Planning an outdoor party in the summertime is risky. Will it rain? Will the caterer arrive on time? Will bugs be bad? Will a relative?
Knowing the outdoor party season is upon us, we asked readers to share some tales. We heard about unwanted guests – living (yellow jackets) and dead (opossum). We heard about knocked-over wedding cakes and party tents lifted off the ground in high winds.
Holly Crowley, of West Seneca, told us about an outdoor bridal shower she hosted for more than 40 guests. It was a particularly rainy June, so she ordered a tent with protective sides that was delivered and set up a couple of days ahead. Still, the ground got soaked during an overnight downpour.
“I was up at 2 a.m. looking over the backyard – crying! The yard looked like a swamp. Too much rain just couldn’t be absorbed in the ground, even with the tent up,” she said.
Her son-in-law came up with an idea: horse bedding from a local feed store to soak up some of the slop.
“Well, it did absorb the water to some degree. Although it smelled like the inside of a barn under the tent, we could walk around without getting too muddy. Worse than the barn smell was the fact that the chairs all sank in the mud as well as anyone’s shoes that were high heels,” Crowley said.
We also heard about parties pulled off without a hitch. Such was the case of the casual luau-themed rehearsal dinner for 30 at the Clarence home of Marlene C. Hiemenz for her son Scott and daughter-in-law Lynn.
Guests, each given a lei upon arrival, were made to feel as if they were in Hawaii. Decorations, music and a large array of appetizers echoed the theme. A caterer delivered a meal of pulled pork sandwiches and salads. The junior bridesmaids wore grass skirts and danced the hula.
The weather was perfect.
Turn to Page F5 for excerpts from other readers’ stories. In the end, the party always goes on.
When Jill and Ken Mead sent invitations for their wedding aboard the Miss Buffalo, they included this on the enclosure: “Be prepared for a cool evening on the water.”
“Who would have guessed that on June 18, 1994, it would have been 95 degrees, hot, sunny and muggy in Buffalo?” asked the former Jill Mooney, 20 years later.
“It never cooled off that evening. We all sparkled (sweat profusely) as we got ready for the wedding, posed for wedding photos, drove to the wedding in T-Bird convertibles down the 198, and stood for our vows on the Miss Buffalo. I’ll never forget the sweat dripping down the best man’s face as we quickly said our vows before the judge so we could set sail, hoping to finally cool off a little,” she wrote in an email.
“There were 100 of us on the boat. I don’t think I put much thought into the weather. I may have thought briefly about the rain and if it would be too cool out that evening. I put absolutely no thought into it being too hot. We actually ended up being at the best place for an outdoor wedding in Buffalo when it was 95 degrees because it was a little cooler on the boat,” she said.
Janice Schlau, whose Prosit! restaurant will reopen in a new Williamsville location next year, shared this story about the outdoor party she threw for her mother, Eleonore Zdybowicz:
“Deep in my memory pocket is my mom’s June 28 birthday party three years ago. I invited 30 guests to help celebrate her 85th in our picturesque wisteria and rose garden. My parents have rich Polish backgrounds – my dad had a business at the Broadway Market. I hired an accordion player, baked breaded pork chops and created a fresh-fruit punch. Our neighbors begged for the secret ingredient – VSOP brandy.
“Soon after the last polka was danced and the last happy guest departed, heavy winds and rain prevailed. The remaining ham platters were raced to the house. Then, suddenly, the tent lifted off the ground and spun like a kite in the charcoal sky. I then fearfully recalled the house in the ‘Wizard of Oz.’ That was my best all time party!”
Judith Lawler Balzer, of Grand Island, shared the tale of an unexpected guest at the backyard engagement party for her daughter, Alison, and future son-in-law, Patrick Mackey, who married in 2004. Awakening to torrential rain and 36 degrees on May 31, 2003, the family’s plans for an outdoor party were going full steam ahead, Balzer recalled.
Finally, her older daughter called a halt to the optimistic speculation. She said: “Someone has to make a decision; we have 50 guests coming in an hour,” Balzer wrote in an email.
“Decision made. Move all furniture to the sides of the rooms, set up two round tables in the family room, four more in the living/dining room, put on the fireplaces and spiff up the garage as a beverage center. It was working, until husband came into the kitchen with a stricken look. ‘Something smells awful in the garage,’” she said.
“The source of odor was soon discovered. “In its final resting place, a huge opossum had thawed under the garage stairs to the family room,” Balzer said.
Her husband, Raymond, removed it, disinfected all surfaces and set up the bar and tables. When the guests arrived, they complimented the freshness of the garage and coziness of the fireplaces.
“With the brief exception of finding the groom’s parents shivering out on the awninged deck because they loved the backyard and wooded landscape, the party was a real success,” Balzer said.
Hamburg resident Karen Geraci said they still talk about the high school graduation party they held for their son Jeff on June 21, 2008, at their cottage on Lake Erie at Hoover Beach.
“We had rented a large tent and set up the backyard with tables and chairs for over 50 guests. The decorations were in place, and it started out as a beautiful day. We enjoyed dinner outside on a warm, humid evening. A DJ we hired had set up his electrical equipment and had started playing,” Geraci said.
“Just then we noticed some dark, ominous clouds out on the lake. Before we could gather items on the tables, the wind started to pick up ... We got the DJ and his equipment safely inside as it started to rain. The sky then opened up in a matter of minutes, and the wind off the lake was intense. Our smaller pop-up tents blew over into a twisted mess while chairs were falling over. Our guests held onto the supports of the rented tent to keep it from lifting off the ground and getting damaged. The rain battered them and the tent so hard that they ended up with blue and white dye all over them from the decorations that were inside the tent. People were soaked to the skin,” she recalled.
After a good hour of torrential rain and wind, the storm passed – and the party, and DJ, returned outside.
The summer of 2003 was extremely wet, and the former Diana Stickney and Jim Patterson were to marry Aug. 23 at an outdoor wedding at O’Brien’s Grove, East Aurora.
Her mother, Martha Kutas, was worried. “As the season progressed, each Saturday, just about the time she and Jim would be sharing their vows, I noted the weather. And it rained every single Saturday. Not just a little sprinkle; these were huge downpours. I was very nervous. We made alternate plans to have the ceremony in a church in the event of rain ... I wondered over and over why I had ever agreed to an outdoor wedding.
As the day approached, the situation improved. The sun came out for a couple of days, and a good breeze helped to dry things out. The day of the wedding was beautiful.
“The sun shone, the birds sang, and I said a prayer of thanks,” Kutas said.
Alisia Vilonen grew up on a farm in North Amherst and always envisioned this as the place for a beautiful fall wedding. So when she and Dave Hill set the date for Oct. 12, 2013, she expected nothing but sunshine, warm breezes and blue skies.
But it rained consistently during the weeks before the wedding and even harder the days leading up to it.
“A few days before my wedding, the lawn where the ceremony was to be was under water! Undeterred, I got out there, dug a hole for a sump pump and we started pumping out the field. After a couple days, it was almost dry,” she said.
Oct. 12 turned out to be sunny and warm – and included a 1½-mile procession via canoe to the ceremony.
Vilonen explained: “Canoe trips were a big part of my family life growing up and had become an important part of my life with my fiancé. I wanted canoeing to be part of my wedding day, too. So I asked my brother and father to paddle me from my house to my parents’ farm. Along the way friends and family cheered us on, and when we arrived at the farm, most of the guests were down at the dock, cheering!”
The next day it rained.
Cynthia Balderman shared this: “I am an egalitarian at heart, and having celebrated my baby boy’s birth and circumcision (bris) with an enormous brunch, was determined to celebrate the birth of my next child, a girl, with an equally festive meal and party. Two months after her birth, we threw a big garden party, replete with a large tent, music and groaning tables of delicacies, both hot and cold. Within minutes of putting out the food, we were attacked by hordes of yellow jackets. The partygoers sought refuge in my living room and kitchen. My carefully prepared food was covered with aggressive wasps, and I wound up feeding the guests platters of scrambled eggs and toast ...”
Ruth and Earl Voelker’s youngest daughter, Rachel, wanted to have her July wedding reception in the backyard of their Wheatfield home. Somewhat reluctantly, they agreed. A lovely tent was erected, and while the morning was humid and it rained during the church ceremony, the sun burst forth later. Home free, they thought.
Chiavetta’s served a barbecue. Frankfurter’s, a popular German band, provided music. Then it poured.
“Eventually the ground became so saturated that muddy water started coming up through the dance floor. We kept trying to mop it up, but it just kept getting worse,” Ruth Voelker recalled.
That’s not all. A guest bumped into the cake table and knocked it over, sending the cake into the mud. Cookies were substituted. The rain continued.
“Pretty soon everyone stopped caring about getting dirty. With mud squishing between our toes, we continued to dance the polka and sing along to the music. We were having so much fun we wished the party would never end,” she said.
After the band played its last song, the hot and muddy bridal couple surprised them all. They went next door to the neighbor’s pool, climbed up the slide and plunged into the water – still in their wedding clothes.