I was the best man at my best friend’s wedding last weekend. It was a great event, and everyone who knows the bride and groom are extremely happy for both of them— chief among them, me.
When my friend and his new bride departed for their car to head to the honeymoon, everyone lit sparklers, and the newlyweds exited the venue in a full sprint through a flaming tunnel of sparks. It was a very dramatic exodus.
Things have changed in weddingland since I was married 26 years ago. People threw birdseed at my wife and me as we headed to our car on the way to our honeymoon. My childhood friends took great delight in the act, and threw the birdseed as hard as they could trying to inflict as much harm as they could. I expected no less, as I did the same at their weddings. As far as I know, people threw rice when my parents were married and when my grandparents were married, too. No one throws rice any longer.
The first time I attended a wedding where they didn’t throw rice, was when my brother was married. The reception was at my sister-in-law’s house in Brookhaven, Mississippi. It was a stately old southern home, and near the front door there were small bowls of birdseed for guests to throw at the departing bride and groom.
As everyone started to make their way from the backyard to the front of the house where my brother and sister-in-law were about to make their exit, I remember asking a lady where I could find the rice. She told me that there wasn’t any because it was bad for the birds. “Everyone throws birdseed now,” she said. Fine by me, I thought, as long as we get to throw something.
Apparently, the columnist Ann Landers had written a column in the late 1970s disparaging the throwing of rice at weddings, stating that the grain expands in the stomachs of birds and kills them. No one ever went on to explain how birds are able to eat rice in fields and not die by the millions.
When one breaks it down and intellectualizes the tradition, the throwing of rice, birdseed, or anything, at newlyweds, it is a strange custom. Here we have a young couple who are heading out to start their new life together. They invited us to their big celebration, sprung for a bar, a large cake, a chocolate fountain, and a lot of food. They have just changed clothes into outfits that the mother of the bride and the bride argued over for months. They are ready to get to their honeymoon destination for obvious reasons, and we thank them by pelting them with rice, or food meant for robins and blue jays.
Shouldn’t we all just line up single file and pass them thank-you notes as they run past. At the least, we could shout out congratulatory remarks such as, “Thanks for inviting me to your wedding!” Or, “Had a blast, sorry I ate all of the boiled shrimp.”
Sidebar: A quick list of unacceptable comments that shouldn’t be shouted at departing brides and grooms:
“You’ve really screwed up now.”
“Say goodbye to the good times.”
“Don’t worry about sending me a thank-you note for the wedding gift— I stole two bottles of Crown Royal from the bar, and my wife drank all of the vodka!”
“You know chocolate fountains are health hazards don’t you!”
At my brother’s wedding— when everyone was gathering to send the newlyweds off by hurling things directly at their face from two feet away— I noticed my grandmother, who was probably in her late 80s at that point, hovering over a small bowl on an antique chest near the front door. She had a monogrammed linen cocktail napkin in her hand. In the napkin was a small amount of birdseed. I remember thinking to myself, “We’re about to see what kind of arm this old lady has.” As I walked closer, I saw my grandmother— this prim, proper, genteel, quintessential southern lady— pick up a small amount of birdseed and put it in her mouth.
She had one eye squinched closed as she was awkwardly crunching away on the birdseed (with her original teeth, by the way) and trying to look as prim and proper as she could while gnawing on— what she probably assumed was— the crunchiest party mix she had tasted this side of Grape Nuts. She popped another handful in her mouth and was laboriously chomping away before I could reach her. She looked like a dog who has just eaten a handful of peanut butter. “Mam Maw, we’re not supposed to eat that. We’re supposed to throw it at Drew and Kathy as they leave.”
She looked at me like I had a third eye. It was a look that bespoke, “What madness is this? Why would anyone throw this dreadful party mix at the bride and groom?”
“It’s birdfeed,” I said. “Ann Landers says rice is bad for the birds.” She paused for a minute, swallowed her third handful of birdseed, shrugged her shoulders, and said, “OK.” I think it was the Ann Landers endorsement that settled it for her.
That’s actually not even my favorite wedding story.
I went through my entire wedding ceremony, and most of the reception, with a pair of ladies panties hidden up my sleeve (I’ll bet that’s the first time you’ve ever read those words, in that sequence, together in a sentence). It’s true. It was a long way to go for a 10-second sight gag at the reception, but it worked like a charm. I had devised the panty plan weeks earlier, and the only way I could smoothly pull off the joke, was to keep the panties up my sleeve the entire day.
It was a brilliant prank, if I do say so myself (and I do). It happened at the reception, just after my wife threw the bouquet. I was supposed to reach under her dress and remove the garter from her leg, and— following the time-honored tradition— throw it in the direction of the eligible bachelors in the room. Everyone was gathered around us as I reached under the dress, and while I was under there, I pulled the hidden panties from out of my sleeve and quickly pulled my hands out from under the dress and, VOILA! I held the panties high in the air. Everyone thought I had actually removed her underwear Everyone thought it was hilarious. Everyone except my wife, and my mother-in-law.
So, it turns out that several studies have been done that dispel the myth that birds die from thrown rice at weddings. File that alongside the Mentos and Coke will blow up in your stomach myths.
Consider this column the beginning of a soon-to-be nationwide movement to bring back rice to be used in the pelting of departing newlyweds. We’ll base our platform on two founding principles:
1.) Rice is cheaper, and dad has already overspent on the wedding
2.) Nothing stings like uncooked grains
No matter what, it will never beat the fake-ripping-the-panties-off-of-the-bride-when-you’re-going-for-the-garter trick.