Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Postal Coach and a Wedding"

Postal Coach - Photo by Virginia Streit
So many customs and events in the life of our ancestors can be looked at in two ways.  There is the overview, which, in this blog, is what I have written about for the most part:  What were the wedding customs?  How were mail, cargo and crops transported from one place to another?  How did an application to emigrate go from hand to hand until the necessary permission was obtained.

But there is another way to look at such events.  And Maria Croon, who wrote what is now my "go to" book for sheer enjoyment while I learn, prying deeply into the everyday workings of her village.  For example, there is a commonalty in every wedding day in the small Kreis Saarburg villages.  The overview is the same.  But each life-changing commitment made by two young people of this long past time had its own special details; its own unique story that had led up to the moment when the bridal pair pledged their love for each other and became a married couple.

So I want to share one of Frau Croon's stories that delighted me and that focused on the courtship and mariage of a boy and a girl who met by chance and moved step by step to their wedding day.  I hope you will smile and enjoy the romance between Thais (Matthias) and Kathrinchen (young Kathrin).  It is a telling that puts a personal face on the traditions surrounding a rather ordinary village wedding, although not every girl marries a postcoach driver.

Thais is that postcoach driver, and as such, he is a minor (very minor) Prussian Government official.  His coach is gold with an official emblem painted on its door, identifying the vehicle as the possession of the Prussian Emperor.  Thais wears a uniform, a hat with a plume, and a leather shoulder belt that holds the horn used to announce that the mail coach has reached the edge of a village.  He often plays a tune in keeping with his exuberant and fun-loving nature.  In each town, he brings the postal coach, with its two strong white horses named Mine and Stine, to a halt in front of the local inn where the innkeeper receives a bag of letters and dispatches for the people of the town.

There is a special village on Thais' route, the one where pretty Kathrinchen lives.  The fountain in the village, the Markusbrunnen built in honor of St. Mark, boasts a wide jet of water that flows into the trough below.  The postcoach horses know where to find water in each village on their route so as soon as the mail bag is inside the Wirtshaus, Mine and Stine begin to pull at their harness, eager to get a drink and a short rest at the Markusbrunnen.

In this village, the team's respite will be substantial because young Kathrinchen has been listening for the postcoach horn and is off on her way to the Markusbrunnen with a large kettle of greens and a bucket to be filled with water - just in time to be seated at the edge of the trough when the horses of the postcoach arrive.

Seeing Kathrinchen, Thais jumps from his bench at the front of the coach, makes a courtly bow, and graciously offers to help her with her work.  He holds each and every leaf under the cascading water of the Markusbrunnen until blond, curly haired Kathrinchen takes it from him and carefully inspects and washes it yet again, five or six times, in her bucket of water.  She explains to Thais that her father is always most upset when he finds a snail or a bug in his salad; the young man is delighted that she must work so diligently and for such a long while.

Eventually Thais must leave the village.  The tune his horn plays is usually a familiar one about a young man who must leave his sweetheart behind.  Kathrinchen walks home with the scrupulously clean salad greens, sad because she will have to wait another long day before seeing Thais again.  Her aunt Kathrin caustically remarks, on one particular day,  that they will have the greens for dessert, since she and young Kathrin's father have already eaten the rest of the noon meal while they waited for Kathrinchen to return.

Time passes and one day, after the two young people have received conditional approval for their courtship, the parents of Thais, who live in the Hochwald, arrive in the village.  They are dressed in the Tracht (traditional festive costume) of their district and have come to inspect the home of the girl their son hopes to marry.  Kathrinchen's father, Herr Laux, and her aunt Kathrin are ready for this visit.  Kathrinchen has put up fresh white muslin curtains to which she has affixed gold dots and which are tied back with a blue ribbon.  Every pot, kettle, and frying pan has been scoured with sand until it glows.  The smell of pork ribs roasting permeates the air all along the village street.  Aunt Kathrin leads the tour of the house in which Thais, Kathrinchen, her father and her aunt will live after the wedding, pointing with special pride to the two cupboards, both sides of each cupboard tight full of linens.

Herr Laux becomes the guide as the visiting couple visit cattle stall and fodder storage area of the farmhouse.  There were two cows, one was a horned, strong beast and the other a calf.  A sow for breeding as well as two half grown pigs and two little piglets made up the rest of the livestock.  With pride in his possessions, Herr Laux observes to the visiting couple that since Kathrinchen is his only child, all this will be hers - nothing will be divided.  Thais' parents are pleased because they have six children, meaning their farm must be divided six ways.  However, they are quick to point out that they have one or two more cows than Herr Laux and that Thais has an important government position.  Not to be outdone, Aunt Kathrin observes that Kathrinchin too is a capable young woman and has always been at the head of her school class.

The meeting of the future in-laws having gone well, Thais and Kathrinchen are to marry in October. Thais would gladly have driven his bride-to-be to the wedding ceremony in the gold postal coach.  But Herr Laux firmly denied this request.  It was his little girl's very special day, and she was meant to walk exceedingly slowly along the road from the Laux house to the church, with the wedding guests behind her.  In this way there would be enough time for all to admire his lovely Kathrinchen, while her dead mother smiles from her place in heaven and gives her blessing.

So it was that there was much activity at the Laux house on the morning of the wedding as the guests milled about until all were were in their places and the procession could begin.  At the head of the procession was Kathrinchin on the arm of Thais' brother.  She wore a black silk dress, and a crown and veil adorned her blond hair.  Thais came next, walking with Kathrinchen's cousin.  Then came the relatives and wedding guests - first the single young people; then those who were married.  Many in this second group wore their own wedding day finery, somewhat dulled with age, and often stretched at the seams.

A little girl dressed in all white recited a poetic adage to begin the procession.  It was so sweet that many of the women wiped their eyes with their handkerchiefs as they heard the words.

The procession went first to the village hall for the civil ceremony, next to the cemetery to pray at the grave of Kathrinchen's mother, and finally to the church where the bride shed many tears as she and Thais knelt at the altar.  The wedding guests whispered to each other, "Kathrinchen weeps loudly; that means luck." If the eyes of the bride remained dry, her crying, it was said, would come during her marriage.

On leaving the church, the bridal couple found their way blocked by schoolchildren holding a chain across the road.  They recited:

"Your bride is pretty and fine,
therefore she shall be our prisoner. 
If you wish to have her back again, 
you must pay a lot of money."

After much negotiation, Thais and some of the other men contributed a suitable ransom for Kathrinchen as her young captors auctioned off her shoe.

In the afternoon, the wedding procession assembled again, and trod the village street once more, led by a Malerjab* wearing a wreath of Kuchen around his neck and with a brandy bottle tucked under his arm.  Every passerby got a piece of the Kuchen and a swallow of brandy.   The wedding guests followed him until they came to the house with its tables laden with every kind of cake and torte.  There was singing and merry tunes from a concertina or two, but all went suddenly still when Thais' horn played the tune with which he had teased and courted his Kathrinchin "Hopp, Kathrinchen, tanz mit mir."

Tanz!  It is the magic word and the young people can hardly wait until the musicians arrive in the village for the evening of dancing.  For a third time, the wedding procession forms and makes its way to  the Wirtshaus where the sound of Rhinelander melodies, waltzes, polkas and mazurkas float over the rooftops and into open windows all along the Dorfstraße.

A bucket of greens and a postcoach horn - unusual and endearing components for a successful courtship.

Compare the courting and wedding customs in neighboring villages for an enlarged picture of courting angst and wedding happiness.

*Malerjab could be the dialect word for the man who took charge of the wedding arrangements and saw to the entertainment of the guests?  Or perhaps he was just a man who enjoyed a wedding?

Source: Maria Croon, Die Dorfstrasse, Eine bunte Heimatchronik

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