Thursday, 30 January 2014
As my father lived in Westminster Cathedral parish they were married there, in the Lady Chapel. The venue was the grandest part of their wedding, which was extremely modest and quiet. My parents were romantic but also pragmatic: they briefly discussed having a large "dream" wedding, but instead decided to put their modest savings and any family contributions towards eventually buying their own home. Yes, my mother splashed out on a new dress, but it was a calf-length pearl-coloured one she could wear again to formal occasions. Trans-continental travel was still expensive, so only my grandparents came over from Italy; the other guests were some relatives of my dad already living in London and a few close friends. There was a best man but no bridesmaids, the wedding lunch was in an Italian restaurant run by a friend, and in the evening some of them went to see a show.
Nowadays this sort of wedding would be seen as quirky, maybe making a statement, but then, less than a decade after World War Two, in a time of recovery and thrift, it was not so unusual. But times and fashions change, along with expectations of "dream" weddings and I remember my parents rolling their eyes and ruefully muttering whenever they heard that X and Y "couldn't afford" to get married. What they can't afford is a big wedding, they'd say, dresses and cars and suchlike, but that's not what counts, not what you need to make a happy marriage...
What you need to make a happy, long-lasting marriage is something they had in abundance: a strong, generous love for each other which kept them together for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health... Yes, things weren't perfect: I can remember rows, slammed doors and raised voices, tears, worries and dramas; but I also remember kisses and little jokes, anniversary romance and - especially in their later years - constant loving concern and selfless support.
They had made their vows until death us do part, and the parting didn't last for long. After my mother died my father languished and then died, broken-hearted, only three months later. During the final year they shared on earth, as infirmity took an increasingly stronger hold on both of them, they would often sit together holding hands. Fifty-two years after their wedding, in what little time they had left together, they seemed to be rediscovering the depths and intensity of the love of their youth. It was a sweet, poignant, romantic sight to behold.
Hand in hand they sat, physically, just as hand in hand they had travelled, metaphorically, throughout their life together. And I'm sure they're sitting hand in hand today, in some corner of heaven, quietly enjoying each other's company and celebrating their diamond wedding anniversary and their strong, enduring love for each other.