It was hard to know what to get our 40-years-married parentals to mark the milestone. We settled on a Kokeshi doll, to be picked by my dad on a recent trip to Japan and to be named Ruby. Our parents responded to this modest quirky little idea with all the enthusiasm, appreciation and joy with which they have responded to all our modest and quirky little offerings, all of our lives.
They married on Friday 7th September 1973, she in her friend Anne’s wedding dress and veil and he in a 2-piece suit custom-made by his brother Brooke. They both remember the singing and how he cried at the sound of his mum’s voice played on tape during the reception.
Their 40-year journey began with a long drive to Killarney, dad’s top secret honeymoon destination. A pony trek through the Gap of Dunlo gave mum an excuse to buy her first pair of trousers.
I asked them recently about the Big Things and the little memories of their Ruby marriage and they recount 40 years of births, deaths, arrivals and departures interspersed with the foods and places and traditions that help build one particular family.
Children born in Belfast, Karuizawa and Maebashi. Settling into Japan, settling back in Ireland. Learning language, teaching language. Adjusting to being missionaries, adjusting to being ex-missionaries. Returning to jobs, starting new jobs. Finding first-hand faith. Their children becoming parents, making them grandparents 7 times. Caring for and losing ageing parents.
Homemade pizza watching the A-Team and Catchphrase. The Christmas morning train. Car journeys to Carnlough singing and eating Mintolas. The Barge Holiday. That chippy on the corner we always stopped at on the way home from Newcastle. Portstewart Strand. The Pyjama Party Debacle. Chicken pie and croquettes before Rally displays. Portballintrae. Patch stories.
Lots of these are also my own fond memories, but I have 2 more. These are 2 ways of being that I have witnessed again and again and again: The practice of the Soudan and the practice of the Grapefruit.
My family are very fond of having a soudan, a Japanese word meaning discuss or discussion. One of my enduring memories is the background sound of these chats between mum and dad, being upstairs in our little house and hearing them soudan as they did the dishes or had a coffee … soudaning not just their to-do-lists, their meal plans and their Decisions, but recounting the details of their days, sharing their little stories.
Grapefruit is something we had every Sunday morning growing up and these breakfasts frequently featured a lot of sneaky bowl switching between mum and dad. Whoever had prepared the grapefruit would give the juiciest fruit to everyone else and if one was a bit dry, they took it for themselves, nothing said. Wise to each other’s ways the other would then try to steal the substandard fruit for themselves. And so the run up to breakfast was spent trying to catch each other out, the goal of the morning to successfully eat the not so nice grapefruit!
They love this game and they still play it, in evolving forms. It is a putting-each-other-first habit practised with skill and humour. I have been staying a bit at the old homestead while Chris has been working, and rather than compete for the wrinkliest grapefruit, they now contend to be the one to visit Grandpa at bedtime in his nursing home. It is something mum is committed to these days and as dad sneaks off to get himself ready to do the visit, he is saying I’m in this too. Just as he had that knack growing up of convincing you he really wanted the shrivelled grapefruit, or the out-of-date yogurt, or to run that errand… here he is with her in this caring for her father, with a twinkle in his eye and a skip in his step, saying there is nothing I’d rather be doing.
As a girl I used to love telling tales on my daddy. The funny things he got up to when he was supposed to be doing something else. And those nights he doesn’t go to Grandpa… Those nights mum tells him to nap or go to bed early or just get ready for work the next day… He’s doing the ironing then hiding all trace of what he was doing before she gets home. He’s heating the milk for their Ovaltine and preparing their supper. He’s putting on a splash of aftershave once he gets the text that she’s on her way. And he won’t go to bed early because he wants to be there, at the kitchen table, hearing how Grandpa was.
It’s September 2013 and I’m in my jammies in my childhood home and I’m thinking that this, this is the stuff of their 40-year marriage. These snippets of chat over Ovaltine and hot buttered toast. What Grandpa had for supper, how his form was, something about eye-drops, how he said “that’s good, that’s good” during bedtime prayers.
They would be the first to tell you that marriage is hard and that the long road to Killarney was just the start of the journey. Dad gets the groceries wrong and doesn’t always listen and comes up on a regular basis with what are known as harebrained ideas. But still, he is the man who recently told a car-dealer that his relationship with his wife was more important than the little silver Beetle he was trying to convince her they should buy! And these are the tales I just can’t help telling.
So it’s their 40th wedding anniversary and these two, don’t really care what you get them, if you get them. These two, don’t ever ask to be celebrated. But for these two let’s raise a glass, let’s give our thanks. Or as we like to shout in our family KANSHA…
Happy Anniversary Beeth and Rhet!