Thursday, January 24, 2008

Happy, joy.

In a quiet corner of the Internet, I found one of my favorite people watching chicks hatch in paradise.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The summer we graduated from high school my friend Wendy invited me to go with her to England, where we stayed with her uncle and his wife, Jean, in a little village in Cambridgeshire. It was their generosity that made it possible for two girls with puny bank accounts to afford the grand six-week adventure. The day after we arrived, Aunt Jean sat us down and helped us arrange our dreams in schedule form, then took us into the city and helped us choose our bus tickets. She made up the guest room for us with fluffy new duvets and sent us out each morning with cheese-and-chutney sandwiches (in case we couldn't afford both souvenirs and lunch).

One weekend she took us on a day trip across the Channel to Bruges where we she instructed us in stern tones not to look at the chocolate breasts in the store windows, for fear our Mormon mothers would think her a poor protector. When I insisted on taking a daylong solo excursion to Leicestershire to my ancestors' village, she rehearsed every bus and train transfer with me over breakfast and then fidgeted and fretted until I reappeared that night. She was patient with the decadent American teenagers when they asked to have their jeans dried in the dryer rather than on the clothesline and made us a traditional English country breakfast so we could say we'd had an "authentic" food experience (mmm! fried pig! fried eggs! fried tomatoes! fried bread! don't waste that fat! remember the War!) She went off to work each day while we played, and demanded very little of us besides helping pull some weeds in her beautiful, carefully tended little backyard garden. She was an affectionate mother hen during my first hesitant steps out of the nest, and we have kept in touch ever since.

Then a few years ago, out of the blue, her husband ran off with their mutual friend. She had had no idea he was having an affair. I was in shock for days after hearing the news -- it was impossible -- they had seemed such a jolly couple. No -- impossible -- there must have been a misunderstanding! Besides the emotional blow, this meant she had to come out of retirement and start over late in life. The ugly news added fuel to my mistrust of malekind and I began to suspect that if a marriage survives, it's only because the husband never got a good chance to trade up before he croaked. How could anyone leave Jean? Such a good and kind and life-loving person? The mother of his three children? Every time I'd think of her alone, working past retirement with no idea of what her future would be like, I'd feel the urge to a) cry or b) go punch an XY.

Then last year she remarried. Wendy said the new husband seemed be a nice man, but (I thought to myself), so had the first husband. I hoped for the best, but I was wary -- both for her and for me -- because if I learned that she'd been hurt by Husband #2, I wasn't sure I wouldn't turn in my dance card and go lesbian. Her Christmas letter this year sounded happy -- I learned that she had moved to the village where her husband lived and she sent me pictures of the beautiful orchards and sheep and wide green spaces that were her new home. I guess we'll see, I thought. Skeptically. Very skeptically.

Then the other day, on a whim, I Googled the name of her new village in hopes of finding more pretty pictures. Much to my surprise I found that her new husband had his own page on the village website -- sort of a lighthearted local human interest commentary. His love for his village, his lambs, his fruit trees, his children, his grandchildren, his wife bubbled up through the casual and humorous prose.* I could almost see his smiling eyes as he described the odd tensions between The Old Ways and The New Ways, how intently Jean watched by the side of the incubator for the chicken eggs to hatch, and how sadness always gives way to new hope. By the end all doubt was burned out of me -- Jean has found a good man, a happy and kind man -- an even bigger garden to fill with pansies and koi and pole beans.

I was sniffling at the public computer as I read, and little chicks started chirping in my cold, cold heart.

*My favorite bit: "Talking of Chick did you see in the paper his bit where he swam thro Cambridge as an old boy in 1951.52, and 53. I know Anne used to do that swim as well, but that had to be stopped cos the water got too polluted. I don’t spose that’s no more polluted now than that was then we’ve all just got softer and there’s all this daft nanny state legislation. We shall soon wrap everybody up in sterilised cotton wool when they’re born. Then when they stink a bit we’ll assume they’re dead and bury them."


i i eee said...

Perhaps I shall have faith in our male counterparts from now on. Or at least faith in some of them.

So happy for your friend! Can I still go punch an XY, though?

ThomCarter said...

Keep hope alive. There are some good guys out there.

wynne said...

Hey, miracles DO happen. You just don't know when, or what form they're gonna take. Just believe that, in the end, it's gonna be better than you can imagine.

(For example: Did you know that I was the worst of man-haters and cynics when it came to relationships? I had no faith. No trust. Jeff came along, and no matter how many times I dumped him, HE KEPT COMING BACK. I'm all better now. And if it can happen for someone as weird as me, why not you? The question is more a matter of WHEN and HOW.)

Aaaaand--beautifully written, as always, and I'm so glad Wendy found a happy life-after-jerk.

lenalou said...

Thank you for this beautiful post.

Marie said...

ii eee -- By all means -- do what you've got to do. This is simply heartwarming anecdotal evidence, not a blanket absolution of mandom.

Thom -- Of course there are -- I know many. But are there enough (my bishop says no), and are they truly identifiable? They all start out nice. Of course, women bait the hook just as much as men do, but the thing is women tend to suffer more from later abandonment than men do, at least on a practical level, and of course it is far more common for fathers to bow out than mothers. I think of myself as more of a realist than a cynic, but I know many who would disagree. :)

Wynne -- I swear, this posting didn't start out being about me -- it was about Jean, but (surprise surprise) I found a way to make it about me after all. :) And I hope you're right. I do plenty of dreaming, for all my fear.

Marie said...

Lena -- Thanks for reading!

D'Arcy said...

Marie! What a beautiful, beautiful story! I have traded in my dance card a few times, only to try dusting it off again. I am at the point of just burning it. I love Auntie Jean! I so wish I could have stayed with her for six weeks! What an amazing time. I miss England and the good trade the dollar had when I used to visit there often. You are a beautiful writer. This post makes me want to write something really eloquent. Maybe I will today!

Andrew said...

Hey Marie,
I don't know how else to contact you so I'll have to use the blog! My name is Andrew, and I'm working for BYU-TV on this new television series based on genealogy family histories. Oddly enough, the first episode we decided to do is based on the mystery of Hezekiah Thatcher. While googling him, I stumbled upon your blog. Here's my question - would you like to be a part of this first episode? As a descendant of Hezekiah, you could add a lot to the episode and be someone that the viewers could relate to. Please let me know ASAP because I have to write the episode outline this week and we start filming in a few weeks! Thanks!