Before we were so consumed with outdoing one another, weddings were much more modest affairs. Back in the fifties, Brooklyn Italians were famous for throwing "football weddings". I'm not sure where the term originated, but at these weddings, the food was simple fare, mostly cold-cut sandwiches wrapped in wax paper. Each table would have a pile of sandwiches, and if you didn't find something you liked, it was common to holler across the room: "Hey Carmine, throw me a capicola", at which point Carmine would comply and sail the sandwich through the air to whoever requested it. At the height of the meal, the scene would resemble a football game with flying salami or ham and cheese sandwiches.
These affairs were typically held in a hall rented out by organizations like the American Legion or the Kiwanis Club. There was a polished wood dance floor surrounded by folding tables and chairs. Kids were usually invited to weddings since it didn't cost $500 per guest. A big thrill for us kids was to get a running start and to slide as far as we could across the polished floor. You would be hard-pressed to find a margarita-dispensing fountain at these functions, but there was plenty of beer in pitchers, and at high-class affairs, a bottle of scotch or rye on each table. Music was provided by local talent; the band almost always included an accordion.
As the evening progressed and the level in the scotch and rye bottles diminished, the fun would begin in earnest. There was an uncle in every family whose hobby it was to get blotto at weddings and disgrace himself, usually winding up driving the porcelain bus in the men's room. Men began to dance, not with their wives, but with each other. My father "Tony Boots" had a routine that never varied; he would tie his jacket around his waist like a hula skirt, and then swish a cloth napkin back and forth across his derriere in what was probably the worst imitation of a strip tease ever. Bonus laughs might be had if one of the kids sliding across the dance floor collided with Tony in mid-swish.
Toward the end of the evening, the bride and groom would make their rounds of the tables to collect the "busta", an Italian term for wedding envelope. Usually it was cash or, for the more upwardly mobile pisanos, a check. (Some seasoned wedding-goers would not seal the gift envelope until they were satisfied that the party was worth the twenty bucks they put in. If the event was not up to their expectations, then ten bucks would discretely be removed. This is another New York custom...giving money as a wedding gift. In other parts of the country, people give punch bowls, 3-D pictures of horses, or re-gifted gravy boats. I think the Italians got it right...keep the crap and show me the money every time.
People today might be horrified to hear how these weddings went, but you know what, they'd be wrong. We had wonderful times at these football weddings and it didn't require you to mortgage your house to pay for one. Given the choice between today's extravaganzas and the simple parties in the American Legion halls, I can only say: "Hey Carmine, throw me a capicola".
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