April 2016 archive

Of weddings past and present

It worked.

For all our fears: that it would rain; that we would run out of food; that we would not keep up with the drinkers, of whom as it turned out there were only a few; or that some other unknown unimaginable disaster might befall us on the day; it worked.

And in an hour or two when every one else is up and about, the next stage of the clean up will begin, a clean up that includes a post mortem of proceedings, one of my favourite times after a significant social event, when we all get to gossip and reminisce about who said what and to whom.

Where we crow about the joys of the day and pat one another on the back that all our preparations have paid off and from time to time we might remark on something small that we could have done better, but it will only be small.

As the groom’s father left our house at the end of the day, he patted the bride’s father on the back – they’d both had a bit to drink – and said something like, ‘You’re the best person I’ve met in a long time.’

Such a compliment to my husband and even through the alcohol you could tell it was sincere. Small exchanges like this help to bring these two new families together. Now united through the marriage of our two children.

It’s one aspect of marriage that I relish, the bringing together of tribes, of families of people who would otherwise not connect. For all our differences we have similarities.

 

My parents’ marriage in Haarlem and my husband’s parents’ marriage in Mansfield, Australia could not be further apart, though both brides wore white veils, both carried bouquets and both their grooms wore suits. My father wore a top hat.

Both marriages happened in the shadow of world war two and in both cases you could not see the trimmings of war in the background.

I long admired the fact that my mother and father were such contrasts in height, my father six foot three, my mother five foot two  Even those measurements held some synchronicity.

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I do not know the height of my husband’s parents though both were short.  My mother-in-law wore glasses on her wedding day, as did my father.

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And all four young marrieds had the thin look of hunger from working hard, whether on the land, as did my husband’s parents; or through war as did my parents.

When my husband and I married we failed to please either set of parents by sharing the tradition each upheld of marrying in the Catholic church. We chose instead the Religious Centre at Monash University where my husband had once studied.

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I’m all for receptions held at home. The personal touch. My oldest daughter married in her own home, my second daughter had the reception in her home of origin. Home can be wherever we want it to be, but it’s a place where the small children, and there were several at both weddings, can run amuck in relative safety.

Not one child fell into our pond, not one child fell while running, though there were a few brawls among our two grandsons, none of great import, not that I could see and both boys managed to hold onto the rings during the service for long enough that they could in time hand them over to their grandfather who became the ring bearer on the occasion as he had made the rings.

Two daughters married, as Mrs Bennet from Pride and Prejudice fame might say: two daughters married… ‘I shall go distracted’.

‘I stand here ironing’

One day, when I was ten, maybe twelve, my older sister suggested she would teach me to iron.

‘I don’t want to learn to iron’, I said. ‘ If I know how to iron I’ll have to do it.’

My sister taught me anyhow, even as I had learned to become a master avoider of most things domestic.

Then for years as an adult, I ironed when my children were young and at school. Every Sunday, listening to my favourite music on the radio or on a CD, I pulled the iron through the pile of school dresses, my husband’s shorts, my own blouses until one day I had had enough.

But not before I enjoyed the image of Tillie Olson who wrote a memorable short story: ‘I stand here ironing, and what you asked me moves tormented back and forth with the iron.’

The story stays with me, the story of a mother overwrought by her child from whom she has become estranged. A mother who wanders back in her thoughts to the time when that daughter was tiny and of how this mother had needed to work and to leave her child in care, and the thoughts of so many mothers of my generation and today who worry that they are  bad mothers.

‘You think because 1am her mother I have a key, or that in some way you could use me as a key?’

Whenever I ironed I could reason to myself I was a good mother. Or good enough.

As if ironing is ever enough. Ironing and housework and getting food onto the table. I have been inadequate in all these dimensions; unlike my older sister who raised her children largely on her own after her husband left her for another woman when her youngest was not yet born and her oldest was a mere twelve or thirteen.

A sorry tale we hear often and my sister has struggled on minimum money with five children to build a world that is rich and filled with people. Her children all grown now and finding their own ways in the world, several with children of their own.

I write the words above and think how clichéd they sound. There is so much more to the stories of my sister and her children as there is so much more to the story of my children and I am restricted here to the safe passages, the generalised passages, the order and neatness  when I would like to write about all the things I cannot say.

My sister and her children, my own children would not want me to write about the things that have happened to them in their lives that have caused each of them in different ways, grief and shame.

For this reason I stick with my own untidy life, or try to do so.  But it is nearly impossible given my life is punctuated with exchanges with all these wonderful people who frequent my life beyond my family as their stories are their stories.

Still I take comfort from Helen Garner’s words in a recent radio interview with Philip Adams when she says:

‘Who owns the stories anyhow? Stories are not just bits of stuff we pick up on the street and can possess.’

Stories float around outside and are there for everyone.

Writers take things from their observations and experience and try to give them meaning to share with others. And the meaning is subjective in so far as it emerges out of the writer’s eye and mind but it is also universal to the degree that others might resonate with it and others who do not resonate might learn something new from someone’s story that they had never  known before.

And on Sunday, I put on my old clothes and repainted the back gate, which my husband had finally hung after some twenty years of the gate’s waiting in the outside garden in readiness. And the special lock he kept to fit to the gate is now finally in place.

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Another of those jobs he never quite got round to doing, though it was there in the back of his mind begging for attention and long missing out until an at home wedding called for action.

And all these pesky little holes in our lives have been patched up until next time.

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