Although they were four brothers, with eight years between the youngest and oldest, they were all married in the same year. I always regretted not having a daughter, but after four attempts I became content with my beautiful, healthy and intelligent boys. What more could a mother ask for?
Roger and I brought them up, as far as we could tell, with the same values, the same discipline, the same encouragement, yet they all turned out to be so different. Not only did they look completely different to each other, they had very distinct characters. I remember, as they were growing up, thinking that suspicious neighbours might gossip that they had different fathers, a thought I would try to dismiss each time it arrived.
I grew up in a time where a marriage was for a lifetime. As I sit here, across from Roger dosing in his armchair, I feel the sadness of knowing that none of my boys will ever feel the security and warmth that I have now. After 66 years of marriage, we have had rows, days of not speaking and even physical fights. Yes, on two occasions during our long marriage, when we were young, Roger slapped me in a fit of anger. I knew he didn’t mean to, and I know how upset he was afterwards. It didn’t destroy our marriage. In those days we had more staying power. Oh, I know what you may be thinking, but no, I was not and am not the little obedient housewife. I have also had my moments, like the time when I threw a cup of hot tea into Roger’s face during a major rift. That was the occasion when I received my first slap. Then he cried, I cried, he kissed and caressed me and we made love with such passion. Oh, why can’t this new generation make up as easily as we used to?
As you can probably imagine it was a hectic year. Four marriages within ten months. 1976 was one of the happiest years of my life. To see all of my boys settling down was a very comforting sight, although I did have some reservations regarding Peter. At 18, he could have waited a little longer, but their baby certainly wouldn’t.
Now in 2019, at the age of 88, I am no longer comforted by these terrible marriages. 1976 is no longer remembered as the happiest year of my life. It was the year that, mainly due to their own doing, set the course for their ill-fated lives.
Peter was the first to marry. He came home one evening, extremely nervous, to let us know that pretty little Mary was pregnant. Mary was a lovely girl, petite and quiet, but intelligent. We knew her parents and the wedding was arranged quickly. They were to live with us until after the baby was born and Peter could finish his exams and start working. He was the brightest of my boys and I never doubted his ability to look after his new little family.
Jeremy’s marriage was already planned for May of that year. His wife, Susan, seemed a nice girl, and we were happy to see Jeremy settling down. He was the most timid of the four and tended to go into long sulking phases when he was angry or upset. Susan had just qualified as a science teacher and would be starting her first teaching job in September. Jeremy had always been a bit of a loner and shied away from any form of conflict. He would hide in his room for hours at the slightest hint of an argument. I had only hoped that Susan would bring Jeremy out of his shell a little. If any of my boys needed a strong synergy from their partner, it was Jeremy.
Then came Johnathon. He was the quiet studious one. After completing his PhD in chemistry and falling madly in love with Claire, a fellow student, they were married on a lovely July afternoon. This beautiful woman was very confident and I hoped, not too demanding socially. She loved to party and travel. Jonathon was besotted.
So, finally in this happy but most busy of years, Roger, the oldest and named after his father, had a very business-like registry office wedding. His journalist wife was “too busy” for long drawn out ceremonies or long honeymoons, and wanted to get married quickly and efficiently. Roger, now a young architect, just went along with it.
So, by mid-November of 1976, our large house was emptier but compensated by the sound of a new young baby, our first grandchild.
Peter was to have two more children. I had been right not to doubt his ability to do well and look after his family. He worked so hard in those early years, to provide a home, hold down a full time job and study on evenings and weekends. Mary was so young, never having the time to qualify for a profession, as she was so busy with the children. Consequently, as Peter developed due to advanced education and a number of promotions that enabled him to travel the world with his career, he grew further and further away from Mary, whose days consisted of children and house chores. Their separation twenty two years after they were married came as no surprise to any of us. Naturally Mary’s parents blamed Peter, and so did we initially, but after some time we came to realise that it was neither parties fault. They were simply so busy with their lives and succeeding at their respective goals, that they lost sight of each other until it was too late. They parted on good terms, but their relationship as husband and wife could never be rekindled.
After the parting, Peter threw even more energy into his career than before. We didn’t see much of him after that. He lived in various countries, had various relationships, none of which was to last. He explained to us during one of his rare visits that he no longer trusted his heart enough to settle down again. Only then did we understand how much his divorce had hurt him, even though he was the main protagonist.
Poor Jeremy never did settle down. Susan treated her home as she did her classroom. She spoke almost all of the time, was permanently smug in her knowledge of just about everything. In contrast to her lack of empathy in handling people or conversation with adults, she had a heart of gold. She never missed a birthday or when any of the family needed help, she was always the first to step up. Susan was one of those people that you couldn’t fault, but didn’t want to be around.
Jeremy had made a big mistake. He loved Susan, and probably still does, but their marriage could never have lasted. As time went on everything Jeremy tried to do wasn’t good enough. If he did some gardening the plants were in the wrong place, or not planted deep enough, or worse, Susan’s father would be asked to come around to replant them. Jeremy didn’t have it in him to put his foot down and therefore, over time, he spent more and more time in his little study, where he had his coin and stamp collection. While my boys were young, they used to have fun with Jeremy during times when he sulked and call him ‘Hermit’, which was to be his destiny.
At forty-seven Jeremy had his first heart attack. It was a terrible time. No-one had expected it. Apparently his arteries were quite closed, which needed stents. The operation was done quickly and he was up and about again within a few weeks. But he was a changed man.
Within weeks he was shouting a lot, angry with everybody. He certainly couldn’t bear the constant yap yap of Sunsan’s permanent advice and doctoring. Once Jeremy was fully back onto his feet he began to plan his future, a new future, a future which didn’t involve working and certainly didn’t involve Susan.
I remember the day as if it was yesterday. Susan arrived on our doorstep. Jeremy had secretly bought a tiny cottage in the middle of nowhere, on the Scottish border, three hundred miles away. He had told Susan that she could move there with him if she wanted, but he was going there, either way. Jeremy knew that she would never leave her parents, who lived very close and were both ailing with health issues.
Now, 24 years later, Jeremy is still in his little cottage. He has become the hermit, which his brothers always had imagined he would be. If we are lucky we receive a phone call once a year at Christmas time. Jeremy and Susan are still married. Neither wanted a divorce and in a strange way I suspect that they still love each other. Their relationship, which began with two young beautiful people, quickly had degenerated due to incompatibilities, which neither had recognised nor understood when they came together.
Jonathon and Claire married in great style. Claire had insisted on top hat and tails, which had left poor Roger feeling awfully overstressed. We were a very modest family. Roger had been a labourer for most of his working life, maintaining the county’s water board locations. He was happy being his own man, travelling around the dozens of sewage stations, checking them, cutting the grass, cleaning out any blockages. He had loved the outdoor life, which gave him tight muscles and permanently bronzed skin. He was most comfortable in his overalls or a pair of old jeans. Oh, how funny he looked at Jonathon’s wedding. He spent most of the time holding onto his hat in case it fell off.
Claire never did like us very much. We were far too low down. Strangely though, Claire’s parents got on with us like a house on fire. They were warm and genuine, in stark contrast to their uppity daughter.
Within the first year we noticed Jonathon’s voice changing. His guttural Midland’s accent was becoming softer and a few tell-tale ‘glarss’ instead of ‘glass’, ‘mother’ instead of ‘Mam’ demonstrated to us the effort that he was putting in to raise himself to Claire’s standards. As the years rolled by, no children came, only promotions, careers and parties.
Roger and I became very concerned as we realised that Jonathon was becoming quite subservient. Claire blossomed into a beautiful middle aged woman, and treated Jonathon with ever decreasing respect. As Johnathon began to show some greying hair, Claire insisted that he dye it. Of course he obeyed, suddenly turning up at his next visit with a jet black flock of hair. He looked so strange. The following year they visited and Roger noticed his completely hairless arms and legs. I should mention that we are a hairy family. All of my boys, as their father, have a mass of hair on their chests and limbs. Roger spoke without thinking, “do you shave your legs my boy?”, he asked this quiet six feet two man. Claire quickly intervened with, “I don’t like body hair”.
We all knowingly shrugged. Jonathon said nothing but simply looked simply lost.
This dominance continued until Jonathon finally became ill. He had some sort of nervous complaint, which most of the family believed came from his ever deteriorating relationship with Claire. One day she announced that she was leaving him. They were 63 years old.
Poor Johnathon was broken. He had spent his whole adult life trying to come up to her standard, never realising that it would always be an impossible task.
On his 64th birthday, living in his little one bedroomed flat, Johnathon disappeared. After police hunts and public announcements there was no trace of him, until one day three months later, a local fisherman was taking a short cut through some scrub, when he spotted the remains of my dear boy.
It had all been too much for him. He had been so reduced in stature and confidence over many years that, together with the loss of the love of his life, he had decided to put an end to it. How does one recover from such a loss?
Roger, my eldest, was strong and serious. Qualifying as an architect and quickly marrying a career girl, they dismissed the idea of a honeymoon as “a waste of earnings”. Edith wanted a new house, a new car, anything that she perceived as an improvement to her image. Roger would not be the weak link in the partnership. He worked hard as a self-employed architect. I was surprised that they took the time out to create Emily, our youngest granddaughter. Nappies and baby food didn’t fit well into the busy life of Edith. Within six months the job of rearing Emily became mine.
I was happy for the task. After losing all of my boys in such a short time, Emily helped me over the menopause. She was a lively little thing and didn’t allow me to give thought to my own hormonal problems.
Roger and Edith took on a huge house. Their debts were unfathomable for simple people like us. When I mentioned my concerns Roger would say nothing, and Edith would comment that all of their friends were ‘bettering themselves’. I remember their father one time saying, “in my day paying off your debts was considered to be bettering yourselves, not increasing them’. They were not swayed, but just laughed at us silly older generation.
The years rolled by. The work ethic, if anything, became more strict. A second home in Tuscany was bought. Roger said he could fulfil his architectural dreams by renovating the twenty hectare plot. More debts were taken on.
When Roger was about fifty eight, with Emily away at college, his father asked him one day what retirement plans he had. His reply was deeply worrying. He shook his head and said, “what retirement? I will be working until I drop. With our debts, retirement is out of the question.”
We very tactfully asked the question, “why not sell one of you big homes? Surely you could both live well with the proceeds and retire early.”
“Not a chance. In any case Edith would never agree to ‘downsizing’. It wouldn’t look well.”
Two years later, at the graduation ceremony of Emily, for achieving her 2.1 in English Literature, Roger slid off his chair, never to regain consciousness. The hospital said that he had received a massive brain haemorrhage and that on arrival at the hospital his blood pressure was 280/180. We were also told that he had white spots on his brain scan, which indicated high alcohol abuse. We knew that Roger had liked his wine, but never imagined that he had a problem.
I cry often. These days I try not to think about my lost boys. We have six lovely grandchildren, all devoted to their old Grandma and Granddad. Sometimes I imagine that they want to try to help replace the loss.
Peter is back home with us. In the end he not only ran out of places to run to, but ran out of money also. Despite the children, who are now all grown up, he is a very lonely soul. He and Jeremy have almost no contact. Their relationship is also broken.
Roger and I often ask ourselves if it is all our fault. Did we make mistakes in expecting too much from our children? Or is it a result of growing up in the sixties, free love, flower power, permissiveness? It sometimes feels as though the post war generation have some missing gene, which destroys relationships, rather than building on them.
Perhaps, sometimes a cup of hot tea thrown in the face, or a good hard slap, is the best solution for establishing a lifelong marriage after all.