At the Queen's Table
My grandmother once told me, "Through 59 years of marriage, Jeremy, I never once considered leaving your grandfather." She shrugged her shoulders, folded her hands, and added, "I did consider murder once or twice." She turned to look at me. Her face told me that she was serious. My eyes had opened wide in disbelief. My lungs filled with shock. My grandfather was a great man. He was my hero. A wonderful father, grandfather, and husband. How could she think that?
A smile slipped onto her 80-year-old face. "Oh, come on. I'm joking."
Relieved, I let out the air in my lungs and the wrinkles on my forehead let loose.
She concluded, "But it wasn't always easy you know. There were difficult times."
In all honesty, I didn't know much about the difficult times my grandparents had lived through. By the time I was old enough to pedal my bike down the street to their townhouse they were both retired.
What I did know was this. I thought my grandfather was the tallest man in the world. He grew shiny green tomatoes in a humble home garden. He had a seven iron in the garage, but no golf balls. He taught me how to cast a fishing line in a back yard that had no water. When he drove his Dodge Diplomat, he would crack open the window, place his hand on the roof, and rest his elbow on the door molding. He would watch Bob Barker host The Price is Right , but staunchly referred to it as " Spin the Wheel ." He was always humming a tune. I knew Grandma had been a school teacher. She referred to my grandfather as "D" (the nickname my mom had given him), but only when calling to him from another room. She traveled to faraway places and returned with magical souvenirs. She insisted that her grandchildren use good manners at the table by asking them, "Would you act like that at the Queen's table?" And she always kept baby powder stashed in the bathroom knowing full well I was going to get into it.
Indeed, their life appeared to be grand. And what I knew of it was grand.
Looking back now it isn't any easier for me to fill in blanks. I find myself contemplating just what Grandma meant when she said, "There were difficult times." I never witnessed my grandparents arguing, although my instincts tell me they probably didn't agree on everything. The closest vision that serves my memory is Grandpa's constant battle to keep Grandma out of the kitchen while he cooked. Their life and marriage couldn't possibly have been as perfect as it appeared in my memories, could it?
The answer had clearly been stated, but the details remain blurry.
Did she mean that the world itself had been difficult? Together they had lived through some of the most difficult times in American history. The Great Depression, Grandpa's service during World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, an assassinated President. War in Vietnam, Korea, the Middle East. September 11.
Maybe she meant their personal lives had been difficult. Early on in their life, a catastrophic automobile accident forced them to recover apart from each other in separate bedrooms. They raised my mother in the remnants of a dying steel town, among economic uncertainty. They watched as my father and mother moved 300 miles from that town with my older sister, who at the time was their only granddaughter. They constantly and collectively battled my grandfather's addiction to cigarettes. When Grandpa's body and mind were succumbing to Parkinson's disease, Grandma was his caretaker.
Or maybe she simply meant that 59 years of marriage to Grandpa was not always as perfect as it appeared to a young boy.
I know that Grandma's revelation to me about "difficult times" was not a complaint. Nor was it intended to paint a negative reflection of her life with my grandfather. It was, in fact, advice. It was a hint. And today I look back on what was, in my mind's eye, their perfect life together, and I can understand. I understand that no matter how perfect two lives are as one, there will undoubtedly be "difficult times."
I see now that they did have a perfect marriage. A marriage that persevered through the "difficult times." I know now that is what made it so perfect.