I’d never heard of a Shivaree until I met my husband, Bev. It was a custom in the rural communities he grew up in that involved family and friends of a newlywed couple staging a nocturnal visit to the hapless bride and groom as soon as they’d set up house together. The crowd would show up at the door with every sort of noise maker imaginable and set up a clamor that would rouse even the soundest sleeper. They wouldn’t quit until their rudely awakened victims struggled into robes and slippers and opened the door to invite them all in for a cup of tea.
Over the years the practice evolved to include the playing of pranks. Bev recounted stories of how he and his family and friends would find a way to sneak into the home of the couple they intended to Shivaree and do all sorts of mischief. They would strip the labels off of the cans in the kitchen cupboard or stitch the cuffs together on a shirt or two hanging in the closet. In one unforgettable instance they plugged in all the appliances they could find and left them turned on while they flipped the main breaker off. As soon as the young couple returned home and realized they had no power they switched the breaker back on, and the resulting din combined with shouts of ‘surprise’ from all the culprits hidden in closets was enough to frighten them out of a year’s growth. Things just kept getting more and more out of hand as the young people got more creative.
I started hearing the stories as the date of our own wedding drew near and I was frankly horrified. One friend recounted how they had emerged from the church on their wedding day to find that their car had been set on blocks and all four wheels removed. We also heard stories of brides being kidnapped by the so-called friends of the groom before the reception could get underway. I became very vocal about how I was likely to react should anyone be foolish enough to attempt such a thing with us.
Bev had to confess that after some of the Shivarees he’d been a part of we were going to have to expect some attempt at payback. He spent a good deal of thought and effort in the days leading up to our wedding to prevent that very thing. He actually nailed our windows shut and let it be known that we had neighbors with instructions to keep an eye on our house in our absence. He thought there might be a possibility that we would be followed to the location we’d chosen for our wedding night so all plans were made in the utmost secrecy. We packed our suitcases and stowed them in our car which he then hid in some obscure parking lot in the city. He arranged with his brother that we would leave the reception hidden in the back seat of his car and then be dropped off a block or two from where our own car was parked. Once Bev could be certain we were not followed we could walk the rest of the way to retrieve our vehicle and set out in earnest.
Unfortunately, in all his elaborate precautions, he failed to take into account that his parents and younger sisters would be spending a night in our house before they set out for home. We returned from our week long honeymoon to discover that we had not escaped unscathed after all. Every tea towel we owned had been knotted together into one long rope and the entryway was festooned with ribbons and bows. A gallon or two of confetti had been stashed in various places throughout the house like heat vents and teacups. We had a glass canister filled with popcorn that we found liberally laced with confetti and over the next few days we kept discovering it in the most unlikely locations like the toes of whatever socks we’d left in the dresser. Bev eventually discovered his work clothes hidden between the mattress and boxspring on our bed after he realized they were missing from the closet. It was months later when I accidentally bumped a picture hanging on the wall as I was vacuuming the floor and was unexpectedly showered with confetti that had been carefully stashed behind it. I laughed so hard it hurt.
I suppose you could say we got shivareed in absentia. I think we got off lightly considering some of the tricks Bev had been guilty of in his youth. It ended up being a lot of harmless fun and I know he would have been disappointed if no one had bothered to try anything.
That next summer I was attempting to open a window in our bedroom and found it to be stuck. I struggled with it for a good twenty minutes before I remembered that they’d all been nailed shut the previous year in Bev’s attempt to outfox the pranksters in the family. I guess he didn’t expect his mother to be one of them.