An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Eighty-Six

an ostrich-plumed hat

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Eighty-Five

Emma Bentzen Koehler, April 1916

Ottie Wahrmund’s voice sounds richer and fuller every year. Hettie insisted on “Because” because Ottie had sung it so beautifully at her sister Jennie’s wedding. The string orchestra Emma hired makes Lohengrin’s bridal march particularly beautiful.

Frank is shifting back and forth on his heels. Last month, when he asked for Hettie’s hand, Frank said he bought the ring while Hettie was in Germany. His plan had been to ask Otto for her hand at his first opportunity. And then…. He waited patiently. Worried it might be too soon.

Hettie was so elated. A long engagement seemed absurd after all that waiting. Carpe diem. The United States might get swept up into the war at any moment.

It already had been too long since this house hosted a festive banquet for friends and family. The only time required to stage a wedding was the time the dressmaker needed to sew Hettie’s dress.

Little Billy Priest is adorable in his white satin suit, but those assembled cannot help but laugh as he comes down the hallway into the drawing room. Poor young Carolyn daintily scatters the rose petals, but Billy? Billy appears to have fallen under the influence of the recent Battle of Flowers on Alamo Plaza. He is pelting the flower girl ferociously.

Bouffant tulle over the palest blue taffeta dress makes Frank’s sister, Louise, appear to float toward the altar covered in regal lilies against the dense backdrop of palms and ferns.

Frank beams. Here she is. Absolutely radiant on Corwin’s arm. Yards and yards of duchess lace form an overdress over the white satin, and rose point lace trims the veil. Emma bought bolts of lace back from Germany on that last trip. Just in case.

Hettie’s arms are brimming over with white bride roses, and white myrtle catches her veil to her hair. Just as it did when Emma married Otto. Emma’s sister brought the fresh myrtle from St. Louis with her on the train.

After relinquishing Hettie at the altar, Corwin sits at Emma’s side.

Concentrating on delivering her special wedding gift, Emma fails to pay attention to any of Reverend Wolff’s words.

Corwin squeezes her hand, and Emma realizes the service is at its end.

“Faithful Lord, source of love, pour down your grace upon Hettie and Frank, that they may fulfill the vows they have made this day and reflect your steadfast love in their life-long faithfulness to each other.”

Chairs creak as people rise behind her. Shaking, Emma takes a deep breath and grips Corwin’s arm tightly. He assists her upright and steadies her precisely as Frank and Hettie turn toward the guests.

Hettie lets out a squeal of excitement, and hugs Emma. Tears stream down the bride’s face as she and Frank start down the path between the chairs. The guests break into applause.

Emma is standing. In public.

Corwin helps Emma sit back down in her chair and wheels her past clapping friends and family.

Emma hopes she did not steal the show from her precious niece, but she’s confident she gave Hettie the present she longed to have from her aunt.

Supper awaits the guests in the bowling alley at a long, elegant banquet table with a ring-shaped wedding cake at its center.

Emma plans to remove the wedding chalice she and Otto used from its satin nest and present it to the couple. The silver goblet from which two can drink at once. Crafted in the shape of the maiden with a bucket gracefully held aloft. When inverted, the woman’s skirt serves as a generous beaker for the groom while the bucket swings out from its handle to offer a smaller portion to the bride.

Emma will deliver her toast first in German to salute their heritage. And for Otto:

            Jeder hört die Musik anders

            Aber der gemeinsame Tanz ist wunderbar.

And then in English to include all the gathered guests:

            Everyone hears the music differently

            But the dance together is wonderful.

Her legs might not be ready for dancing, but Emma will stand to toast the bride and groom.


The announcement of the couple’s engagement appeared in the newspaper only a week or two prior to the event. The re-creation of Frank’s request for Hettie’s hand is structured along that line.

Perhaps the announcement was delayed for some reason. If not, the dressmaker must have burned the midnight oil. The wedding description is from the social column, save the invented chalice and traditional toast.

Oh dear, and the most important “occurrence in the chapter.” Emma stood. Emma did begin standing and walking sometime after Otto’s death, as documented by photographs. How and when this feat occurred is unknown to the Author, but, after so many years of traipsing around Germany looking for doctors who could cure her, it must have appeared somewhat miraculous.

As for the wheelchair, Frank and Hettie’s daughter, Margaret Pace Willson (1919-2006), recalled playing as a child with an old wheelchair she found in the attic of the Koehler house. She made no mention of ever seeing a family member occupy it.

Continue to Chapter Eighty-Seven

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