January 27th was my parents’ 45th Wedding Anniversary. A lifetime spent together. More than half their lives spent in each others company. This is the second year my mum sits by a graveside………..
It’s less common now than ever before. Life is different. People marry and divorce for so many reasons. It’s not for me to say whether their choices are right or wrong. It’s not my road to travel nor my place to judge. It is simply a bi-product of our era.
This is not a story of our era, this is a story of a time gone by, of two people who chose to spend their lives together, build a life and a family and the influence it had on my life and the way I look at love, life and togetherness.
On January 27th 1968….. Two people stood at the alter before God and their families and promised to love each other through sickness and in health, he to love honour and cherish and she to love, honour and obey! It was the 60’s that’s how it was….. she had her fingers crossed behind her back 🙂 And so they began….
Times were different from today, very different. A routine was set to homemaking, a house was purchased and life as a couple began. I don’t know a lot about those days.. I wasn’t there yet, sure I’ve heard stories, but I imagine it was two young people from different worlds trying to work out how to live together, which is a difficult task. Ask any married couple about the early years, the arguments about things done differently and whiskers in the sink and milk left out and snappy mornings. Living as a couple is something you must learn. It doesn’t just happen.
As time went on, inevitably there was a pregnancy, which became a child and that child was me. The first born, the child that you make the mistakes on, the one who tests your resolve, who makes you wonder what the fuck you’ve done? How do you make it stop crying? That first child who changes you from a couple to a family. The one to whom you pin your hopes and dreams of the future and vow to give that child everything you didn’t have…… in every way.
There are many stories of me and what an easy child I was and how beautiful I was and how wonderful it all was…. I’m calling bullshit!
Times were tough, Dad worked 2 jobs, mum was home alone with a baby all day, up with a baby at night. It was those times. There must have been strain, there must have been frustration and fights but they loved each other.
By 1971, with the arrival of my brother, we were a family complete. A young couple with two children, a mortgage and a family business. An extended family business. With brothers and Parents and wives involved…. The business had been successful for a long time. They had a fleet of ice cream trucks, the mister whippie kind…but staff are arseholes, they steal from you, they’re unreliable, machinery breaks down…and by the end of ’72 the business was done. My parents decided to make a break for it. Get away from the city, away from family too I guess, for a while. Time for a clean start.
Always the planner, my dad wrote letters to towns around the country, asking about facilities, employment and lifestyle. He went on reconnaissance trips, scouting ahead, looking for the perfect place to take his young family. A decision was made about a progressive area with great opportunities in housing and employment and so they set off on their new adventure.
Back in 1972, the trip from Sydney to Albury was 8 hours, long and hard in a car with no air con on a single lane highway which was the major road between state capitals Sydney and Melbourne. It was hard but I don’t remember it, I was 4 and my 16mth old brother stopped talking… he clammed up. The story goes that a couple months after the move he started to talk again… Of course at that age he was just learning so the stress of the long trip must have been too much.
Here’s where my life has followed theirs almost identically… We moved across the world when our kids were 4 and 16mth. It was the hardest thing we’d ever done. Away from family and support and everything we knew.
Things have a way of working out and I can see back into that time as an adult and know what they went through, all the adjustments, making friends, finding work and a home and setting up life. I know the stress it placed on our marriage and I can only imagine their stresses were the same.
They got to building a house and then the market crashed, they sold that and moved out of town to a small farmlet. My dad always wanted to be on the land anyway. A country boy at heart. They took a loss. Financial pressure can hurt a marriage…but still they soldiered on.
I remember those years fondly but I heard the stories too, how the pressure was all to much and one night when chopping wood for the fire in the dark, freezing cold in the rain, because Dad worked full time, a stick flew up and smacked him in the face… he sat down and cried. Kids don’t know those pressures, and they shouldn’t. My parents restored that old house and poured money into making it a home. They both worked. We were at school so mum went back to work.
In 1978, just after their 10th anniversary, the house burnt down, everything was gone. We had to start again. That was a pretty stressful time, I remember it well, losing everything is rough.
In 1980 we moved to the new place where Mum still is today. Farm life was great, we learned about life and death and nature. I long for that for my kids but that’s another post..
My parent poured their souls into that place on the hill. We all did. Up early before work, then outside until after dark. All weekend, every weekend. They fenced and built sheds and planted trees and shrubs. They worked the stock and made good money. We kids had it pretty good up there on that hill. The first year I got a horse and my brother got a motorbike.
They went through the normal life struggles, being short of money, raising teens, disappointments. Losing parents, and then the empty nest….
In the early 90’s, around their 20th anniversary and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my Grand parents, my mother’s siblings and partners all got together and decided it would be fun to renew their vows. Only one couple couldn’t make it. It was a grand celebration of love and commitment and made the local papers. It was also an example to all the children and grandchildren who are part of the family. The longevity of love.
Years rolled by and milestones came and went. Retirement, the first grandchild, weddings and big birthdays. Learning to live together after children must be hard. Things change over those years and so many couples struggle to reconnect.
My parents were no different, with the children gone and married with their own lives, it was time to settle into the new normal. They worked the flowers together, sheep farming wasn’t making the money anymore. They travelled, experienced the things having a young family often prohibits. They found new hobbies and outlets and grew together as a couple again. They had a great circle of friends of similar age and being in the same community for many years, knew many people and had a fulfilling life. 90% of the family had followed them south a few year after their intial escape, so now in their retirement, they shared the closeness of family again.
They left the country together for the first time in 2007 to come and visit us. A huge undertaking for people of advanced years with not a lot of travel experience. It was a great 3 weeks. They travelled around America too, knowing this would probably be their only trip.
We travelled back in 2008 to surprise Dad for his 70th birthday. That was so awesome, it has always been important to me to be close to family and my children are learning that too. I make a point of taking the kids every year so they know where they come from and get to spend time with their Aussie family. It disrupted their lives to no end when we’d roll in like a tornado but the joy on their faces spending time with the grandkids was worth the chaos.
After a lifetime of struggle, they were enjoying the fruits of their labours and the love of their family.
In March 2011, I make another sneaky surprise trip, this time on my own, for Mum’s 60th. It was such a nice few days. No kid pressure, just a time to spend with my folks. They were so happy, so together…Such an example to me of a good marriage, with it’s trials of course because nobody can be perfect or live together for decades without rocky times but they were leading the way.
It’s interesting to note that of all my extended family ( and there’s lots of them) on both my mother and father’s sides there has only been two divorces. That’s pretty spectacular. Aunts, Uncles and cousins all committing to a life with their partners through whatever struggles they face. It adds up to centuries of marriage!
In the climate where nearly every second marriage ends in divorce, I think what they all have is so very special.
Upon leaving that trip, I knew things wouldn’t be like that the next time I came. Sometime being perceptive sucks, for 3 months later I was racing the clock across the world to say my goodbyes.
A life together, a marriage, to death do us part, a partnership of 43 years, over in July 2011.
A widow must go on, every anniversary, birthday, Christmas, Valentine’s Day…EVERY DAY, alone, one day at a time, learning to live again without a partner, the love of her life. Sitting graveside instead of side by side.
This Valentine’s Day I’m inspired by their love, their commitment to each other and of a love everyone should experience but few people will.
I appreciate what they taught me, how to stay together because they loved each other, despite the hard times, despite the problems, they knew nothing was bigger than their love and they could get through it all.