Tuesday, June 29, 2010

An Anniversary

G'ma and Daddooooo would have celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary today.  

They were married at the Waldorf Astoria on Thursday, June 29, 1950, in a ceremony that someone must have enjoyed but where the pictures show many grimaces and only a few strained smiles.  Everyone looks aggravated.  Maybe it's because it was a Thursday?  There was a religious prohibition on marriages during most of the summer (having something to do with Tisha b'Av but which G'ma always took personally) and G'ma was teaching until the end of June and maybe she should have looked at the situation a little more carefully, anyway. "No one listened to me.... his mother ran that show." I heard that when I was planning my wedding, and I still get the shivers remembering my mom's face as she said it. 

They went to Mexico and Cuba for their honeymoon.  There were red fire ants parading in full battle array around their casita.  Daddooooo "dove off a cliff and left my hearing at the bottom of the sea."  Men whistled and offered to buy G'ma right off Daddooooo's arm as they strolled the streets of Havana.  They both brought home tapeworms..... I'll spare you the details, but they involve a dinner party and an unpleasant surprise while using the toilet.

They had a fabulous apartment in Manhattan.  When I arrived 20 months later, they were able to take advantage of the pocket park around the corner.  The moms had one section, the bums had the other.  (When did a hobo become a bum become a homeless person?)  A year later they bought a house on Long Island, had two more kids over the next 4 years, and somewhere along the way, they lost the love.  

Was it ever really there?  She was 27, and had spent her college and young adult years amidst the chaos caused by WWII.  The pool of eligible men was limited to those too infirm or too old to serve.... at least that's what she told me.  He was 34 and living at home, working in the family business, and having a fine time dating a variety of women (one of whom grew up to be the mother of a friend of mine in elementary school.... it's very weird to hear your father tell her mother that she looks as good as she did that night on the boardwalk...).  They met on a blind date - her best friend and his best friend set them up - under the paws of the left (or the right, they never could agree) lion in front of the Main Library on 42nd Street and a few months later they were engaged.  Things happened fast in those days before rampant promiscuity (aka pre-marital sex). 

If there was respect, I never noticed it, except as it came to parenting and work ethic.  Over the decades businesses failed and finances were strained but vacations were taken and new cars were purchased.  We never had a bad time when we went into The City for a show or a movie and always a meal in Little Italy at the end.  But those days without rancor were few and far between.  Mostly, it was an emotional armed camp, where everyone just waited for the next argument.  

I remember going to the 1964-5 World's Fair with my friend Linda and her parents.  They were walking in front of us, holding hands,  and it struck me that I had never ever in my whole life seen my parents holding hands.  Not once.  I was 13.

We 3 kids made a 25th Anniversary party for them in the backyard of their house.  Middle Brother and I drove all night from Chicago to Long Island and slept for the first two days we were there.  That gave Little Sister ample opportunity to plan and execute and create and panic.  Emphasize the panic.  There were family and friends and the grill was turning out burgers and franks as fast as I could flip them, but there weren't any funny stories about warm and loving memories.  There weren't old photos of fun times past.  There were little silos of people standing on the lawn, looking at one another and, I'm sure, judging them.  I'd have more information, but I was busily enveloped in a cloud of bbq smoke all afternoon.  

When I asked G'ma if she wanted me to plan a 50th Anniversary Party she groaned and asked Why?  What do I have to celebrate?  Who would come?

I'm not sure how TBG and I have managed to stay together for nearly 35 years. Could it be that I have very low expectations?  I don't think so; his parents were happy (or so it seemed) and that was a big plus in the "should I marry him" column.  I wanted the fantasy marriage, wanted my house to be like the March home in Little Women, wanted us all to care about one another and those in the world around us while admiring and honestly kvetching about the time and energy it takes to make both pieces of life fit nicely together.  His family was pretty close to that, at least from the outside.  Over the years, I became aware of the cracks in the pretty facade, but the main thing, the part I wanted to emulate, was the love and affection his parents showed each other.

I never saw it at home.  I had to be taught.  My default position was to attack; TBG leads with love.  It's been an interesting 3+decades as we work to adapt and adjust to the other's foibles, but at least we work on it.  G'ma and Daddooooo just fought.  

I once asked her why she didn't leave.  "Money.... it's always about money," was her answer.  But she had a teaching certificate and a standing job offer from the school district which had "interviewed" her over her years as PTA president of the elementary and junior high and high schools we attended.  Laziness?  Fear of change?  Some vestigial feelings of devotion?  What made her stay?  Was there some psychic kick in the hostility? 

I think that it was more than that.  Married in the 1950, my parents made a commitment that was sacred to them.  They made their bed and they slept in it, so to speak.  They stayed together "for the children" and because they had promised to do so.  I'm sure there is something admirable in that, but there was also so much waste.  Individually, they were delightful.  Together, they were a disaster.  

For the three or four years after his death and before her memory started to evaporate, G'ma had a wonderful time.  Having gone from her parents' home to her husband's home, she reveled in living alone.  Dinner at 10pm?  Or 4pm?  Or not at all?  It was all good.  No one was digging the middle out of the stick of butter, or making her wait before she could leave the house because there's just one more thing I have to do.  She wasn't lonely, she was alone and loving it.

Daddooooo once told me that he married G'ma because he knew she would be a wonderful mother.  Not that he loved her; I never heard that.  Was he hearing his biological clock, choosing his spouse to fulfill a physiological imperative?  He always felt smug about his successful children; I'm not sure any of us ever shared a failure or a loss of faith or any other issue with him.  Or her.  Did we raise ourselves?  I don't remember the kinds of conversations TBG and I have had with the Cuters, conversations about values and relationships and right and wrong.  Children of the Depression, they were focused on keeping a roof over our heads and food on the table.  Gender roles were rigid, and a bankrupt business with 2 in college and 1 on the way must have put inordinate strains on an already fragile situation.  G'ma went back to work, as an administrative assistant, not a teacher.  Was she afraid to take on a professional challenge again?  Was she upset that life had sent her back to the workforce when, by rights, she should have been at home raising her youngest child?  Did his business failure make him unlovable?  Had she married him because he was her last chance? 

Who knows.  I am certain of one thing, though.  They never regretted having babies.  I'm glad of that, at least.

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