The mass began several minutes late. Eliseo, the novio, had been at his post early, awaiting María, his novia, and still waited, sometimes sitting in his chair at the head of the alley, sometimes standing, looking, waiting. At last she came, on the arm of her father Carlos, with two little girls carrying her long train. The congregation then started a song as the priest, led by an altar boy, himself walked the alley and ascended to the altar.
Carlos quietly slipped out. Neither he nor Manuela, the novia’s mother, would be seen in their front row seat for another fifteen minutes or more. Must have been a lot of last minute details.
These families were working folk, people of limited means. No musical instrument accompanied the singing. No smoke of incense would assist their prayers in rising to heaven. But God, having been a carpenter himself, would recognize the voices of these friends of his, the same voices that rose to him every sunday at the early mass.
The gospel has been read and the priest now goes to stand before the couple. He does not have his microphone. The people fall silent in an effort to hear but there is nothing but a mystical murmur, coming now from the celebrant, now Eliseo, now María. The couple then face each other. The murmur continues. Holy water falls on the rings, the rings find their fingers, water falls on the couple. The priest returns to the altar, picks up his microphone, goes to the pulpit, and begins his homily. Midway through the homily the tower bells begin to clang, summoning the people to the wedding—the next wedding, that will begin as soon as this one ends.
Intercessions. May they be happy ... faithful ... have children. The offertory. Like Melchizedek the priest offers bread and wine. And the people offer money. That’s right; a collection is taken up. This is my first time to attend a mexican wedding, and I had wondered if they would take a collection. They do at funerals, at daily masses; any time the mass is offered, a collection is taken.
Lift up your
hearts! Let us give thanks. Holy, holy, holy ... and what is
this? The priest is calling for the testigos
All but the dismissal has been said. The priest now produces a ponderous
leather-bound volume and places it on the altar. It is the parish register. The pareja
ascend to the altar and sign the record of their wedding. Again the testigos
The dismissal is said and a song begins as Eliseo and María walk the alley. This time, with music, for an ensemble of instrumentalists for the next wedding has arrived, and they freely give their services to put a bit of polish on this one.
* * *
There may have been a hundred and fifty people at the wedding. There must be at least five hundred at the dance hall where the reception is held. Again, economy is the word. The meal is simple but it does include beef, for Carlos has been fattening a couple of steers for just such an occasion as this. The brandy is Presidente, not so costly as the famous Don Pedro. The band is two men with keyboards.
After a couple of hours of dancing comes an opportunity for any and all to dance with the bride and groom—for a price. Whoever wishes to dance will pin a bill to the clothing of novio or novia, and then take a dance. Before long the novios have money pinned all over them. Many of Eliseo’s buddies come forth, and, pinning generous notes to his jacket, take their turns with him, making hilarious parodies of the popular dances of couples.
Now two chairs are brought to the center of the floor, about eight feet apart. Novio and novia ascend the two chairs. María faces away from Eliseo. A lady picks up María’s train and hands it to Eliseo, who holds it high. Now all the solteras [single girls] wanting husbands are called to the floor. They make a figure eight procession around the newlyweds—is this another sort of lazo? -- passing under the bride’s train with each turn. Who will get the bride’s bouquet, and be, perhaps, the town’s next bride? Whoops! there it goes; María’s bouquet flies over her head, over Eliseo’s, and into the hands of a most plain looking girl, who carries it from the floor without a smile.
The procedure is reversed. Now Eliseo looks away from María, holding the garter she has removed, as the solteros make their figure eight. Over his head goes the garter, falling to the floor. A quick scuffle, and a boy emerges holding it high.
According to custom, she who captured the bouquet and he who got the garter are now called on for a dance. The dance is short. They do not smile, and when the music stops they go in separate directions.
Finally I can stand it no longer—I have to have some
relief, as in a trip to the baño. I go, and find, as one sometimes finds in
It is well after midnight when we leave, and the party has not slowed down. In my room a few blocks away I can still hear the throb of music as I go to sleep about one-thirty.
© 2004 Joseph Mansfield