Something extraordinary happened at the weekend: my uncle and auntie celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary. Fifty years of happy married life. I say extraordinary because I don’t know anyone else in my family who has achieved anything like this kind of marital longevity. They celebrated by hosting a five-course luncheon for 75 friends and family in the same area several hours north of us in Cheshire where they have lived since they married.
That part of the world holds many precious memories for me as that is where my grandparents lived when I was a girl. They had a rambling Victorian house with a summerhouse at the bottom of the garden, the very same summerhouse that is my inspiration for the name of this blog.
It was a privilege for me to take part in this celebration because as a five-year old, I was one of their bridesmaids. My memories of their wedding day are vague but what I do clearly remember is my pale-blue bridesmaid’s dress of which I was so very proud. My mother shortened it after the wedding and turned it into a party dress. Wearing it with my matching, sparkly pale-blue shoes, I must have thought I was the bees knees.
But it’s strange what we remember isn’t it? Memories of that same dress remind me of a visit to my other grandparents for a family gathering and ending up lying on their bed with a stomach ache from eating too many cocktail onions.
As a memoir writer I am constantly looking back to my past because I have to. So often we hear that it isn’t good to look back too much on the things that are painful, but sometimes we have no choice. The past is the past and what happened back then can’t be changed. But I’m learning that this doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. After all, isn’t this what history is? And how do we learn unless we look back on our mistakes to make sure that we change things for the better?
Our lives are woven into the fabric of family life giving us continuity and a sense of our place, our fit in the world, and celebrations of this kind remind us of that, giving us renewed hope, particularly when so many parts of this fabric are so threadbare that they eventually disintegrate.
At the celebration party I met one of the other bridesmaids. We don’t know each other and have not met since that day fifty years ago but it was clear to me that my dad had left an impression on her. Life and soul and all that. She asked after him and of course I had to tell her that sadly his life has not gone well. I didn’t elaborate, there was no need. She seemed to nod knowingly.
My mother has a photo taken from that day. I am looking to the side and squinting as if the sun is in my eyes.
I am in awe of my uncle and auntie’s still-intact marriage, the storms they’ve weathered, challenges they’ve overcome, laughter, tears, heartache and joy. They didn’t wait for blue skies to get them in the mood for happiness: they rolled up their sleeves, got on with it and lived the life that was/is handed to them. The brokenness of my family life lies like a perpetual ache in my soul but that doesn’t mean that I’ll stop heeding the call of those same blue skies, because they don’t wait for anybody.
I was only five years old when my uncle and auntie got married and I was mercifully unaware of the heartache to come. What I do remember, is that on that day I had flowers in my hair and I was just a little girl in a pale-blue dress.
This week, Charli has asked us to consider a phrase instead of a single word prompt for her flash fiction challenge:
‘September 24, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include a story where “blue skies won’t wait for you.” What is your character waiting for? Is it too late or does the impulse come in time? Maybe blue skies are a calling. Try not to think to deeply, and do a quick free-write. Invite your unconscious mind to the page and see what it makes of the phrase.’
As a ‘quick free-write’ I suppose it’s not surprising that this is what came to me for my flash entry:
Blue Sky Freedom
Catherine bristled. Breathing deeply, she stood up along with the others as the Bridal Chorus played.
“What’s wrong?” whispered Steve without looking at her.
“Nothing!” She hissed. “I’m fine!”
Spoken vows scratched across Catherine’s heart like shards of glass, her wounds fresh and deep.
Steve leaned in. “Blue skies won’t wait for you sweetheart, so if you want out then get out. I’m not stopping you!”
Catherine stared at a single shaft of light beaming in through the stained glass window behind the vicar as he declared:
“I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride!”