Marriage

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Wedding Parties, Love and Hypocrisy

Published November 3, 2011 by megdedwards

We were lounging in my daughter’s shared house in Halifax watching that reality show about women choosing their wedding dresses when one of the young college girls turned to me and asked me directly, “Did you cry when you chose your wedding dress”?

I looked to my daughter, is it OK to tell your house mates my story, I asked? Oh yeah, she answered, knowing the tale all too well. Joe and I were married at the old City Hall in Toronto when I was hugely pregnant with Rose, and we had already been together about 8 years. We invited his parents to be witnesses because Joe’s mom had cried when we told her I was pregnant. There was also a financial reward, a tax break of some kind that made the whole deal more attractive to my husband.

The wedding ceremony was quite funny because the man on duty at the time thought he should make an appropriate speech based on the information he saw before him. Joe’s passport states his birth city as Jerusalem so the Justice of the Peace or whatever he was, intoned on the beauty of Canada (not knowing that Joe had been a Canadian since he was 4 years old).

I was obviously pregnant, so he reminded us that marriages take time and we would know each other better in a few years (not knowing that we had already been together for so many years) and finally, when Joe put the ring on my finger (I bought it at a cheap store on Yonge St. just in case we needed one, it was three thin silver coils wrapped together), he said, “Will you Joseph take Mary”?

I guess the mention of Jerusalem and the sight of the pregnant bride made him confused and he suddenly had changed my name from Margaret to Mary, but at this point I guffawed out loud with Joe and it was all over.

We did not have a party, we broke no dishes, we did not cross hands and drink out of glasses or allow people to make stupid speeches. We did not introduce our cultures to each other, god forbid, and we did not make them share a hall and dinner and the outrageous costs of the event. You’d think they would have been relieved. Maybe they were, we don’t really talk about it.

I did not care about not having a wedding; I honestly did not care at all. Very few people believe me but I did not have wedding fantasies when I was a child, and by the time I was 13 all I heard from my mother and sisters was how marriage and weddings were hypocritical and a waste of time.  I never dreamed about wearing the white dress and walking down the aisle, and I think for Joe, who hated his bar mitzvah, the idea of a wedding party was a nightmare.

But most of all, Joe and I were in agreement that we did not want our two families forced together for a ritualistic event. We knew at the time, and now 27 years later I can tell you that we have not been proved wrong, that the prejudice in both of our families would have been evident.  I think we could both hear the snooty comments made behind each other’s backs, from our respective families, and could not see why we would want to host that particular event.

Joe’s family saw my family as the epitome of what was wrong with WASPs, and to be honest we pretty much lived up to the worst of it. In my family and for many generations back you can find insanity, alcohol and/or drug addiction, affairs/divorce, and bad housekeeping and mediocre cooking.   And we think very highly of ourselves, for no apparent reason. We are brought up to be snobs about working people, but don’t necessarily educate ourselves, and we believe in noblesse oblige even though we are generally cheap and broke and should not be looking down our noses at anyone at all.

Both families would have put on their best hats and behaved well if we had had a wedding party, but there was just no need for the charade. Looking back now, I wonder whether my Dad, who was more conventional than my Mom, was disappointed that he never walked one daughter down an aisle.

I enjoy other people’s weddings, though. It is generally a fun celebration with food and drink and dancing, and I partake with enthusiasm. I enjoyed my eldest brother Rhys’ wedding last weekend in which he married the lovely Carmen.

The sermon at the Catholic Church was quite nice, all about love. He even said, Love is forever, sometimes marriages don’t last, but love lasts forever. Some guffawed later at this, but it is true, and in fact he was marrying two older people who had been married before so he was not out of line.

And this philosophy of love as the guiding force of our lives makes sense to me. I am a very spiritual and unmaterialistic person, it is just that I don’t happen to follow any Church or love any one figure that stands in for love.

At the wedding the two families kept fairly separate and I am not sure if anyone made the effort to reach out to the other family. My brother had argued that the tables should be mixed up so people could get to know each other, but his wife had made the good argument that people who had traveled a long distance to see each other would want to sit at each other’s tables.  So we sat with our own people.

By the end of the night the two groups had merged on the dance floor. But when the dance music began to sound somehow more Asian, and the dancers had begun group dances, a lot of the WASPS dropped out.  Not me though, I love to dance, I am a dancing fool. I’m not sure but I think I may come across as Elaine in this area as well, but it does not stop me.

There were dances in which you had to know steps, and I found the older guy who seemed to know and followed him. And there was a dance where someone grandstands in the middle and everyone dances in a circle until the next person drops into the middle.

When I jumped into the middle, and then dragged my two nieces in with me, there was a big cheer. Ah ha! I had broken down the two cultures stand off!  I felt proud knowing that I had helped merge the two cultures for a few minutes. And I danced and danced, celebrating love.

Dinner Table Manners

Published October 24, 2011 by megdedwards

There is a myth circulating in present day media that all families who are any good, and any parents who have any control over their kids, will sit down and eat dinner together – whether they like it or not.

And I am not sure I subscribe to that popular guilt trip – just as I don’t actually think children will keel over without a regular bedtime.

First of all, I already don’t like the traditional yelling that happens when a family is called for dinner.  Typically someone is late or does not immediately rush to their place at the table because they want to finish their project or whatever, and then the yelling becomes angry sounding.

As soon as a meal starts with angry yelling, I am out of there. I don’t like meals which start with yelling and then continue in some mad rush to get the food down as fast as possible.

I am one of those over sensitive people who is affected by ‘bad’ table manners.  I really care if you show your food in your mouth, or belch, or fart, or place both elbows on the table and stuff the food in as fast as possible. The sight and tension of this sort of eating can actually give me a stomach ache.

And the thing with table manners, is that every family has different standards. I was brought up fairly strictly, possibly too strictly, but the damage has been done and I can’t go back.

The rules were something like this: cut up some of your food, then put your knife on the side of the plate and use your fork to eat; use just the one hand to eat, leave your fingers out of it, and leave the other hand on your lap. The other hand does not need to be nailed to your lap but do not rest one or  both arms on the table as if you are too tired to hold yourself up.

Lift your food to your face; don’t lower your face to the food.  Tip your soup away from your lap in order to get to the bottom of it.  Don’t crash the tings of the fork on your teeth, just eat more slowly and place your utensil more carefully. Cut bread, break buns. Take small bites so that you can talk and eat without a huge challenge.

I think that was about it. Excuse yourself when you are done and don’t put your napkin in your plate. When your plate is finished put your fork and knife on the side of the plate. Our mom argued that we should know how to eat properly so that it would become second nature and we would never be nervous if we are invited to a fancy dinner.

She was right about that, and I think the manners are nice and easy to follow. However, I don’t get invited out to fancy dinners all that often and most people I meet eat like ‘farmers’ as my Mom would have said.

But I don’t think table manners are a snob issue.  I have met plenty of actual farmers who eat really nicely. I am beginning to think that it is a personality type and that the less uptight people are the ones who eat with the most gusto and indelicacy.

My husband tends to do a whole host of things that I was taught to never do. I don’t know why, some of his family members eat all nice and neat some of them do not.

We have had an argument in the last few years over the practice of sitting down to eat together as a family. He says;  see how they all sit down to eat as a family in Leave it to Beaver?  We borrowed the CD set from the library and often watch while eating dinner. And I say; notice how they eat with small bites, sitting up straight and barely even chewing or swallowing?

So basically, I have had to get over myself.  I remind myself that I don’t really care where the fork and knife sit, or whether someone eats dinner as if there is an urgent deadline. The only thing I still quietly complain about is the conversation started mid large mouthful.

I know that I am a bit uptight and sensitive about eating sounds and sights, and depending on my mood, more intensely or less intensely aware of table manners.

The solution in our family is to leave the dinner hour completely free of stress:  one announcement that dinner is ready, come or don’t come that is fine. And we might eat in front of the television and watch Coronation Street, or we might sit at the table, where there will be a wide range of table manners.

For some reason my eldest  sister and I got on the topic the other day and it made me think that our childhood dinner hours were not stress free, what with the constant teaching of manners. And I distinctly remember my crazy sister and I fighting over who sat closest to Mom because she had the loudest mastication of the family.

And then my eldest sister remembered how we always had candle light and classical music. And I realized in a flash of knowledge that it was my Dad who was sensitive to eating sounds and that is why we had the music. Ah ha!

We had good dinners and bad dinners. Sometimes it was light hearted, but by the time my memory was really kicking in, I think my parents were on the outs and my Dad was depressed. I remember him sitting by himself after dinner, with the classical music, drinking wine and looking morose.

What is truly important, obviously, is not so much manners or family traditions, but whether the people sitting at the table want to be there.  My husband does not have that same sad ritual, and I am grateful for that and able to leave behind some of the rituals of my childhood.

And my husband excuses me too, because sometimes after a long day I just want to be alone or write, and not be at the dinner table with the elbows flying and people choking as they try to talk, laugh and eat food at the same time. Much as I appreciate their gusto and laughter, I will come to dinner when I feel like it, and not when the bell  rings, as it did in my childhood.

Marriage is like a nice old carpet

Published October 12, 2011 by megdedwards

A long term relationship, call it a marriage for sake of the argument, is like a beautiful, but worn, carpet. The patterns are worn but the colors remain, the beauty is in the aging. A beautiful old carpet is better than a new one.

Who’s arguing anyway? My husband and I, Joe and me, we have been together for 27 years and are becoming our parents. We have plenty of good times and laughter and joy, but we argue too. Sometimes they are important arguments and sometimes they just end in “Oh, fuck off.”

We met when we were twenty years old and have been together for about 27 years, or our entire adult lives.

One way out of a ridiculous argument, we find, is to quote a line out of a Woody Allen film, in which Woody is at home with his bickering parents. “Okay, the Atlantic Ocean is better than the Pacific Ocean, have it your way”! That usually amuses us right out of the argument.

But back to my analogy; I love carpets, I fantasize about owning a really nice Persian one and that is what I am picturing right now.

In my analogy carpet the original colors and pattern are strong and vivid in a few sections, but much of the color has faded and in some places the cross stitch beneath the pattern shows as an interwoven strong white thread.

The carpet makes the room though, with its wine red and aqua blue pattern.

The carpet collects dust, is hard to shake out and has corners that flip up and trip people as they enter the room.

There are stains that can be blamed on someone; who left the humidifier on the heirloom carpet? Yeah, well, who insisted we have cats in that apartment.

When someone trips over a wrinkle in the carpet it is someone’s fault. Every solution to every carpet problem has been discussed repeatedly and without end.

The couple has tried to move the carpet around so that they don’t wear a tread right across the pattern, but it only really fits the room in that position.

What am I talking about again? Oh yes, how a marriage is like that carpet.

You can get really tired of looking at the same old pattern every day, trying to resist the same thought patterns that follow along the same track without variation.

‘If we flip the carpet’, one of the married couple will say, ‘then we can stop treading on that turned up corner’.’ Yes, yes’, the other replies,’ we have gone through this. If we flip it then the burn mark will be right in the middle of the room and not under the plant where it is hidden now’. How many times have they had this conversation?

Heavy sigh from one side. ‘Why do we have this carpet here anyway? Why don’t we have bare floors like my house when I was a kid, much less dust’. The other one is now hurt and offended, ‘ But I like the carpet, it means a lot to me and reminds me of happier days, when we were young, and in love’.

‘Do you remember when we had to drag this carpet up four floors to that apartment in Saskatoon, and it got stuck’?  ‘And it took the whole back seat just getting it here – what possessed us to take it with us everywhere we go’?

Married couples have shared memories, a world unto themselves. Every tendril in the dusty carpet’s pattern leads down endless roads of memories. They have a life lived together, which is an amazing gift.

At their best, they are old friends, whose predictability is comforting. They contemplate the same thoughts; they have the luxury of knowing that someone knows their patterns, and considers them valuable.

Dam, I just tripped over the curled up edge and spilt tea on my imaginary carpet. Oh well, it adds character.

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