Monday, March 28

For better, for worse...

by Liz Flaherty

I'm burned out on writing about writing. I think I've said that before (I've said everything before, right?), but it doesn't alter the fact. So I'm not going to talk about writing this week. Instead, I dug for something old that I may or may not have used before. In the excavation, I found this post I did for Gem State Writers in 2012. It's a September blog, not a March one, but it's a favorite of mine. I hope you like it. Have a great week.

          On September 28, 1935, my parents went to a minister’s house and got married. My dad wore a double-breasted suit and my mom had on a hat. They stayed married through the rest of the Great Depression and three wars, through the births of six children and the death of one at the age of three, through failing health and the loss of all their parents and some of my father’s siblings. Dad died in 1981, Mom in 1982. 
          From the viewpoint of their youngest child, who was born in their early 40s when they thought they were finished with all that, it was the marriage from hell. I never saw them as a loving couple, never saw them laugh together or show affection or even hold hands. They didn’t buy each other gifts, sit on the couch together, or bring each other cups of coffee. The only thing I was sure they shared was that—unlike my husband and me—they didn’t cancel out each other’s vote on Election Day.
          “Why on earth,” I asked my sister once, “did they stay together all those years? Mom could have gone home to her family, even if she did have to take a whole litter of kids. Heaven knows Dad could have.” (He was the adored youngest son and brother—he could do no wrong.)
          Nancy gave me the look all youngest siblings know, the one that says, “Are you stupid?” When you’re grown up, it replaces the look that says, “You’re a nasty little brat.” But I regress.
          “Don’t you get it?” my sister asked. Her blue eyes softened. So did her voice. “They loved each other. Always. They just didn’t do it the way you wanted them to.”
          Oh.
          I remembered then. When they stopped for ice cream because Mom loved ice cream. How they at the kitchen table across from each other drinking coffee. How thin my dad got during Mom’s long illness because “I can’t eat if she can’t.” When they watched Lawrence Welk reruns together and loud because—although neither would admit it—their hearing was seriously compromised.
          And the letters. The account of their courtship. We found them after Mom’s death, kept in neat stacks. They wrote each other, in those days of multiple daily mail deliveries, at least once a day and sometimes twice. When I read those letters, I cried because I’d never known the people who wrote them.
          I have to admit, my parents’ lives had nothing to do with why I chose to write romantic fiction. I got my staunch belief in Happily Ever After from my own marriage, not theirs. But how you feel about things and what you know—those change over the years.
          As much as I hated my parents’ marriage—and I truly did hate it—I admire how they stuck with it. I’ve never appreciated the love they had for each other, but I’ve come to understand that it never ended. I still feel sorry sometimes for the little girl I was, whose childhood was so far from a storybook that she made up her own, but I’m grateful to have become the adult I am. The one who still writes her own stories.
          But—and this is the good part—these are the things I know.
          Saying “I love you” doesn’t always require words. Sometimes it’s being unable to eat because someone else is. Sometimes it’s stopping for ice cream. Sometimes—and I realized this the other day when my husband and I were bellowing “Footloose” in the car—it’s hearing music the same way, regardless of how it sounds to anyone else.
          Marriage is different for different people. So is love. So is Happily Ever After.   

          Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad.
***
I didn't have a picture of my parents to put on this--I can't imagine why not--so forgive yet another plug for my new book, out April 1. 


8 comments:

  1. Insightful, Liz, and now we know some of the history that went into the making of a romance writer--even if you didn't consciously model (or not model) your characters on your parents and their marriage. There's so much we don't know about our families and their pasts--and a lot of it has to do with the times in which they lived and the acceptable ways to behave. Thanks for the lovely post.

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    1. Thanks, Judith. I've always been glad to have their letters to give me some of that insight into the people I didn't know.

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  2. I love this! My grandparents were like that--I always knew my grandfather loved my grandmother, but her feelings were questionable. But, when she got sick, his was the face she looked for.

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    1. That's sweet, Margie. When my mother-in-law died a few weeks ago, her husband was alone in the room with her, and we felt that was what she wanted. They had been together a long time and they were together then, too.

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  3. As someone who lives in a marriage very unlike the marriages I write, I read this with tears threatening. Thank you for the reminder that marriages are different, they don't all display love in hearts and roses and romantic gestures.

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    1. Ah, thanks, A.D. They are different, and it's not necessary to like anyone's except your own and you have to decide how to make it work, not go by someone else's rules. (A hard lesson for me sometimes.)

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  4. How interesting that we all see our parents' marriages probably different from what they truly were. I was six when my Dad left us, but I have clear memories of my parents being very affectionate with each other and laughing together and hugging and kissing. So when Dad walked out, it was beyond shocking... yup, only the folks in the marriage know what's between them. Great post!!

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    1. Oh, my gosh, that would make you feel so betrayed! I remember kids I knew being so upset by their parents' separations and I would be "please! Let that happen to me!" I'm not sure how it would really have felt, but at the time I was all for the idea.

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