Marriage and Growing Pains

[W]hen you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.  ~Nora Ephron, When Harry Met Sally

WED100

Last night my husband and I attended a wedding. We have been friends with the groom’s parents for about thirty-five years. The bride was beautiful, the groom was handsome, and the couple were clearly very happy and in love. At the reception, we ate and ate, and then we ate some more. We danced and danced. People got drunk. There was some behind-the-scenes drama. In short, it was in many ways a typical American wedding celebration, but for the couple and their families it was a unique and extraordinary event in their lives.

Our older daughter will be getting married in about a year. Recently, she and her fiancée moved to a new apartment, and purchased, as she said “grownup furniture.”

Our younger daughter is starting her first grownup job next month. She will be living at home—at least for the next several months. She said it doesn’t bother her living with us, her parents, but she is eager to have her own place, as many of her friends now have. I can certainly understand this.

It amuses me when people make assertions about marriage and marriage customs based upon some mythical past. They describe the virginal bride dressed in white who married in her late teens or very early twenties in a church ceremony and who then stayed at home while her husband worked. This is a fairly recent trope. And of course it was only ever typical of some middle and upper class couples. Women have always worked, especially poor women and farmwomen. And does it surprise anyone that many brides have not been virgins on their wedding day? Yes, even in Puritan New England, although a couple could get in trouble if a baby arrived too soon after the wedding. (See Else Hambleton’s Daughters of Eve )Incidentally, marriage in 17th century New England was deemed a civil union, not a religious one—and divorce was legal.

As young adults many men and women lived apart from their families because of choice, economic need, and enslavement. Some couples lived together without being married (and of course, slaves could not legally marry). Benjamin Franklin and Deborah Read lived as husband and wife for forty-four years without an actual marriage ceremony.  Deborah had been previously married to a man who deserted her. The couple’s household in Philadelphia in the 1730s included Benjamin’s illegitimate son, William.

When couples married in previous centuries they did not always move into their own home. Neither did they always live with one of their families, although these things occurred. It depended on time, place, and a variety of factors. Age of first marriage has also fluctuated over the centuries. For the children of late eighteenth-century Maine midwife Martha Ballard, weddings were simple affairs. After one such wedding, the bride continued to live with her family, while her new husband visited occasionally for the next month or so. During that time, the women made quilts and collected items the couple would need. It was only after that that the couple moved into their own space and “went to housekeeping.”

A few weeks ago, my husband and I drove past a group of houses set back from the road in their own small court. I remarked how nice it would be to live in a setting like that—we would have one house, our daughters and their significant others could have other houses, and my sisters and their families could each have houses. We would all have privacy, but we could just walk out our doors to visit one another. My husband looked at me in horror. Different dreams, I suppose. Ha!

My sisters and I have sometimes talked about how fun it would be to live in a setting like the one the grandparents have in the TV show Parenthood. Of course, we do not have the year-round lovely weather they seem to have there for the dinners the extended family enjoys.

I know my daughters will move on to next phases of their lives—as they should. At the same time, I will cherish the moments when they are here, and enjoy every one of those fleeting family moments. But really that family compound would be nice.

There is too much to discuss on marriage and divorce here. I discuss these subjects in more detail in Breaking the Bonds: Marital Discord In Pennsylvania, 1730-1830, Women’s Roles in Seventeenth-Century America, and Women’s Roles in Eighteenth-Century America.

Hope in a List

List Making

List Making (Photo credit: Bunches and Bits {Karina})

“The list could surely go on, and there is nothing more wonderful than a list, instrument of wondrous hypotyposis.”
–Umberto Eco

Hi. I’m Merril, and I’m a list-maker. My day usually begins with me making a list while I drink my coffee and read the newspaper. The list invariably includes a combination of daily routine tasks, such as emptying the litter box, which always get crossed-off—YAY!–and work-related items, phone calls I need to make or emails I need to send, appointments, and food I plan to prepare that sometimes get crossed-off.  Today’s list includes, “make sauce and lasagna” and “boil wheat berries.” Both of those items are done and crossed-off. Unfortunately, the work assignments are not. Sigh.

I often make several lists for the day. One list is my general list, as described above. The others specify what I need to do for projects I’m working on.  Sometimes I even write, “Make a list” on my to-do list.  Since I am currently working on encyclopedia projects, I’ve been adding more make list items to my lists. Recently, I’ve had bullet points such as “Finish List of Headwords” (crossed-off) and “Organize Lists of Contributors” on my lists (not crossed-off).

When we host holiday dinners, my list making goes into overdrive. I make menu lists, shopping lists, order of preparation and cooking lists, and house cleaning lists. Passover is coming up in a month, and I’m already thinking about my lists. Remind me to put “Make Passover lists” on my list.

I wonder if list making runs in families? (Hmmm. . .I will have to add Googling that to my list.) My daughters make lists regularly, and at least one of my sisters does, too. (My younger daughter also cuts up index cards into small squares and writes study notes on them. My dad did the same thing when he was in grad school—something she never saw or knew about.)

People are fascinated by lists.  You can find compilations of lists on almost any topics. There are even books devoted to lists.

Paul Simon’s song, “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” was a hit in 1975. It did not actually list fifty ways, but it did include some:

“You just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan,”

Diary entries often list what a person accomplished that day—more of a “done” list than a “to-do” list.  For example, in May 17, 1809, Maine midwife Martha Ballard noted that she had “Planted long squash by the hogg pen, sowd pepper grass, sett sage and other roots,” along with her other chores.  She was kind of a super woman. If she made lists, I bet everything got crossed-off every day.

Some people view to-do lists with dread, but I don’t. Emily Dickinson wrote,

“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—.”

Perhaps it is my optimistic nature, but I think of my lists as bits of hope. When I prepare a list at the start of the day, I am anticipating all that I might do, or hope to do, as well as what I have to do.  Each task that I complete gets crossed-off. If I don’t finish them all, I just add them to the next day’s list. Some of the items I put on my list are so general—“Work on book” that I know they will not really be completed. But you know what? That’s OK, too. I know it will get done eventually. I have hope, and it perches in my soul, always.