Noe Valley Voice June 2004

Florence's Family Album: The Wedding

Reminiscences by Florence Holub

Sixty-three years ago this July, Florence Mickelson and Leo Holub said their marriage vows in a Mission District church. Afterwards, they celebrated with family and friends at a reception in Glen Park. Writer Florence Holub first described the joyful scene in the June 1991 Voice. "But I'm happy to relive it all again," she laughs. She and Leo, both in their 80s, reside on 21st Street, high atop Sanchez Street Hill.

It was the spring of 1941 when Leo, my beau of two years, and I began to think seriously about making our relationship permanent. We scoured the city and finally found a suitable ivy-covered cottage in Eureka Valley, near 17th Street on Mars--not the best astrological association for a newly engaged couple, but the rent, at $17 a month, was within our means.

By June, Leo, a budding photographer, had landed a $25-a-week job in the art department of a printing company (an adequate wage in those days), and I was doing a little freelance fashion illustration.

We didn't have a bank account or established credit, but I did have a hope chest that my younger brother Warde had made for me in his manual training class at Balboa High School. It had almost nothing in it except three square brocade handmade tablecloths that my aunt in Finland had sent to my parents. They never had been used here in San Francisco because our tables were long and rectangular in shape to accommodate all of the family members. So into the hope chest the tablecloths had gone. Since they were the sum of my assets, it was amusing to hear Leo tell friends that he was marrying me for my dowry!

Our original intention was to be married in a simple, quiet ceremony during the Fourth of July weekend, but when Leo broached the subject to my father, everything got out of hand. Because I was the only daughter, and because he loved a party, my father pulled out all the stops. He insisted we were to have a formal wedding, at the Swedish Ebenezer Lutheran Church (which then stood at the corner of 15th and Dolores streets), followed by a reception with more than 150 invited guests.

Since there wasn't much time in which to attend to all of the details, everyone rushed about in preparation for the event. For my wedding dress, I dashed down to the Emporium and purchased yards of taffeta, lace, and netting, then hurried home and got down on my hands and knees to cut out the long flared skirt and a lace bodice to top it. I stitched it together on our foot-treadle Singer sewing machine.

For the veil, I purchased a square of netting, which I trimmed to a large circle that would hang down in folds when anchored to the top of my head by a pearl-studded skull cap. I kept the veil short, with nothing trailing behind or needing to be hand-held, in order to avoid tripping anyone up (especially the bride). With the addition of a pearl necklace and white shoes, this was a wedding dress I could live with. Not many of us had much money in those days, so the bridesmaids didn't buy new gowns, but instead wore long dresses that they already owned--and they looked lovely.

On the afternoon of the third of July, as my father walked me down the aisle, I realized how solemn and beautiful a church wedding could be. There was the uplifting music, the gorgeous flowers (luckily for me, there were some left over from a preceding wedding!), and the heartfelt promises we made at the altar, before a church full of witnesses.

We were showered with good wishes and rice as we left the church to attend the reception at the Miraloma Improvement Club, which my father had reserved for the occasion. The club stood alone on O'Shaughnessy Boulevard, where there were not yet neighbors to disturb--a perfect place for our party, since it turned out to be a lively one. Some of the ladies from the Swede/Finn colony had prepared a feast: Scandinavian open-faced sandwiches, a white tiered wedding cake, and champagne. An orchestra played modern music, as well as rousing Scandinavian dance tunes like the schottische and hambo, which required plenty of dipping and swirling, and were fun to watch even for those who couldn't dance them.

The high point of the evening occurred when four of my father's Swede/Finn friends escorted him to the center of the floor, whereupon each of them grabbed him by an arm or a leg and then threw him up into the air, yelling in unison, "Hey!" Each time my father came down, they caught him and tossed him into the air again, shouting another "Hey!" Up and down he went, thrashing a bit whenever he reached the highest point.

Leo and I were still laughing at my father's plight when suddenly the same group of men came over to our corner, took my hand, led me to the center of the floor, and sat me down on a chair. Each of them then grasped a leg of the chair, and with a powerful boost and a "Hey!" sent me flying into the air, veil and all. When I descended, they caught me on the seat of the chair. Another "Hey!" and I went sailing up again and again until they tired and returned me to my laughing husband.

Leo's amusement changed to surprise, however, when the men grabbed his arms and whisked him onto the floor for a turn at being tossed and "Heyed!" Neither Leo nor I had seen the tossing ritual before. Apparently, it is a rite reserved for special occasions in Swedish-speaking Finland, for I saw my father tossed up in the same way years later, upon the celebration of his 80th birthday in his hometown of Vora.

It was growing late at the reception when a cousin who had a long way to go home whispered in my ear, "Please leave, so we can go home." We told him that he had our permission to go, but that we intended to stay for as long as we were having fun!

I remember dancing with my favorite men--my father and two brothers--whom I would be leaving for the new man in my life. The orchestra played on until late, and every so often my father would go up to the mike and say to the dancers, "Should I ask them to stay another hour?" The affirmative shouts continued to come back, and so the orchestra played on until long after midnight.

Thus, it was already the Fourth of July when we newlyweds left the hall on O'Shaughnessy Boulevard and started together on the path of hearts, flowers, and photographs that continues to this day.