Trigger warning: sexism
On my father’s side it means remembering the humanity in the divinity as we hold our former matriarch and patriarch up on pedestals. Their memory is so revered that their children don’t dare talk about how human their parents actually were. We all revere them as the ultimate parents and grandparents with hardly a word that isn’t of praise. In many ways they deserve the praise. In others they deserve to be questioned for their choices, though those mostly seem to be created out of the time during which they themselves lived. When men and women had specific rolls that they fulfilled in relationships and families.
My Grandmere and Grandpere met during WWII, in DC, while they both worked for the Navy. Him as a Captain, her as a secretary. They both dated around as was common for the times. My Grandmere told me that she was pretty sure that he was the one but that he wasn’t so sure. When she was proposed to by another man that she spent time with she asked for some time to consider and went immediately to see my Grandpere. She told him of the proposal and asked him what he thought she should do. According to them both he offered her his congratulations. He felt that he wasn’t ready for marriage and that if she was, she should marry the man who asked her. Six months later he sought her out and expressed his regret as well as asking her to reconsider her engagement and marry him instead. Grandmere immediately changed her allegiance and broke off her now former engagement and accepting Grandpere’s proposal.
That is part of our family legacy. True love prevailed!
Yet true love also had lots of challenges. Adhering to society rules as to the roles of men and women as well as married couples wasn’t always easy. Upon their marriage my Grandmere received a binder of what was expected as the wife of a Navy Captain. There were a lot of rules.
During my father’s upbringing my Grandmere might wear pants during the day but would change into a skirt or dress before her husband returned home from work. She always had to be prepared to entertain at a moment’s notice if necessary, at his request. Things that seem so odd to us today.
About ten years ago, a couple of years before she passed, I was talking to my Grandmere about some of my childhood memories of visits with her and Grandpere. I mentioned something about her car and going on outings with her. She said, “what car? I never owned a car.” That was a surprise to me. When I told her which one, she said, “oh, that was Grandpere’s second car. I was allowed to use it for household tasks and at his discretion. He could tell me at any point that it wasn’t available for me to use.” That was at such odds with what was in my mind. I had never thought that there would be such restrictions within their relationship.
They had agreements about who was responsible for certain things in life. He took care of all the finances such as paying bills and paying taxes as he was the bread winner. She was allotted an allowance that she could spend at her discretion, yet he might ask her why she spent it the way she did. There was a household fund that she could use for groceries and such. He would pay cash for every car he ever bought. When he bought one, he would put money aside in a savings account for when the next one was needed. He was very fiscally conscious having lived through the depression and several wars.
It wasn’t until the last ten years or so of their lives that I learned about all the things that had been allocated role wise based on sex. Around then was when my Grandpere’s macular degeneration came into play and created a need for change. As time went on after that their roles changed a bit more year by year until she was gone.
My Grandmere told me that in all of their 65 years together that there were really only a few times in which she considered even the idea of divorce. The first was when they were selling the old blueberry farm in New Hampshire. It had been their summer home since the children were little. My Grandpere had taken photos of before and after the sale and the changes the new owners made to the house. He was an engineer and liked things to be linear. She said that he took over every room and surface in the house with laying out the photos, five sets of each image. He was creating memento photo albums for them and the four kids. A reminder of all the good times that the farmhouse had brought into their lives. She told me that they had more arguments during that time than any other in their marriage as he took over her domain. That was around the time of their 40th anniversary.
The other times were all in the last 5 years of their lives together as he was more and more debilitated by his eyesight and the limitations brought about by the dialysis, he received three times a week. He became grumpier with the challenges he faced. Grandpere still wanted things done the same old ways that he had done them. He kept trying to tell her what to do, even how to write checks – which of course she had been writing for decades. My Grandmere was as gracious as she could be about such things but sometimes just had to tell him off so that she could get things done. She told me that she felt that was the hardest of times. As they both aged and neither was fully up to the tasks, he had to rely on her more and more every year. It was uncomfortable for both of them, but I think that they learned to appreciate one another in new ways during that time.
I know that he appreciated her in ways he didn’t expect after she passed as well. He was in some ways happy to do things, make decisions, and create a living space that he didn’t have to consult her on once she was gone and he had to move into an assisted living space. I also know that he missed having her around every day between then and the day he left his body.
The legacy of a deep, soul love yet the dichotomy of being a man and a woman and their roles in the world so different from the roles we prescribe to today is a perspective that makes me think about what I am creating in all of my relationships in life. I appreciate that my Grandmere and Grandpere were able to be so honest with me about their lives. I honor and revere them as good examples and yet there are things that I would not want to replicate in my relationships. The standard they set it high, but I am looking for something higher while honoring the humanity in my beloveds.