We just celebrated our 55th anniversary. This is a ‘young’ marriage according to many residents here. I tend to agree. The years have flashed by so fast, that the number is unreal. When I think about our relationship, a ladder comes to mind. The rungs are what we have in common. They keep the structure strong. The open spaces are those things, ideas, beliefs, and activities that we each retain as individuals. Without those open spaces, the rungs would not be evident.
I’ve noted many different marriages. Folks in their 80’s and 90’s meet here at our CCRC and marry new mates after tragic losses. There are flippant marriages in the news that last no longer than a news cycle. There have been some unusual marriage situations in my own family. My grandfather (mother’s father) had four wives. As a very poor, but handsome, teenager in Eastern Europe, he was married off to a much older widow in their small town. They had at least one child. A few years later, he arrived in America with a wife his own age and three small children (two of whom died shortly after).
At age 44, his second wife (and his great love) died during surgery, leaving behind five surviving children, including my eight-year-old mother and her four-year-old baby brother. My mother’s much older, and recently married, sister moved back to take care of the family. Older sister’s marriage barely survived the experience. After a year, the grieving widower and single father was convinced to marry again. What a disaster that was!
His third wife was beautiful. However, it soon became evident that she had severe mental problems. My grandfather had to tell the children to block their bedroom doors at night because their new stepmother had the habit of wandering around the house with a knife in her hand. Within a few months, she was committed to a mental institution. This led to another dilemma. State law prohibited anyone from divorcing someone not mentally competent. The third wife’s brother cooperated by taking her into his home long enough for a divorce to be arranged.
My mother told me that there were a few girlfriends after that, but grandfather was skittish and afraid that anyone he found attractive would probably have something wrong with her.
Then came wife number four. My grandfather was “fixed up” with a newly arrived immigrant who came here after her husband and children had been killed. She was still young in years, but very old in spirit. She was bitter and angry and became the storybook evil stepmother. Together, they had two children who eventually became a blessing to my mother. The youngest is now the only remaining sibling of my mother’s family. These siblings spanned three generations. Wife number four outlived my grandfather by a few years.
I write this story with simple words. However, the emotional scars are not so simple and the effects multigenerational.