The old school yard taunt used to go “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes____with the baby carriage.” When we thought a girl liked a boy we would tease her with this rhyme. But the sequence was one we all accepted as the norm. People were in love; they got married; they had children. When the sequence was out of order, producing a baby before a marriage, two possibilities were available when I was growing up. Either the marriage was hurried and the child was born “prematurely,” or the girl was sent off to a home for unwed mothers. The child was then adopted by a couple who were married.
My maternal grandmother posed for her wedding portrait in 1917 before she married my grandfather. The ceremony was simple, followed a set prayer sequence from a prayer book, and the young couple went off on their honeymoon. When my grandmother was eighty she confided in me:”Your grandfather and I knew nothing about anything, but we figured it out all right.” Eventually they had my mother in 1922!
Things have changed enormously during my lifetime. Many couples I know of have lived together, bought a house, had a child or two and then married. In their case, the wedding seems to be a gigantic party costing an arm and a leg. The party seems to be the focus, rather than the marriage itself. My grandparents would have been astounded. In fact, when I was in my twenties I would have been astounded. It not only wasn’t done, we wouldn’t have been able to imagine it. Stigma still clung to “living together” into the 1970’s, and babies were still supposed to enter the scene after the parents were married.
In the next few days, I will be talking through the vows my husband and I made on our wedding day. The emphasis will be on the marriage we were embarking upon, not the wedding itself. Stay tuned.
My first Valentine’s project when I was 2 and 1/2. It appears to have involved pasting. I must have been very proud of my art work because it ended up in my mother’s scrapbook. My collage skills actually never grew much past this level, but in today’s art world perhaps this would shine as “post-modern art.”
May you all have a lovely day.
My maternal grandmother gave me this doll in 1958 when I was eleven and she was sixty-eight. It had been a Christmas gift to her when she was a little girl, one of four little girls in her family, each of whom received one. The doll has a porcelain head, feet and hands and a kidskin body stuffed with sawdust. Remarkably well preserved, she sits on my bedroom dresser, greeting me each morning as I brush my hair. She now belongs to my eleven year old granddaughter who lets me keep it until she is certain she can keep it safe.
We treasure such gifts because we know that they were given with love. Without saying it in words, my grandmother was gifting me with something precious to her. I felt honored and recognized by her. She knew that I would treasure it. Now that she has been gone for forty years, I remember her and her love when I see that doll. Objects can connect us in that way. We can demean the attachment by calling it “sentimental,” but we can choose instead to enjoy the link they can form between us and the gift giver.
Looking around my house, I see many things that I have been given by those dear to me. A little blue glass bird came from an old neighbor who knew I needed cheering up. I am wearing sea otter socks, given me by my husband who knows I adore those animals. Look around your own place and think about the people who know you or knew you and gifted you with a little something to show their love for you. May you have joy in the remembering.
Many years ago the an association of florists came up with the tag line, “Say it with flowers.” Here the stores are full of red roses by the dozen ready to hand to one’s Valentine. They are meant, I suppose, to say “love.” Some people will be thrilled to receive them, some less so. Some will be given with love, some out of some sense of obligation. Here the commercial climate seems to demand that you hand your love something, whether flowers, candy, gifts or jewelry. Advertisements for all fill the news.
I treasure not a bouquet on Valentine’s Day, but a gift of flowers that my husband provides me with each summer. In spring I buy packets of annual flower seed that I love. I draw him a little diagram of how I would like them planted, numbering each packet with a corresponding spot in the flower bed. He has put compost on the bed in the fall and now gets the soil ready as soon as it thaws out. Around the beginning of June he will go out to the plot, lay boards down to designate sections, and painstakingly plant hundreds of flower seeds just as my map requests. All summer long from late June through the first killing frost in October I am rewarded with a blanket of blooms such as the zinnias above from last summer. I feel loved by him every time I step out the back door and see the dazzling display.
There are many ways to tell someone of our love. May each of us find a way to show the people in our lives how we feel. And let’s not get hoodwinked by ads telling us that there is only one right way to do it.
Occasionally an announcement would come over the address system at my school: “There will be no public display of affection at Lincoln High School.” PDA, as it is sometimes called, was forbidden and a cause for disciplinary action. I was never sure what the principal was referring to, since I had witnessed neither kissing nor hand holding in the halls. Apparently, however, some couples had found a way to do some surreptitious smooching leaning into their lockers.
Such discomfort surrounded public displays of affection, much less of any sexually suggestive behavior, that all sorts of boundaries were common. On television, couples slept in twin beds. The first appearance of Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show only showed him from the waist up since his pelvic gyrations were not seen as appropriate family entertainment.
Imagine my reaction back then if I knew that I would some day see couples in parks “carrying on.” In Portland, where I used to live, there have been complaints about a full range of sexual activity in doorways and sidewalks. In New England we seem to remain more subdued, though our weather may play a part in it!
PDA seems to be defined very differently around the world. Here an occasional quick kiss seems to be allowable, as long as the couple is either heterosexual or family members. I don’t know how it is other places, and would welcome any shared insights from my readers.
Back before the internet, email or cell phones, when long distance calls were expensive, people stayed in touch through the mail. And those in love sent each other love letters. Some families treasure old love letters that were saved and tucked away only to resurface after a death. Unfortunately, my mother destroyed my father’s love letters to her, so I never got to read about the beginnings of their relationship. But I have words of love about my grandfather from my grandmother.
In general, I think, love letters went back and forth when couples were separated by distance. During the wars letters, heavily censored, kept couples connected. When I was in Oregon and the logger was in Alaska, we wrote letters. When I was in Massachusetts for a month, a romantic interest and I kept up a steady stream of letters. Most of those were about ideas, books and music, not what one typically imagines when thinking of “love letters.” But the “I miss you” and “I really miss you” can only fill so much paper!
I can’t imagine that people today are sending many love letters. Even our local card store has replaced its abundance of cards for a small corner offering. The rest of the place was turned over to gifts and clothing. And here postage has now gone to 55cents, a pretty strong disincentive to write when email is free.
Still there is nothing like the physicality of a hand written letter. There is the particular handwriting of the other. Sometimes there is even a little token enclosed, a sticker or a clipping, or a photo. I can’t imagine people hanging onto emails in the same way that we hung onto letters. And while I used to read and reread letters, I never do that with email and certainly not with texts, no matter how filled with kiss emojis.
We have all heard the expression “love is blind.” I never took much time to think about that sentence until the last couple of days. As I did so, I realized that love, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, is often blind.
Many new born babies look like Winston Churchill to the casual onlooker. Their little heads are often squished and sometimes pointed after their perilous journey down the birth canal. Here love blindness comes to the rescue. Every woman I have ever known thought that her new baby was the most beautiful creature ever. One look in those eyes and we were goners. We were surprised that everyone else wasn’t similarly enamored. Amazingly enough, it turns out that this also rings true for grandchildren. No wonder we show off pictures of the new babies and drive around with bumper stickers proclaiming “Ask Me About My Grandchildren.”
But while blind love paves the way for intense parental connection, it can also be perilous in romantic situations. I was once engaged to a man I thought intellectually deep. I was blind to the truth until a good friend said point blank, “All still waters don’t run deep; sometimes still waters are just still waters.” Thank heavens she broke through my blinders and I called off the engagement.
Worse still is the blindness some people have towards their addict partners or children. In this case, we call blindness “denial” and are baffled that they can’t see what is so obvious to the rest of us. In the name of love we can refuse to see the truth. True love in this instance needs to be clear sighted, not blind.
And then there is the blind love that allows us to settle down with one partner, overlooking his or her faults. When we love like that we grant the other the grace to be real, warts and all. So it isn’t really blind after all. We just choose to focus on the good. And if we have chosen wisely we might wonder now and then why everyone doesn’t have a mate as “perfect” as ours.