Marriage: Fighting and Mending after All These Years

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Walter and Antonia

A post by writer Doreen Frick

My neighbor, no young man, ran out of his house after his wife. His wife was in their car, backing it out into the road, he chasing after her, crying. I don’t think either of them saw me; they were in their own private drama, and now I’d become part of it. I seriously did not know old people had arguments that led to stuff like this. As she drove off, I watched him trudge back to the house, head down, and heart on his sleeve.

This was none of my business. I only knew these folks because he walked his dog and talked to us when we passed on the sidewalk walking ours, or when we chatted small-talk as the two of them sat on their porch on a summer afternoon. Their age I would guess was late seventies. I never asked what he did for a living. I think they had a son. She wore a lot of makeup and seemed the boss. That was my opinion but judging by the tiff I watched from my driveway, it was pretty obvious she wore the pants. He looked like a broken man and my heart ached for him.

I wasn’t about to go over and see what I could do for the poor guy, and I assume she made her way home and there was hell to pay, but that’s conjecture. Looking back on it these thirty-something years later, maybe she had a legitimate beef and maybe they worked on it, but the way their private matters played out in public has left a searing image in my mind.

Old people fight. Old women drive off in a huff. Old men sometimes run after them in tears. I’d never considered such a thing before.

Thinking back on this couple I seem to remember they had a son, and he died when he was a grown man. I know the old man took a liking to our youngest boy and nicknamed him Jo-Jo. I think he was the only one who called Joey that after age five and by age ten, Joey preferred being called Joe even though his given name was Joel. But whenever our dog-walking neighbor saw Joey and friends outside playing football, his old eyes would light up, and he’d call out a grand hello to his buddy, Jo-Jo.

My son Joe grew up and so did his parents, and eventually we all moved away one by one to college and other adventures on the far corners of the country, leaving our neighbors with the dog and the porch they used to sit on far behind. Joey got married, and so did his sisters and brother. Once in a while we all congregated back in the general vicinity of the old homestead, but it never occurred to any of us, I guess, to ask about the old neighbors we used to see when we played outside or walked our dogs.

I could google them, but they’re long gone I’m sure. I could ask their next-door neighbor what became of them; she kept in contact with the whole Avenue no doubt and could fill me in, but then I’d have to tell her why I’m asking, and in perfect honesty, I’m not sure why I would be.

Maybe I want to know if they were happy. Was old age kind to them? Was that little incident in the driveway an anomaly? Was she given to outbursts? What did he do for a living?

But the questions aren’t as important as the memory they gave me: this picture of older people struggling just like young marrieds do, like a movie in my mind that keeps playing that one scene and then stops there with the sad man walking back to the house and the mad woman racing off to God knows where.

Somewhere in that scene I see myself. And sometimes when emotions get the better of me; it’s not the prettiest of pictures. When the smoke clears and my logic returns, there’s a very real part of me that’s thankful for that scene that played out on my watch one summer afternoon.

I don’t know how their story ended, but perhaps that’s just part of the cycle. We live together, breathe the same air, come to a crossroads, let it out in the open, learn to listen after it’s all been said ten times over, agree to disagree.

And sometimes the beauty of this cycle is the aftermath, the time put in to the marriage weaves its magic like the clicking of Dorothy’s heels in the land of Oz, and we truly believe There’s No Place Like Home (with him).

 

Mark and Doreen

Photos: Doreen didn’t have a photo of the old couple she watched argue that day, so she sent two lovely family wedding photos. At the top are husband Wes’s grandparents, Walter and Antonia, married in Nebraska in 1916. The photo directly above shows Doreen and Wes on their wedding day in Pennsylvania in 1972.

Doreen Frick is a 61-year-old writer from Philadelphia, who has lived in Washington State, New Mexico, and finally, half-settled in Ord, Nebraska, where her husband’s people homesteaded over one hundred years ago. She first began to write when she journaled in a tablet during her days raising four children, some dairy cows, and a horse, chickens, and the welcome stray cats that found their way to her place.
Doreen Frick

18 responses »

  1. Thank you for this post share. My husband just said to me this morning, “although I love this time together now, I miss our life gone by”. Yes, over 30+ years, there have been fights, and I’ve worn too much makeup and he has cried. But, home is always where we are together. ❤ ❤

  2. Good post! And I can vouch for elderly couples fighting just like couples of any age; my grandparents split up – temporarily – during a particularly bad time.

    • To watch a marriage from afar (and I do seem to watch a lot of them) is a gift, and to think of others is a better one. Thanks Susan. We’re all on the same page.

  3. I can vouch, too! Thanks for the story Doreen. A few years ago, Hubby and I were sitting on a bench looking out on the bay. Our neighbor, about 82, joined us in a huff. She was the caretaker for her husband and she had just had enough of it all that day. She sat with us and went on and on. Then we noticed her even older husband, creaking with his walker to their car. He managed to get hinself in the vehicle and then he drove slowly up and down the street looking for his wife. Hubby and I tried to alert both of them as to what was going on- “Look, Ray is driving the car!” “Ray, Marge is here!” but neither one got what we were saying. We finally walked Marge home and stood talking with her until Ray drove back. Ray died within the month.
    Thanks Doreen, for a special story and for helping me remember my neighbors.

    • I cannot imagine the precarious place those two were in, Jena. You just never know what will come your way, and how to help. I’m drawn into their story as you wrote it, thinking that time was short for Ray and he needed something, and his wife needed a little time away from his needings. We can be sympathetic to both, as you were.

      • Thanks Doreen, I agree. It’s not always the big catastrophes in life that knock you down, but the gentle “needings” that wear and wear without us really knowing.

  4. Super relevant story! well…Hopefully, the longer we are married, the better we get at being married! (And learning how to “fight nice.”) but hey…at least they still cared enough to get mad about something! haha! in my opinion, that is better than giving up or living apathetically!

  5. to all who posted comments, Thank you so much for the food for thought. I’m glad to hear the different “takes” on my observation of one marriage. You’re the wiser for listening with an open ear.
    Sincerely,
    Doreen

  6. I didn’t think I would respond to this post. Too hard. But, I guess maybe I should say something. Jena C. Henry’s account about the couple (above) was a situation so agonizing, and heartbreaking, too. If this woman had known her husband would have died within that month would she have responded in the same way?

    But, yes, constant caregiving, I imagine, would be so agonizingly difficult. Our vows, for many, in a marriage, are “in sickness and in health, to death do us part.” We have no idea what this might mean as we ascend that “alter” in our 20’s (death and illness so improbable!!); that is, until we face these issues and circumstances in life later down the road,

    The couple that post author, Doreen Frick, wrote about was indicative, yes, of how relationship problems and struggles can continue to the “end.” It’s not just about early squabbles and adjustments. We probably are with our spouse for, should I dare to say this — “a reason”?

  7. I hear all of what you all say. I think my best place is to encourage. Some are good at stepping in and relieving caregivers who are worn out, some can bring them a magazine or a visit or a listening ear. And sometimes I just wonder if we just need to know we’re not alone, we will get through this, and not take sides as much as come alongside. . .And sometimes folks just need to work it out, or not. Once when I was going thru a rough time an older neighbor stopped in unexpectedly, saw my watering eyes and though we did not discuss my sadness, her strong independent and kindly way, almost a motherly, sisterly loving look into my tear-filled eyes, was enough to get me through. Strange as it sounds, we can draw strength, hope, and determination from the smallest kindness.

  8. And, not just me, but probably a whole lot of other people too! Keep on with your beautiful ability to “encourage.”

  9. Thanks so much for this post, Doreen, which received 22 Facebook shares! The best marriages I know (from what one can tell) include some squabbles (for want of a better word). That said, as Cliff and I being the process of moving to our new home, I’m trying my best to keep the peace. He gets to bring his record collection and I get to bring my dolls. We’ll see how it goes…

  10. I love the connections we’ve made through this post, sometimes the airing out of difficulties is scary, but who would we be if we didn’t open our hearts both to ourselves and others. My daughter-in-law, when she read one of my marriage posts said she wondered what my husband was thinking and I thought, “Gosh I do too. ..” Given that perspective I am sure I’ll be the better woman for it. Bless all who shared their comments. You’ve enriched me.

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