In two weeks it will be Walter’s and my 49th wedding anniversary. What better time to reflect on weddings and marriages and relationships than now.
SCENE I: The morning of the wedding
The weather was awful Saturday, July 10, 1971. Usually in Vanderhoof in July one can count on beautiful, hot, sunny days but not on this day. I woke up to rain and that rain continued the entire day and into the evening. My first and clearest memory of July 10, 1971 is seeing Walter sometime in the morning. I have no idea why I would have seen him because these were the days when young couples did not usually live together, openly, at least. This was a small town, I was a teacher, and everyone knew everyone else’s business and I knew teachers who had lost their jobs for sharing accommodations with someone to whom they were not married. But I did see him that morning. What was so distressing about that sight was that he was clean-shaven. The last time I had seen him, the evening before, he had sported a dark, well-established beard and here he was, sans facial hair.
“Oh my god,” I thought to myself in shock, “what am I doing? I don’t even know this guy and in just a few hours I’m going to marry him!” I thought about running away, I thought about calling it all off, but I knew that I couldn’t do either of those things, I just couldn’t. I couldn’t hurt him, I couldn’t disappoint my family, and there were all those presents set up on a table in another room. Besides, I had been brought up to make decisions and then follow through. So I pretended to my parents that all was okay, had my hair done, got dressed and ready for my wedding.
SCENE II: That afternoon, the church
It was still raining when we got to the church for the 2:00 service. The United Church in Vanderhoof is small and I remember arriving at the entrance with my dad and seeing Walter standing at the front waiting for me. The music started and my dad galloped me down that aisle so fast I’m sure the pianist wasn’t halfway through “Here Comes the Bride” when we made it to the alter.
Walter looked very young and handsome in the suit he’d bought for his graduation from vet school, even though his clean-shaven face still looked unfamiliar to me. What I hadn’t counted on was his smell, maybe I should say, his stench. It was an odour like no other I had even smelled before. Later, I found out that that very morning he had de-scented a skunk and in doing so, he had squeezed the gland a little too hard when exposing the duct, and sprayed himself with that noxious skunk odour. He then tried to neutralize the smell first by scrubbing himself with soap and water which didn’t work, then by washing with tomato juice which also didn’t work and, finally in desperation, trying to hide the stench with doggy cologne which just accentuated the aroma.
There are two things I remember extremely clearly of the wedding service. First, when the minister asked for the rings, Walter put his hand in his pocket to get my wedding ring, but brought out, instead, a vial of rabies vaccine. More about that later. And second, after we had recited our vows, the minister said, “You may kiss the bride, if you want to,” and Walter didn’t. Later, when I asked him why, he said, “You didn’t expect me to kiss you in front of all those people, did you?” (Several years later I found out that our daughter told all the kids in her kindergarten class that her mum and dad weren’t really married because we hadn’t kissed at our wedding.)
SCENE III: The reception
Our wedding was very small and our reception was held at my aunt and uncle’s house. It was still raining so all the wedding photographs had to be taken inside rather than outside in my aunt’s lovely garden which was a real disappointment to me. I was sure the photographer was drunk, but he probably wasn’t.
What I remember most clearly about our reception was that one of my cousins was going to be travelling to the U.S. and had asked Walter if he would give the family’s dog a rabies shot that afternoon. And why wouldn’t he vaccinate a dog in the middle of his own wedding reception?
SCENE IV: The wedding night
It didn’t seem right to spend our wedding night in Vanderhoof, so, as we were leaving on our honeymoon the next day, it made sense to spend the night in Prince George, an hour’s drive east. We got to the motel and I was starving because I don’t think I’d been able to eat a bite at our reception. Walter said that he would go out and get a pizza for us and off he went. And I waited and waited and waited in that room, dressed in my fancy blue peignoir set, until I was sure he wasn’t coming back. Even though I hadn’t thought I wanted to get married, I was definitely sure that I didn’t want to be abandoned on my wedding night. He did finally return after at least two hours, looking very frazzled and upset, pizza in hand. It had taken him so long, he said, because first he’d had to wait for the pizza and then, when it was ready and he was heading back, he got lost and ended up wandering all over down town Prince George trying to find our motel. I seem to remember Walter telling me later that night to please stop crying and go to sleep.
We were driving to Ontario on our honeymoon to visit Walter’s family who hadn’t come out for our wedding and we were also going to Detroit so that Walter could attend a veterinary convention. That would make our honeymoon tax deductible which was important in those very lean years. Walter says that I cried all the way across Canada but I didn’t; I cried until we got to Jasper and then I stopped because I figured that if things were this bad, they couldn’t possibly get any worse.
So, our wedding wasn’t one of those fairytale romantic occasions but it does make a good story. Walter just told me that he’d really like a chance to write his own recollections of that day.
REFLECTIONS ON 49 YEARS OF MARRIAGE: What I’ve learned
Without a doubt the most important lesson I’ve learned is that the key to a good relationship is open and honest communication which isn’t as easy as it sounds. I have to confess that we haven’t always been great at communicating with each other but we are definitely aware of its importance and we will keep trying.
Another extremely important thing to remember is that marriage or any long-term relationship is never static but is fluid. Like every event in life, situations change, there are ups and downs, highs and lows, good times and times that are not so good. It is so important to recognize, enjoy and revel in the highs and get through the lows as best you can. We have had some amazing highs and and we’ve experienced the opposite. I’ve likened those low times to being on a train and seeing a tunnel ahead with that little circle of light at the end of it and I have trusted that we would arrive at the end of the tunnel and emerge again into the light. And, so far, that is what has happened.
Through a half-century of living together I’ve leaned that Walter and I are two totally different people with very different thoughts, experiences, and ideas. Sure, we share a life and have done for a very long time, but because we live so closely together, it doesn’t mean we are always on the same wave length. I think that one of the basic mistakes I’ve made is that I’ve often assumed that we were and haven’t checked to find out. But I’ll try and improve on that, as well.
As I think back on these past 49 years, sure, there are things that I’d do differently if I had that opportunity but there is one thing I know for sure–I’m really glad that I didn’t run away that rainy day in July, 1971.