In the late fifties we lived in a twin house separated by a fence from the other house, in which lived Aunt Rita and her mother (Granny to us). During school times, Aunt Elizabeth and her children lived there too. Aunt Elizabeth was a roly-poly, jolly lady, very quick on her feet in spite of [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Aunt Rita’s wedding


In the late fifties we lived in a twin house separated by a fence from the other house, in which lived Aunt Rita and her mother (Granny to us). During school times, Aunt Elizabeth and her children lived there too. Aunt Elizabeth was a roly-poly, jolly lady, very quick on her feet in spite of her size. Her attitude towards children was that children existed only to eat, and that it was her duty to feed them. Needless to say she was a great favourite amongst us kids. Aunt Rita was a rather shy, gentle lady and was single, but one day after a gossip over the fence with Granny, Mother announced “Aunt Rita is getting married!” We were thrilled. This would be the first wedding we would attend.

Illustration by N. Senthilkumaran

We were in on it from the start of the courtship (a nice, old fashioned word, hardly ever used nowadays) and our curiosity knew no bounds. Her fiancé became a frequent visitor and we peeped over the fence to look at him. To our delight Granny invited us over to entertain the couple. Nothing loath, we went over and sang all the songs we knew. In that post-war period our favourite song was “Lay Down Your Arms”. It was a rousing song in march time, but our rendition of it was even more spirited, and sung as loud as possible. Not understanding the words one little bit we pronounced it “Lay Downy Yarms” and not being content with singing just one song, we followed up with advertisements heard over radio – “Super elegant georgette for my love………..”. We thought that the couple was highly amused, but years later we realised that we were being made use of as chaperones, and that Aunt Rita was probably wishing us miles away.

We were not invited for the engagement (known as the betrothal in those days) – only our parents were. We watched as Mother dressed up in a beautiful saree and went over. Listening to the murmur of voices and laughter from next door and sniffing the lovely smell of food that wafted over, we fervently wished that we could have been there. Suddenly we heard someone calling “Children! children!” It was Aunt Elizabeth calling over the backyard fence. Bless her heart! she had remembered that we too would love to eat. She appeared with a tray of short eats for us. One of us started to go back for a dish to put them in, but she said “No I don’t have time for that!” and told my brother “Hold out your sarong!’ Into the sarong which he held out like a basket, she poured in cutlets, patties, sandwiches, pastries and cakes. No one was bothered about the cleanliness of my brother’s sarong. Silence reigned while we tucked in.

Unlike now, weddings then were nearly always held at home. Aunt Rita being a good cook, made the cake herself, and we were only too glad to go over & help her as we would get to lick the bowl once she finished with it. The cake structure too was made by Aunt Rita, which was in the shape of a house made out of white cardboard with blue icing on it. The whole neighbourhood got involved in the wedding. Neighbours helped to pull down the fence between our two houses and to erect tents in both gardens. Uncle Damien who was one of the rare few who had a record player rigged it up to the speakers in our huge Murphy radio to provide music. The days leading up to the wedding were the most enjoyable. Aunt Rita’s relations came a few days before the wedding to help. That meant we had more children to play with, and the adults being busy had no time to discipline us. The visitors were put up in our house as well and all the children slept on mats on the floor.

It was a time when everything was in short supply, so a lot of borrowing went on between houses – not just the traditional cup of sugar, but plates and potatoes, shovels and serviettes, and even children ( “Can I borrow your little ones to help with the cake?”) So it was not surprising when Aunt Elizabeth’s son came over and said to my Father “Uncle, my mother wants to borrow your valendar wares.” This being unintelligible, Father sent him back to ask what exactly was wanted, and he came back requesting “valendar vellas”. Father, being an impatient man, had had enough and went over to find out for himself – they had wanted to borrow our verandah chairs! Wine glasses and dessert cups were also collected from neighbours, and marked to prevent any mix ups when returning them afterwards.

What thrilled us most was that we were to have beautiful party frocks sewn by a dressmaker friend of Mother’s. The day before the wedding Mother went to collect the dresses and to her dismay found that they were not ready. But always ready to make the best out of any situation, Mother brought them home and started on them going on well into the night. One of my memories is waking up in the middle of the night to see Mother quietly sewing our dresses. By morning they were ready – beautiful, yellow, organdy dresses embroidered with lace flowers and tiny beads.

Two men came early in the morning and set up operations in the back verandah to make hand cranked ice cream. This was done by turning the crank of a mixer placed in a churn containing the ice cream mixture, which in turn was placed in a wooden bucket filled with blocks of ice with sawdust and salt to keep it from melting. The men took turns turning the handle and as it turned, the cream thickened and lo and behold! – ice cream was made. It was a rarity and was served only on very special occasions so we waited impatiently to sample it.

There was nobody dressing the bride, as is done nowadays. Aunt Rita herself dressed up in her saree, Granny placed the veil on her head, and that was that. The church ceremony was a blur. I wasn’t even bothered about what the bride wore – I just noticed that she wore a very long veil. My only concern was my beautiful dress and I was trying my best not to crush it. My sister Charmaine who had an identical dress also had the same concern. Noticing that the frills of her dress were on top of mine I made haste to place mine on top. She retaliated, and a lot of pushing and shoving went on, leading to surreptitious pinching, finally ending in a minor scuffle. Seated next to us was old Mr. Soris (so named because there was a young Mr. Soris as well) and he tried his best to separate the two of us but to no avail. Finally, Mother came over and plonked herself on the pew between the two of us, thus effectively separating us. Father who was sitting in front heard the disturbance and looked back to glare at us threateningly. That was enough to quieten us. The only thing I can remember about the wedding itself was that Granny cried (as brides’ mothers all do), and that Mother was there to comfort her.

Everyone made their way back to the house for the reception, and on arrival the Triumphant March from Aida could be heard through the rigged up speakers. In those days only short eats were served at weddings – there was no lunch or dinner. Homemade milk wine was served (made by Aunt Rita several months before) together with wedding cake in small cardboard boxes. Short eats were next brought out, arranged on trays covered with white scalloped tissue paper. Cutlets, patties, egg boats with their golden yellow yolks, stuffed capsicum, pinwheel sandwiches, pastel coloured iced cakes, cream filled chocolate éclairs and other pastries made our mouths water. We sat inside the tent and helped ourselves every time the trays came round to us. The highpoint of the day was when ice cream was brought out. We waited impatiently for it to come round to where we were seated, and when we were served, savoured each spoonful of it, till it melted way. Charmaine had a better idea. She finished hers quickly and went over to another row of seats where ice cream had not been served yet and happily took another serving! We were annoyed with ourselves for not having thought of that trick.

When it was time for the couple to leave Aunt Rita appeared in a beautiful red saree, and everyone wished the newlyweds. We were given the task of throwing coloured rice at the couple as they went away which we were delighted to do. Granny started crying again and we just couldn’t understand why she was crying so much on such a happy occasion. Although the wedding was over our fun lasted longer. Aunt Elizabeth let us take the cake structure home, and we happily nibbled on the blue icing for several days afterwards.

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