In each of our relationships, too often we can be tempted to think in black and white. It’s perfect – err wait up! Where’s the exit! There is a list of “lines” (unique to the individual, but culturally connected) that when crossed, trigger immediate relationship re-evaluation.
How many partnerships have two good people forfeited because of “regulation infringement”—some meagre problem that could be overcome? On the reverse, I certainly know of enduring bonds that have lasted the test of time, which at an earlier stage were in terrible trouble. Whereas one pair decides enough is enough, another will plough ahead, overcoming all obstacles to encounter a more fruitful future eventually; one that during their “difficulties,” would have been tough to conceive lay in store.
My grandparents were very much in that category. Occasionally at a family event ( mostly after a few drinks) I’d see my ‘Grumps’ take Nans’ hand and thank her for: sticking with him—I know it wasn’t easy, he’d say tearing up. She’d reply something like not at the table Bill.
Grumps was more emotional, Nan more attentive and private. She never wanted to show weakness, never admitted that any problem was too significant and kept her issues out of public view. Incredibly they lasted sixty-seven years of marriage. Their lives spanning most of the twentieth century and a decade into the next millennium.
So what were these “difficulties?” Well, I heard rumours, echoes of earlier issues that resurfaced at times of stress or celebration. Most were hard to pin down, two concrete examples were brought to light several times though, used by Nan and Grumps in turn, like sticks of guilt, to strike and counter strike.
Grumps never let nan forget about a particular incident that occurred shortly after he returned from the war .They were newly reunited and he accompanied her to a family meet and greet. When there, the beer started flowing, one of her sister’s partners let slip how another gentleman in uniform had stood at Marys’ side on the last such occasion. The news obviously affected Bill. He had treasured a black and white picture of nan in his breast pocket, all through the years aboard; the promise of her good looks and hand in marriage motivated him to overcome malaria and the Japanese army of the far east.
After the revelation my grandfather showed a degree of maturity – familiar to his generation – deciding to see the whole package, everything that marrying Nan meant. I wonder if many modern-day twenty-something relationships could survive after such a disclosure? To us the pond is endlessly bountiful, partners are always replaceable. If it breaks why fix it? It’s easier to ‘swipe’ a new one.
Then some years later, it was nans turn to trigger an earthquake. One day while doing the laundry she discovered a picture of a mystery woman tucked away in Bill’s wallet. Those two events would have crippled many a modern marriage, but despite the undeniable impact of what it meant, they must have shared a degree of pragmatism, they had their eye on decades, not dozens of tinder dates.
In the end – and some years after they both sadly died—what did they gain from swallowing their pride and playing the long game? Well, generations of my family are here because of it. Also, they created a much-needed oasis for their children and later for ten or so grandchildren and great-grandchildren, a solid safe space amid divorces and growing pains.
They lived on simple, attainable pleasures: the garden, the changing seasons, wildlife, the news, the days out with family and the rolling calendar of birthdays and yearly celebrations building to that revered pinnacle in their home—Christmas time.
They appreciated the now more than I ever have been able to do. The plans for tomorrow did not contain super yachts and singing careers, or next year it will all finally come together. They lived real positive lives, of place and people, rooms filled with actual voices of friends and family.
Celebrity, influencers, follower counts, the accumulation of CEO status had no place on their horizons. Paying the bills and having food on the table was enough; because their wealth always lay in the love they nurtured in the family, an essence that can not be brought.
I know it was hard for Nan, she took on the burden of domestic service within their traditional marriage, something that today’s generations would rightly wince at, but something worked, their lives were richer together, infinitely so than if they had remained alone.
How many of my generation will live out their lives isolated, never having enough stamina to persevere when the illusion of “easy love” gets shattered by the real world? Of course, love comes with rough edges, its uncomfortable at times. I fear many of us in the rat race will find out too late that however hard, love was very much worth holding firm to.