit more spectacular, the basic premise of a hunky wedding pretty much remains the same. Two people fall in love, get engaged, plan a wedding, go to the church for the wedding ceremony, drive off to the reception, drink, dance, eat, drink, dance, drink, dance, cut the cake, throw the flowers, toss the garter, dance, drink, do a bridal dance, drink, dance some more, bride and groom depart, guest remain to drink and dance until the reception hall staff begins tearing down the entire event and throws them out. That pretty much sums it up.
However, “back in my day” there was one key element that defined the Duquesne Hunky wedding! The Kleenex Carnation!!! Now, you have to understand how my mind works when I decide to write about a subject on my blog. I actually do some (a little) research on the idea. I try to research the traditions, find supporting documentation, photos, etc. However, on the subject of the Kleenex carnation, I have come up virtually empty handed! There are no pictures of vintage cars laden with these flowers, no Wikipedia explanation….. nothing!! Nič! Ništa!
This has led me to the conclusion that we must have had a lock on this tradition. Although I know this isn’t the case, I’m exercising artistic privilege here. Here’s my theory:
The picture below is of a Slovakian wedding party circa 1910 taken in Czechoslovakia. Actually, my grandmother Anna is the young girl in the back row to the very right. I ask you to pay particular attention to the bride in the front row. As you can see, she is laden with flowers not only in her hand, but around her neck, at her feet, draped over the flower girls and practically oozing out of every part of the photo. You’ll have to admit, flowers were an essential party of the hunky wedding, considering the guys were practically wearing bridal bouquets on their lapels!
OK, speed forward to Duquesne in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. As the traditions evolved, flowers made a transition from bridal boas to auto garlands. Ergo, the Kleenex carnation!! My theory might be a bit flawed, but it serves the purpose.
The creation of these Kleenex carnations was a social event in itself. There were no “Carnations R Us” stores or surrogate carnation makers to hire. The design and creation of these little gems was an intense labor of love among hunky family members. I recall being drafted to assist in making these as a young boy. I believe it was for my cousin Joanne’s wedding to Ken. We had gathered at my Aunt Rose and Uncle Sam’s second floor apartment on Auriles Street in Duquesne. We all sat huddled on their living room floor to begin the creative assembly line. Mr. Ford would have been proud. There were those that pulled the Kleenex from the box and then flattened them. Then a person who’s job was to fanfold each individual tissue, fold them in half, tie them, cut them and then pas them on to the “shaper.” The shaper was a sculptor of sorts. They pulled apart the individual plys without tearing them in order to create the carnation. This was a pivotal role, and one earned only after serving years in an apprenticeship capacity. As a novice, my job for Joanne’s wedding carnations was to cut bits of string that were used to tie the Kleenex together after the folding process. A humble beginning, but a necessary step.
In those days, Kleenex didn’t offer many options in color. There was the basic white, pink, yellow and powder blue. If a bride had chosen any other color for the carnations another step was added to the creation process. Fingernail polish! Yep! The creation team would manage to tip each flower with the color choice of the bride using small bottles of fingernail polish. With several bottles open and being used at the same time, I swear we all can pretty close to getting high from the fumes!!
All of our labor paid off on the wedding day. While the ceremony took place, a group of family members or close friends would apply the Kleenex carnations to the bridal car that was awaiting the new Mr. & Mrs. The thought of using tape on a car today would send anyone into a tailspin, but back then, it didn’t seem to be an issue. Perhaps it was all the lead in the paint that helped to keep it from being affected by the tape. By the time the bride and groom emerged from the church in a shower of rice (yep, real rice!), their car looked like a float ready to enter the Rose Bowl parade on New Year’s Day! One always hoped for sunny days and warm weather in order to pull off this transformation and usually, God provided. It must have been Hunky Luck! With horns blaring and family waving, the wedding party was on their way to the Hunky Wedding Reception, and that my friends is a WHOLE other story. So, tune in again.. there are more memories to come!