I used to love going to stay with my grandparents as a child. Their home had a deeply-relaxing atmosphere of peacefulness. My grandmother's name should have been “Joy”, because that, in one word, expresses her personality: joyfulness shone out of her and warmed everyone with her vibrant blissful love. The sound of her exclamations of delight and laughter filled the house and wrapped itself around us all, soothing children's upsets and relaxing adult frowns. A few minutes with my grandmother could make even the most obstreperous child or the most truculent teenager beam with happiness.
My grandmother loved being a woman and she loved by my grandfather's wife. She proudly called herself “Mrs [my grandfather's first name] [my grandfather's surname]” and did everything she could to make my grandfather's home his castle, his haven from the world of his work, and his palace. Nothing was too much trouble for her. She warmed my grandfather's clothes for him by hanging them near the fire on cold winter mornings. (They had no central heating in their house.) She would get up early to bring him a cup of tea in bed on the mornings on which he had to go to work, then she would cook him breakfast and present it to him on a silver tray with a clean linen tray cloth and a fresh little flower arrangement that she picked every morning in the garden. He would read the newspaper and eat his breakfast alone, preparing for his day at work in the peace of the early morning, before anyone else was up, while my grandmother hummed happily to herself in her kitchen, making the mountains of breakfast necessary for everyone else in the house. I used to creep downstairs early, just to watch my grandmother prepare my grandfather's breakfast, just to hear her little laughs of delight, just to be near this so special and so serene and happy woman in her kitchen, seeing her doing what she loved: serving her family joyfully.
My grandmother's kitchen dated back to an earlier age before the dawn of modern conveniences. It had a huge dark wood dresser that took up a large part of one wall, an old-fashioned pantry cupboard that kept things cool in the days before refrigerators, a range cooker with a fire in it, and an enormous white sink that was big enough for several children to bathe in. On one side of the sink was a wooden draining board. She had no electric whisk or dishwasher or washing machine. Everything was done by hand. And yet, when she would come and announce that (afternoon) tea was ready, we would gasp as we entered the room, at the sight of the vast dining table filled with mouth-watering cakes and pastries, stunning little sandwiches cut and arranged artfully among the candles that adorned the table in that dark dining room. She always set the table with a beautiful crisp white linen tablecloth, translucent dainty bone china cups and plates, and freshly-polished silver cutlery. And always, there were dainty little flower arrangements that added the finishing touch to the table. My grandfather always sat at the head of the table, and smiled and graciously thanked my grandmother for the beautiful spread, expressing pleasure that my grandmother had managed to find some [whatever kind of flowers they were] for the table.
My grandfather loved to provide my grandmother with flowers and spent a lot of his spare time in his garden growing beautiful flowers for her. I remember lying on the grass in the gentle sunshine listening to my grandfather talk as he planted more flowers, and when I visited again later, seeing the glorious array of colour that his work had produced. My grandmother would pick flowers and put fresh flowers in every room almost every day. Even in the winter, there were flowers available to bring beauty into their home. My grandfather made sure of that.
My grandfather was an old-fashioned honourable and kind-hearted English gentleman with a strict sense of morality and the sharpest, most intelligent eyes I have ever seen. He worked hard in his very intellectually-challenging work, and he brought to my grandparents' house an intellectual atmosphere and quiet mastery. He was a little scary because he was so intimidatingly clever and he seemed to take it for granted that all his children and grandchildren were as clever as he.
I remember spending hours sitting around the open fire, my mind fully focused, and concentrating hard on whatever discussion I was having with my grandfather, trying to keep up with his brilliant mind. He would speak softly and deliberately, and never raise his voice or be disrespectful, and his blue eyes pierced me as he waited patiently for me to form my argument and haltingly and childishly express it to him. His deeply respectful manners were not limited to his interactions with adults. He had the same courtesy and respect for everyone, from the most intelligent adult to the youngest child. But his softest, most gentle tenderness was reserved for my grandmother. He clearly loved her so deeply it moves me to tears to remember how dear to him she seemed.
My grandfather was the master of his house. He was the king of his castle. He was the man. He was in charge. He wore the trousers. He made the big decisions.
It is not that he did not consult my grandmother before making a decision. He certainly did. My grandmother's happiness meant as much to him as his meant to my grandmother. He considered my grandmother and his family carefully and undoubtedly sometimes sacrificed his own wishes in favour of his family's happiness. He listened carefully to anyone who had something to say, and his control never felt oppressive or overbearing. He had been through the horrors of the second world war, yet had managed not to lose his humanity. He had commanded men, but did not bellow orders at his family. Instead, his leadership in his home was quiet and respectful, loving and kind. I can see why my grandmother loved him so.
My grandparents quite simply adored and worshipped one another, and went out of their way to give one another joy. Their relationship was such that I have never lost hope that a truly happy marriage is possible. I have seen it with my own eyes, over a period of many years. I saw how tightly my grandparents clasped one another's hands and how they looked at each other with adoration and love just weeks before my grandfather died. I saw how happy my grandmother was with my grandfather, and how, after his death, although she was the same sunny person, she never exuded the quite same exuberant joie de vivre again.
I have always longed for a relationship like my grandparents had. A relationship in which my husband leads, protects and cherishes, and I make myself available for him, and joyfully receive and follow him wherever he takes us. I have always longed to belong to a kind and loving man completely, to be his, to obey and submit to him, the man, the head of his household, my lord and master, for ever.
I have not given up hope. One day...