June marriage endures the test of time despite chic-on-a-shoestring cheese sandwich loaf
BY GEORGIA GREEN STAMPER
Sweet Owen Contributor
I was a June bride. That was a thing back when getting married was a thing, though I read that fewer Americans are tying the knot these days. Only 30 percent of Americans in the 18-34 age group are married.
Personally, I blame social media for the current marriage decline, and the cheese sandwich loaf I served in the last century may be partly to blame. It was visual proof that chic is hard to pull off on a budget. Now that our lives are as public as a movie star’s, people feel obliged to spend more than we paid for our first house to avoid looking tacky in the wedding photos and give up on getting married at all. No compromise with cheese sandwich loaf for them!
But back to the tradition of a June wedding. Some claim it got started because the month of June is named for Juno, the Roman goddess of love, marriage, and feminine fertility. Others say June weddings took off in the Middle Ages because medieval peasants only bathed once a year, usually in June, and things just went better if the bride smelled good. Still, others insist it had to do with the availability of fresh flowers in June – which also helped with, ahem, odor issues.
The June weddings, in my experience, though, were timed to coincide with the end of the school year. Certainly, that determined when Ernie and I got married. I taught school until two weeks before our wedding — we had a lot of snow days to make up — and married on June 24. The weather in Kentucky during June is also a lot like Goldilocks’s porridge, neither too hot nor too cold. In the un-airconditioned summers and under-heated winters of my youth, comfort was a persuasive scheduling issue.
I started thinking about my wedding dance with cheese sandwich loaf when I recently ran across a re-print of a vintage Betty Crocker Cookbook in Costco. Though I rarely cook these days and have hermetically sealed our kitchen to keep it spotless, I bought the cookbook because it featured a full-page color photo of that odd dish. I hadn’t bumped into this recipe since 1967.
To appreciate the hilarity of cheese sandwich loaf, you need to understand that my parents thought weddings should take place in someone’s living room with a minister present, but even parents optional. As Daddy put it, “There’s no need to worry everybody to death because you want to get married.” I, of course, proceeded to do exactly that.
“A simple church wedding, and we’ll keep the budget low,” I promised, as I planned an “open church” ceremony with a reception afterward in the Sunday School rooms. In the country, that meant that most everyone any of us had said hello to in the last 50 years might potentially drop by for a slice of cake and a cup of 7-UP sherbet punch, and they did. But Mother had borrowed a huge bowl and ladle and recruited the Missionary Society to keep stirring up bottomless batches of foamy green. And without toppling it, Daddy delivered a mammoth, towering wedding cake in his pick-up truck from a Frankfort bakery to our Owen County church.
I bought a dress off the rack, and Mrs. Rogers at the Corinth Funeral Home – she handled the flowers for all the funerals around – decorated the sanctuary. A woman for all seasons of life, she transformed our country church into a spring garden of daisies.
Our biggest hurdle, oddly, was how to entertain the wedding party after the Friday night rehearsal. Other than the truck stop out by the interstate, there were no restaurants near our farm, and though the truck stop served tasty burgers, Mother and I didn’t think it struck quite the right tone. Because Ernie was working in a city three hours away, the rehearsal would start quite late, and so we decided that “snacks” back at our farmhouse, rather than a meal, would be sufficient at that hour — and easier and cheaper.
That’s when the first-year home economics teacher Mother had befriended suggested we serve easy-peasy but “chic” cheese sandwich loaf at our Friday night soiree. To no one’s surprise, that woman would later in life open an exclusive wedding shop in Louisville. But I digress.
Reading the recipe, even now, I have trouble picturing how Mother and I managed to put it together. You start by slicing a loaf of unsliced bread into six horizontal layers. Then you spread each long plank with a separate filling – one with pimento cheese, one with ham salad, one with egg salad, one with benedictine. Finally, you re-stack the layers, cover the entire exterior with Philadelphia cream cheese, and chill it. When ready to serve, the loaf is sliced vertically like a cake, end to end, into sandwiches with multiple colorful layers. “Like ribbons,” Mother’s friend said.
In retrospect, it might not have been much harder for us to whip up Julia Child’s Pâté de Canard en Croûte in our hot, tiny kitchen. Our horizontal layers wouldn’t slice evenly. Some were fat, and some were skinny. Our homemade spreads gushed out of their designated layers and dribbled like a Jackson Pollock painting over neighboring slabs of bread. By the time we got around to frosting the loaf with stiff cream cheese, we were laughing in despair. Out of time and with nothing else to offer but nuts and a small cake, we served our sloppy sandwiches on Mother’s fanciest platter and hoped for the best.
I’m happy to report that our June marriage has been the best. It has endured the test of time despite our chic-on-a-shoestring cheese sandwich loaf – as have a million memories of laughing with my mother time and again over projects that wandered awry.