Surprise! - Glimpses of the Past with Karen Webster
Sept. 28, 1958
Sunrise Farm, Huron County
It is difficult to think how much my life has changed in just a short time. Thank you so much for being the maid of honour at our wedding in July (between haying and harvest, you know). It was a lovely ceremony with all our friends and relatives in Toronto attending and Mike’s folks from here in Huron able to come as well.
I didn’t realize at the time when I visited Aunt Gladys near Brussels last year that I would soon meet my life partner. I was reluctant to go to the Junior Farmers’ dance in Auburn with my cousin Bonnie, but I did go, and that is where I met Mike. And now I am living on a farm in the middle of Huron County. Mike’s parents live next door and his mother, Beth, has been sharing food from her large garden and, as well, she has also been teaching me how to can and pickle the produce.
The nights are so dark and quiet here, which makes for a restful sleep. That is, until the Friday night, a week after our honeymoon. We were sound asleep when all of a sudden there was a huge racket on the lawn with pots and pans being banged together. I was terrified but Mike only laughed and said “I guess it is my turn now”.
I quickly dressed and went downstairs to let in the crowd of neighbours and friends who had come to chivaree us. Yes, Brenda, “chivaree” is a word.
Most of these folks stayed in the kitchen with the food and refreshments that they had brought with them, but others mysteriously disappeared only to return to the kitchen later with smirks on their faces. It seems that my quiet husband had been the ringleader for quite a few of these midnight visits to newlyweds in the past. And, oh, the tales I heard that night about some of the pranks that had been pulled! After a couple of hours, the partiers started to leave with comments about chores being only a short sleep away.
It was after they had left that I started to find evidence of what those smirks were about. All the cans of food in the pantry had their labels removed. That made for some mysterious meals for a few weeks. Some of my intimate clothes were found the next morning in the trees outside the house and even crammed in our mailbox. And then, when we finally tried to crawl back in our bed, we found corn flakes between the sheets. It took a while to put things right again, but strangely, all that commotion has made me feel more welcome in my new home. I cannot imagine anything like this happening back in Toronto!
Since that chaotic night, I have gone to the local library to do some research into what a chivaree is and where it all started. It seems to go way back to the Middle Ages when the community’s disapproval of a marriage was expressed. Perhaps a widow or widower wed too soon after their bereavement or there may have been a huge disparity in the couple’s ages. The bridegroom seemed to get the worse of the deal in most cases. He might have been dunked in the water trough or even worse, blindfolded, stripped of most of his clothing and abandoned away from home, doomed to find his way back in the dark.
While most chivarees occurred with little lasting effects, that has not always been the case. In one Texas town, many years ago, shotguns were brought along to add to the noise factor. Unfortunately, in the confusion, a shot hit one of the revellers and a cousin of the bride died.
Some pranks were not thoroughly thought out beforehand. I read that one group fastened the doors of a couple’s house tight, then placed a burning bale of straw on top of the chimney causing the home to fill with smoke and ruin some of the newlyweds’ possessions
Through the years, the intent of the chivaree (or shivaree) became more of mere mischief, music and food. In 1928, after Marian Massey and Rev. Sandy Nicholson were wed in Saskatchewan, they journeyed to his Lucknow-area birthplace. The first evening they were there, the town band as well as a host of neighbours and friends, came to the home carrying brooms that had been soaked in coal oil and set ablaze. What fun everyone had that night with just a few pranks, lots of food and many solos and sing-a-longs.
Not all chivarees have been for newlyweds. A couple of years ago, Bob and Marg Hulley were treated to an old-fashioned chivaree of noise and laughter on the occasion of their 20th anniversary. Several of the merrymakers had also been at their original chivaree. And I even found one reference to a chivaree for a couple on the occasion of their 50th anniversary. Hopefully, the antics at that one were less robust!
Well Brenda, I don’t imagine you will ever hear of a chivaree in Toronto. Just imagine what the neighbours would do if one broke out on your street?
Please write soon and let me know how things are in your life.
Writer’s note: Linda and Mike are not actual people but their story is based on true facts.