Recently, Lady Jane asked me to go with her to another Southern Mercer County wedding reception, which made two for me in the past few months. Through the years, I’ve attended several with Jane, herself Mercer County born and bred.
As for Jane, because she herself comes from a family that acquired enough acreage over time and kept it in the family, she feels quite comfortable in this type of environment. These are her fellow farm folk, her neighbors, some of whom watched her grow up and some of whom she watched grow up. They are people well apprised of that Mercer County tradition known as night lunch, one where, should neighbors come to visit in the evening, they’ll expect, and, of course, receive their fourth meal of the day.
As for myself, Chicago born and Lima bred, I’m always the one a bit out of place at these affairs as one of the very few in the room who doesn’t know the price of soy beans or the true economic significance of pork bellies.
Despite this, whenever I attend, I’m always made to feel welcome, not at all as if I somehow took a wrong turn in the gloaming of a cold winter night on one of the many berm-challenged ribbons of county roads and wandered into that Grange or American Legion Hall or, in this case, Knights of St. John Hall in Maria Stein asking for directions to the interstate.
The roads I traverse to get to these affairs are not only narrow but also often right-angle turn once and then again to work their way around large plots of rich Mercer County soil. They are fields owned by those wise enough to realize the value of acreage, those who certainly weren’t going to sell some of that land merely to make a road wider or straighter. In these parts, land is to be relinquished only under the direst of circumstances, and, of course, that’s because the anonymous and ubiquitous “they” surely aren’t making any more of it!
This wedding featured a Steineke, from just across the line in Auglaize, marrying a Mercer County Schwieterman. They are names in these German-centric parts as common as “Smiths” and “Joneses” are in the big city.
While driving to the Hall, I listened to Jane’s telling me that this was, indeed, God’s Country and if I doubted it, I was told to look in any direction to see yet another Catholic church steeple.
Upon entering, I noticed the typical large number of guests, which explained the volume of noise in a hall that was acoustically challenged. The range of ages of those who came to celebrate was the same as it always is, from infants to hoary-headed seniors. The youngest, Jane explained, was born just 12 days before the “I do’s” were exchanged.
The room, as it always is, was teeming with children. They are never merely tolerated at Southern Mercer receptions nor are they treated as intrusions but rather welcomed and accorded their place.
Except for the head table, where there was a bit more room for the wedding party, the long rows of eight-foot tables placed end-to-end were close enough to make a fire marshal frown. When you sit at such tables, what you say to one, you say to all around you.
The bar is always open, and at these affairs, there always seem to be a couple of coolers of premixed concoctions, one vodka-based with lemon or lime juice and one simply called the mix, filled with what city folks would call seven-sevens.
The speeches by the maid of honor and best man are always brief and heartfelt, especially on this evening when the maid of honor was the bride’s sister, who spoke of their mom who’d recently passed away and could only attend her daughter’s wedding in spirit from above.
As for the food, it’s always served buffet style, and, of course, you’ll wait until your table is released to eat. The food rarely varies a smidge at a Southern Mercer reception and is always delicious — chicken, shredded beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, raisin stuffing, homemade noodles, corn, slaw, bread and butter, and, of course, a dessert table that often features cupcakes with different types of frosting.
Before the dancing begins, the teens who served the food removed the roasters and serving dishes from the buffet and broke down and carted away the tables to open up more space for dancing.
Before the adults begin dancing, there are always a couple reserved for the kiddos and their parents and grandparents who often partner with them. Many of the kids are shoeless, because, of course, they know how good it is to slide on wooden floors in your socks.
Yes, there’s a different feel to a Southern Mercer reception. It’s a collective atmosphere of warmth and love, a gathering of people who, more often than not, can think of no good reason ever to leave the area in which they were born.
Like a chain unbroken, such affairs link the past to the present, and, if you factor in those little boys who drop to their knees to climax a good slide with panache, the future.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.