There are a lot of things that can go wrong with love. I count myself “lucky” nearly thirty years into a marriage that was, by most accounts and statistics, doomed to fail. I know we are fortunate, especially when I consider the hardships of prior generations. My grandparents’ love stories inspire me to thankfulness. One set seemed lucky, the other less so. I guess it’s all in how you look at it.
My maternal grandparents married late — he was over 40 and she hardly half his age. There is no doubt they were in love but their union raised some eyebrows. He may have been impervious, so accustomed to hard breaks. His mother died when he was young, his only sibling drowned as a youngster, and his father died not long thereafter. His stepmother denied him his father’s land — but only after he selflessly helped raise a pile of step-siblings. Abandoning the stifling industrial plant “pot room” for sharecropping, he finally worked his way into farming.
Grampy used horse-drawn implements and kept a small dairy. It was hardscrabble. He was disfigured by a prominent hunchback, exacerbated by years of toil. Grampy and Grandma hardly had twenty years together. Her extended illness, improperly treated, left four children and life’s love behind. I never knew her but can appreciate the hardship of her passing. It reverberated for decades in family dynamics. And Grampy plowed on, as best he could.
Grampy was a remarkable man, maintaining a positive outlook on most everything. He was also hardheaded, stubborn to a fault about other things that made for more difficulties. Heartbreak continued when his hard-won farm fell to neglect and the auction block in his later years. He lived off a small pension, suffering terribly with arthritis from a back-breaking life. His thin frame was clad in red long-johns through much of the summer, anointed with IcyHot and Ben-Gay year ’round. Still, I remember him often bent deeply, lovingly tending his garden — planting potatoes, many long rows to hoe. His health gave way at 80 years midst the blizzard of ’77. Scents of liniments and the first sip of peppermint tea bring a smile in his memory.
My paternal grandparents’ love story is more of a mystery. Grandpa was a World War II era relic and skilled tradesman. An incessant talker, he shared memorable stories. Sometimes, over and over! I loved his musty, old barn. I recall adventures with Grandpa with great fondness. We washed his brown Rambler in the creek on flat bedrock. We drove “over-town” for penny candy, mail, and news. We spent hours at the local garage, where the mechanic and I both became impatient with his stories. The smell of fresh pipe tobacco still appeals, nearly thirty years after his passing.
More than anything else, Grandma filled an important role for my motherless mother. I never felt that I knew her well but I loved her pot roast and admired her spunk. I often attribute to her my “girls can do that, too” aspirations. I give her credit for my thing with shoes — and jewelry! I’m glad if I’ve inherited her elegant hands, as my sister insists.
Among my favorite memories of them are their visits at Thanksgiving. I wish they’d had a happier marriage but nonetheless, Grandma and Grandpa celebrated more than fifty years together. They both flourished into old age in their small farming community. It is a place of great memories, and the only other place that feels like home to me.
So what to make of all of that? “Luck” cuts both ways, I guess. I don’t ever want to take my own for granted. I wear my grandmother’s perilously thin gold ring — one she refused to wear — as a reminder to love the one you’re with. I wear my first beautiful but flawed diamond as a reminder that love is blind. I try to abide the principle of eyes wide open before marriage and half-shut thereafter. I can only hope the Hubs does the same.
I know that I’m the lucky one.
*lyrics by Jason Mraz