My grandfather has always been one for whom past and present almost coexist. He'll go from complaining about his dividends one moment to telling you about a flight mission in Guam during the war in a heartbeat. Yesterday morning, however, he told me something that made an impact.
During breakfast, he began reminiscing about his wedding to my grandmother. They were married at a Justice of the Peace's office in Nogales, he said, and then he added, "Boy, I don't know if I could have gone through with a church wedding or some big fancy thing."
"Why not?" I asked. "Were you nervous."
"I was shaking like a leaf. Not because I thought maybe I'd made a mistake, but because I knew this was it. Forever. These kids get married today and they're half-drunk or something, but I knew what I was doing."
I was so moved by this that I got up and gave him a kiss because I knew, as well as anyone, how beautifully my grandfather had kept the commitment that he made that day. He and my grandmother have almost never been separated, except for stays in the hospital, and even now, when she's in the nursing home recovering from surgery, he travels thirty miles every day to go and see her and be with her. I watched them kiss and hold hands like lovers, even as my grandfather laughed at how loose their skin was now. He has loved and nursed my grandmother through years of invalidism and mental problems, without ever once questioning his own desire or need to do so.
I am the child of divorce. My mother married twice, my father four times. Each found their perfect partner in time, but on the way, there were these casual marriages that didn't last long or mean very much, in the grand scale of things. My father's father married three times. But my mother's father, my Papa, he met a young war widow in the 1940s, and he knew that he would never want anyone else.
I don't necessarily believe in marriage. I think the state sanctioning a religious arrangement is problematic, and looking at the statistics, I can't see that what we view as a solemn vow is kept any more often than it is abandoned. But I do believe in love and partnership, and I honor my grandfather and grandmother for how perfectly they have kept the vows of love made more than fifty years ago.