Saturday, January 19, 2019

Shivar - me Timbers!

My last posting by guest contributor, Conrad, about his grandparent's shivaree got a surprising number of responses. That entertaining topic really struck a chord with many of you who were familiar with the usually friendly harassment of newly wed couples. A number of you either experienced this custom first hand or heard stories from your parents or grandparents. It's a celebration that they very much enjoyed back then. 

This Drawing depicts the Groom in His Union Suit
Being harassed  by Family and Friends
During His Shivaree
When contemplating the many shivarees that took place yester-year, young grooms were no doubt awakened, pulled from their warm beds, and paraded around by friends and neighbors in their night shirts or pajamas, their boxer shorts or BVD's; some perhaps fully clothed. But those boys who were marched around in their union suits were the most entertaining, the embodiment of this well remembered custom.

Here are three stories I culled from your emails to include herein. I hope you agree shivarees are worth taking a second look.

From Johnny of Tulsa, OK

My wife and I were married in 1961 when she was nineteen and I was twenty. We had just enough money to honeymoon for a long week end in Colorado. Then, we were back home to work and start our lives together. We made our first home in Guymon, Oklahoma about five blocks from downtown. At the time I worked for a small telephone company as a lineman apprentice. I had worked there for nearly one year.

About a week after our honeymoon, there was a frantic knocking on our front door in the middle of the night. I crawled out of bed in my red long johns and went to see what the commotion was all about. I turned on the porch light and opened the door. Surprisingly, there stood my boss from work. I asked him, "What's the matter, Chuck?" 

"We have to talk," he said earnestly. 

"Just a minute and I'll grab my pants," I told him, puzzled.

"Naw," Chuck said, "this will take just a minute."

As I stepped out on the front porch in my union suit, five guys from work grabbed me. "We're here to help you celebrate your matrimony," one of the boys said as they lifted me up on their shoulders. 

They carried me all around the yard on their shoulders singing, “She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain When She Comes, When She Comes...” Their off-key voices were very loud. Porch lights blinked on all over my neighborhood as they got to the verse, “Johnny'll Be Wearing Long Red Flannels When She Comes, When She Comes...”

Boy, was I embarassed. I had heard my parents talk of shivarees but I never thought I would be the butt of one.

The night didn't end with them carrying on so with their singing. No, my co-workers produced a wheelbarrow from some where and directed me to start pushing it around the yard. In the meantime, Chuck invited my wife, who had pulled on a robe over her nightgown and was standing at the door, to join me. He helped her into the wheelbarrow and said, "Let's take a trip downtown!"

As I said, we lived about five blocks from the central business district of Guymon. I protested that I was "not about to go to town in my underwear!" But I couldn't argue too strenuously with my boss so off we went, me in my red union suit and my new bride in her robe. Neighbors stood out in the yards, some in pajamas, others in long johns, women in night gowns and robes, and cheered us on. 

After pushing that damn wheelbarrow up and down main street for an hour, the boss and boys allowed us to wheel home exhausted. That's a night my bride and I have never forgotten.

This from Ty of Odessa, Texas:

Conrad's shivaree story reminded me of a book I have on my bookshelf, Around the Farm, by Mickey Cummings. One of his stories is about his granddad being shivareed. In part, he wrote that after dark Papa and Granny heard a group of 15 to 20 people come down the road singing and beating on pots. They built a large fire in the front yard and began roasting chickens. The friends that night beat on the front door asking for sugar or salt. It was given to them over and over so that the group would not do anything worse to them on their wedding night and maybe even go away and leave them alone to consumate their marriage. Apparently, giving small treats to the revelers would encourage them to go away.

Papa had participated in a shivaree or two himself over the years and recalled the time a groom, just married and a friend of his named Russell, would not open the door of his house on his wedding night. Not a sound was heard from inside. “So, one of the boys decided we should go in and steal the groom. The group of boys walked into the house and down the hall to the bedroom. They flung open the bedroom door and grabbed up the protesting groom and carried him outside. The boys walked around the house carrying the groom above their heads while they all sang “Oh Susanna.”

It was after midnight when the mob took the hapless groom down to the river and threw him in! "The young man hit the water with a big splash and immediately came up shrieking from the shock of the cold water. All he had on was his long underwear and he ran shivering and barefooted all the way back to his house."

The next time there was a knock on the front door and someone asked for sugar, it was given to them. Papa said, "After we went home that morning I felt guilty because I thought my friend would come down with pneumonia. But, he didn’t and after a month or so we all laughed about the shivaree. Papa and Russell remained friends for the next 70 years."

And from Rob of Wichita Falls, Texas:

Chris, my story isn't about a shivaree but your recent posting of such reminded me of the time I found myself kidnapped in my union suit just like Conrad's grandpa. It happened in the middle of the night when I was a kid.

In Texas back in 1960, boys and girls could still obtain their driver's licenses at age 14, believe it or not. Large portions of Texas were rural communities. Kids typically drove their daddies' trucks and tractors out on their farms and ranches including highways. State law allowed them to have licenses. So, us city kids got to have driver's licenses at a young age too. Too young, now that I think back on it.

When I was just over age fourteen, about three weeks after I got my license, I stayed over a Friday night at my friend Greg's house. I had driven over in my dad's Bonneville station wagon which I had borrowed for the night. I planned to return it early the next morning before he left for work.

Greg's folks were gone for the week-end and we were to be watched over by his older eighteen year old sister. She was made to stay home to keep an eye out so that we stayed out of trouble. After a fun evening of horsing around, Greg and I turned in about midnight. I remember us getting undressed and climbing into bed. He had a bunk bed so I climbed up on top and he took the lower one. I fell asleep almost immediately.

Before long, I was being pulled roughly out of the top bunk landing on the floor with a thud. Ouch! The lights came on and standing around me were Greg and three or four of our classmates. Greg had apparently been in on this little caper so he was fully dressed. I on the other hand was the only one in his underwear, one-piece long johns.

"Come on, Robbie" one of the boys said, "you gotta take us for a drive. I got some beer."

In the confusion of being roused from a deep sleep, I stood up and starting looking around for my clothes. My shirt and pants were no where to be found. Only my high-top Keds were in sight. "Get your shoes on, Robbie," whispered Greg. "And everybody be quiet or you'll wake up my sister."

Protesting, but not too loudly, the boys escorted me out of the bedroom in my union suit. One of them had removed the car keys from the pocket of my jeans before he hid them. The boys snuck me out of the house without incident. But just before reaching my car, Greg's sister yelled from the front door asking us boys what we thought we were doing. Greg told her that I was going to take them for a ride.

She looked at me standing there in my union suit and asked, "Robbie's driving you delinquents somewhere in his underwear? You two get back in the house and the rest of you boys go home before I call mom and daddy!"

The boys scattered as Greg and I returned to the house under his sister's watchful eyes. Giggling, she said, "Robbie you look ridiculous in your long johns with those sneakers on. Wish I had a camera. Now you boys get back to bed."

Greg grumbled with disapointment but I knew a good thing. His sister saved me. It was embarrassing for me, a fourteen year old boy, to be seen in my long underwear by a girl, albeit an older one. She, almost a grown woman, saved my bacon that night. The boys and I could have gotten into all sorts of trouble. I will always be indebted to her. As for Greg, I gave him what-for but we have remained good friends to this day.

The Shivaree

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Grandpa Gets Kidnapped In His Underwear!
By Guest Contributor, Conrad of Ft. Collins, Colorado

Although he didn't think it funny at the time, grandpa always got a big kick relating his shivaree escapade. We grandkids loved this story. Grandpa and grandma were married in February, 1925. They didn't have enough money for a honeymoon. So, after their wedding at a little country church, they went home to a small one bedroom rental house on a farm near Grand Island, Nebraska to start their life together. They were third generation farmers; agriculture would be their life.

Late that Saturday night they were awakened by raucous, noisy family members and friends, yelling, singing and beating on pots and pans. This friendly mob marched around the matrimonial house, knocking on the windows, generally raising cane... it was a shivaree! This celebratory behavior on a couple's wedding night was common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Homes didn't have door locks back then and no one would have a key if they did. After about twenty minutes, grandpa's three older brothers barged into the couple's simple abode and headed for their bedroom. Since he was but a skinny, nineteen year old boy at the time, grandpa was not much of a problem for his bigger brothers.

They dragged grandpa out of bed even though he struggled mightily, pushing and pulling him out of the house in his long underwear. Like all men and boys of his time, he wore the common one-piece union suit which buttoned up the front and featured a drop seat in back. He told us years later that he tried to grab his overalls on the way out but his brothers prevented him from doing so. Outside, the older boys hoisted him up on their shoulders and carried him barefoot and in his underwear around the yard in front of about thirty of his guests, everyone cheering and singing the whole time except for grandpa, that is. He saw nothing to cheer about. Grandma in her nightgown watched the shenanigans from the front window.

One brother broke off from the party, re-entered the house, and grabbed grandpa's boots but not his clothes. Back outside he shoved the boots on grandpa's feet. The boys then loaded him into their truck and all climbed in. The three big brothers and their skinny, shivering "prisoner" drove off to Grand Island. Once they got to town they marched the poor, tired boy up and down main street in his union suit.

Quite a crowd of onlookers had gathered by this time enjoying the show. Soon the town police officers came driving up in their patrol car, red lights flashing. With a dramatic flare they tapped their siren. These men meant business. One of the officers was the boys' cousin. He was in on the joke but grandpa didn't know that at the time. Cousin Omer asked grandpa why he was running around town in his underwear. Grandpa's brothers melted into the crowd as he tried to explain that he had been kidnapped from bed by his ornery brothers on his wedding night, was not allowed to get dressed, and had been paraded up and down the street for the past hour in his long johns.

If Omer had been just any other cop, he would have recognized a shivaree when he saw one and let grandpa go. But no, it was too much fun to see his young cousin standing there stammering in his union suit in downtown Grand Island.

This cop said with a straight face that he couldn't have citizens loitering in public in their long underwear. He would have to take him in. Since they were cousins, Omer told grandpa if he behaved he would not place him in handcuffs. In disbelief grandpa ceased his protestations and, still in his union suit, quietly allowed himself to be led through the crowd to the police car.

Arriving at the police station, Omer had grandpa sit down on a bench in the front room rather than escorting him back to the overnight jail cells. He would be booked for disorderly conduct. Since it was a busy Saturday night, this process would take awhile. For a couple of hours, grandpa sat there red-faced in his long underwear. Officers and offenders walked in and out looking at the forlorn kid stationed there on his wedding night away from his young wife.

Finally, Cousin Omer took pity on the poor, dejected boy, loaded him back up in his car and drove him home exhausted, back to grandma.

What a story, a true classic. Thanks, Conrad... Chris

Friday, January 4, 2019

The following is an email I received from Union Suit Fan, Eddie Mandorf of Cincinnati, Ohio: "Happy New Year, Chris! I enjoy your take on union suits month in and month out. I received two suits of long underwear for Christmas this year, both bright red! By the way, is that good looking kid you featured in your posting of December 23rd your boy? Must take after his pa!" 

Happy New Year to you, Eddie!  Naw, that boy is David Harmon who played Tommy Thompson in the 2010 feature film, Stagecoach Santa. It's sort of a Hallmark type movie from Everlasting Picture Works. This little boy teaches the adults in his life, particularly his dad, the meaning of faith and the joy of Christmas. It's a film to be enjoyed with your kids or grandkids... Chris 

Here are some scenes taking place about midnight on Christmas Eve. Tommy wakes up, pulls on boots and a coat over his red union suit, climbs out of his bedroom window and goes on a the hunt for a mysterious stranger.

The next morning Tommy awakens and
is at first confused as to why he is
wearing his coat and boots in bed!

Being called downstairs, he joins
the family for Christmas Breakfast

still in his long underwear.

The Stagecoach Driver interrupts their breakfast to tell Tommy that mysteriously a new saddle for his pony has been left out on the hitching rack. Tommy joyfully runs outside in his long johns to see.

David Harmon as Tommy in Stagecoach Santa