Marion was old. There was really no way around it. She was just old. And she hated it when people tried to jolly her about it. “Oh look, it’s Marion, she’s 98 years young!” Oh just stop it. There is nothing young about 98. She hated hearing 98 years young. Really hated it. And they always said it so brightly, and slowly, and loudly. Like she was a simple child. Ninety eight years young. Idiots. She was old. And she was grateful for every year she had had on this earth, and grateful that they were dwindling.
She knew it seemed wrong to be looking forward to her last breath, but she was tired. She was 98 after all, and today she was sitting in an uncomfortable lawn chair at a massive family reunion where she was expected to be happy to see each and every generation that came to talk to her. And to remember all of their names. And their ages. And that one time 40 years ago when they came to visit. It was exhausting.
That is what she was thinking about when one of her great granddaughters sat down next to her. She was a pleasant enough girl. Self-absorbed, but everyone is at that age. No matter how much people try to talk about “these kids today” Marion had watched enough generations growing up and aging that she knew they were really all alike. The styles changed, the slang shifted, but the stages of the ages remained the same. The stages of the ages, she liked that. She would have to write that one down at home. Words of wisdom for people to find after she was gone. Lord knows they don’t really want to listen to her now, but something about dying makes people an expert.
“HELLO, GRANDMA MARION, HOW ARE YOU DOING TODAY?”
“Well, I’m just fine. And unless your volume button is stuck you can stop yelling at me as well. I’m not deaf, I’m just old.”
“HA! HA! HA! OH, GRANDMA, YOU AREN’T OLD!”
“Child, I’m old, I’m tired, I’m a little cranky, and I am serious about you not yelling at me.”
“I’m sorry. I’m just used to Kurt’s grandmother. She’s completely deaf in one ear and mostly deaf in the other. She refuses to turn on her hearing aids so if we want her to listen to us we have to shout.”
“Well, all of us old people are the same you know.”
“I didn’t mean that, I just…”
Marion smiled and reached out to pat (Cassidy? Julie? Britany?) on the hand. At least she had the good manners to look embarrassed about lumping all old people in the same bag. That should be rewarded. And if she let her off the hook maybe she would go away and stop yelling at her.
“Are you enjoying yourself? Can I get you anything?”
“I am just fine, thank you, dear.” Marion felt proud of herself for not correcting the child’s grammar, though at her age she wasn’t really a child anymore, and should know the difference between may and can. But Marion really just wanted her to move along so the next one could do their duty and eventually enough of them would have stopped by that Marion wouldn’t feel guilty about leaving. Maybe three more grandchildren and two more greats. That would be plenty for her today. Not that she didn’t love each and every one of them, but they were a large group and honestly so tiring.
Marion watched the struggle on the girl’s face. She wanted to say something to her but couldn’t decide if she should. Oh, lord, this wasn’t going to be a quick conversation after all. Might as well accept it.
“Oh never mind. I was just going to complain and nobody likes a complainer.”
Marion nodded in what she hoped was a sympathetic way, but all she could think was, “Never seems to stop anybody though.”
Britany (Marion had settled that this one was Britany) twirled her wedding ring, “Would you be mad if I wasn’t married anymore?”
“Well I can’t say as that’s any of my business.”
“Mom said that you would be disappointed in me. That a strong marriage is important to you.”
Yes, this one was definitely Britney then. Her mother Nancy was always a bit of a snot. She was the oldest daughter of her middle boy, and truth be told he had been a bit of a snot as well, may he rest in peace. But shame on her, trying to use an old lady to bully her child into doing her bidding. “Well you wouldn’t be the first to get a divorce, not even in this family, and you wouldn’t be the last either. Your marriage is your business, not your mother’s, not mine. It’s strictly between you and your young man.”
“I just don’t know what to do.”
“Do you love him?”
Britany pursed her lips, “I thought I did.”
“But you don’t think so anymore?”
“No, I mean, I still think I love him. I just…I just wish it was as easy with Kurt as it was for you and Grandpa Pete.”
“You do, do you?”
“Yes. Marriage is so hard now. Things were simpler when you were first married. There’s just so much now that can make a marriage go bad.”
Marion shook her head. Every generation thinks they invented the world and everyone before them just coasted along in bliss.
“I am going to give you advice. You can take it or leave it, but since you came to me I am assuming you want it. Marriage has always been hard. And it’s always been easy. But you never know what someone’s relationship is really like. You never know what challenges they face. Do not judge their public face against your private one. Your worst days against their best. Your challenges against their success. You don’t know what is happening there. Yes, in my day there were fewer divorces. But that doesn’t mean there were better marriages. There were a lot of people that should not have been together but they stayed for their own reasons. Do not make your choices based on their old reasons.
Now, do not misunderstand me, I think that the past few generations have thrown away perfectly good marriages because it got a little rough. They weren’t willing to do the work to make them last. But some of them should have never happened and shouldn’t last. Some of them were good at the start but not salvageable by the end. Only you know where your marriage lies on that line.
If you do believe that you and Kurt are not meant for the long run get out now before you bring children in to the situation. If you believe that you and Kurt can save your marriage do it, and make it solid before you bring children in to the situation. Children will bring their own challenges and you don’t need to already be on shaky ground when that happens.
But whatever you decide. You decide it. You get his input as well. You went in together you can go out together. But it’s not my business. It’s not your mother’s business. If he were still alive it would not have been your grandfather’s business. Or your great grandfather’s for that matter, though he would have smiled to think you cared about his opinion. He did like to feel important in decisions.”
Marion looked at her great granddaughter. She wasn’t sure if any of that sunk in or not. It was probably the most she had said at one time to her in her entire life. People don’t really want to listen to old people talk. Especially young people. But maybe she really listened. Maybe she would think about what she was doing and make her own choices. That’s really all any of us can hope for in life. Making our own choices.
“Thank you, Grandma Marion. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but thank you for listening to me and for the advice.” She gave Marion a hug and wandered off to join the rest of the family.
Marion sat back in her chair and closed her eyes. Easy. Child, you think you invented hard.
The vision was as clear today as it was back in 1945. Driving the Packard down a street that wasn’t hers. Knocking on the door. Knocking again.
The woman answered the door in a dressing gown. Her mouth forming a perfect O of shock when she saw who was there.
“You know who I am and you know why I’m here. The baby is asleep in the car so don’t make me come knocking again.” Then Marion had turned around and walked back to the car to wait. When Pete came out of the house five minutes later the woman stood in the doorway watching him go. Marion waved at her then shooed her away.
“This is the last time. Do you hear me? If it happens again I will leave. You’ll never see me or the babies again.”
“Yes, babies. I will take them and you will never see them again. You know that I will. You have a choice to make, and you better make it by the morning. I will not put up with a runaround man. Will not.”
He did make his choice and they worked very hard to put things back together. And more babies followed, then grand babies and now great grandbabies. Ten years ago when Pete lay dying in the hospital he wanted her to know that he had never strayed again. And that he had never forgiven himself for doing it at all. She told him that she knew he hadn’t. And at that moment she forgave him, put down the stone she had carried in her heart for 62 years and she wept over the loss.
These kids today think they invented the world. They had no idea.