Remembering the Shivaree: Rural Custom Rattled Newly Wedded Bliss
Down on the farm, one function always drew a crowd.
Whether you spelled it shivaree (like we do down in Texas) or charivari (like the dictionary does), a local, recently wedded couple was in for a rough night. This old-time rural custom had been carried on in our area for years.
At times shivarees were friendly. If the newlyweds were needy, gifts of food and household goods were brought, much like today’s bridal shower. If the groom had been a participant in previous shivarees, memories were long and revenge was sought. My ordeal happened in 1951 after my new bride and I returned from our honeymoon and had just settled into our small, refurbished farm home south of Perryton, Texas.
Just after dark the abuse began with the largest crowd ever gathered at a shivaree in our community. This was probably because I had been a very active participant in many previous community shivarees. One cousin drove 200 miles to exact his revenge after waiting years for the opportunity.
I hoped for the best, but as my glasses and billfold were removed, I knew it was going to be bad. The small house filled to capacity as the shenanigans began. All labels were removed from kitchen foods, cans and supplies. Toilet paper was dunked, food canisters switched, rice and crackers dumped into the short-sheeted bed. Bed slats were fixed to fall out and cans of rocks were tied to the bedsprings. Shoelaces and socks were tied into hard knots and all underwear placed in a pillowcase and tossed up on the rooftop.
During the evening I washed my wife’s feet, reenacted my proposal of marriage and pushed her up and down the driveway in a wheelbarrow with everyone singing “There’ll be a hot time in the old house tonight.” As I passed my car, I could hear air hissing as the valve cores had been removed and tossed into the weeds. My work pickup had been mired axle-deep in a nearby mud hole.
The women gathered our keys, money and extra light fuses, then dropped them into a gallon jar of honey we had received as a wedding present. When my city-raised bride began to cry, they let up on her but increased their efforts on me without mercy.
I was tossed into the water tank many times, then taken to the barn where I was stripped of my clothes and held firmly. A tube of automotive glue was squirted into my armpits and other places while graffiti was painted on my body from head to toe. Some of the printing was not very nice and the red and purple ink took weeks to wear off.
Finally, only one car was left as the cousin from afar unscrewed the light fuses from our fuse box and tossed them as far as he could into the darkness. I consoled my poor bride, lying in cracker crumbs in our bed, and apologized to her for having to share in my punishment. My shivaree was now over and, I might add, I have not been to another since. FCDelbert Trew is a freelance writer, retired rancher and supervisor of the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, Texas. Contact him at Trew Ranch, Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002; (806) 779-3164; e-mail: email@example.com.
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