My mother first saw my father in the staff common room. He sat behind his paper and ignored her. She thought poorly of him. He later confided that he was not so caught up in his paper as not to notice that there was a new member of staff with nice legs (not, alas, inherited). It was before feminism came to Cork but Mills and Boon was clearly alive and well.
They were not introduced until somewhat further into term. My mother knew the college librarian (who had, if memory serves me, been the college chaperone when my mother was in college – a post which, alas, is no longer extant) and, when my father went to the librarian looking for help to translate some German articles he needed for a piece of research, she pointed him in the direction of my mother.
When my mother was at college, she had studied chemistry. She had also learnt German because in the 1950s, German was the language of science and then she had polished up her German by studying in Germany. In the late 1950s she won a DAAD scholarship to Germany. Ireland was poor and Germany’s economic miracle was miracling away. My mother’s professor said to her that she would probably see a lot of expensive equipment that they didn’t have in Cork, but, he continued, there was no need to tell everyone that and show us all up. She should keep her mouth shut and she would learn how everything worked in no time. This proved to be efficacious but, I can’t help feeling, slightly dangerous advice; suppose she had blown up the lab in Freiburg trying to keep Cork’s end up. Anyhow, she packed her trunk (literally, I wish we still had trunks) and off she went by boat and train to sample the delights of German chemistry and encounter her first automatic shop door (Bally, in Geneva, since you ask) and her first black person and attempt to learn Russian through German (an attempt which does not seem to have been at all successful). I digress.
German is, obviously, more the language of romance than you might think as, following the translation work, my father took my mother on a walk which she remembers with some bitterness as a stiff climb in inappropriate footware. She alleges that no sooner would she catch up to him than he, nicely rested, would jump up leaving her puffing along behind. It is not clear to me whether it was as a direct result of this my mother took my father riding. It was a new experience for him and not one he has chosen to repeat. He was thrown by Neddy and my mother was unfortunately unable to help him as she was incapacitated by what she has categorised as a nervous reaction but what my father described as hysterical laughter.
Despite these singularly inauspicious beginnings, they were brought together by the picnic. Until meeting my mother, the only kind of picnic my father knew was the ham sandwich and tea in a flask kind. My mother believed in furniture, cutlery, glasses, whole roast chickens, pate, salami and so on. [I know this because my childhood was blighted by elaborate three course picnics that went on for hours when all I really wanted was to have a cardboard ham sandwich and get on.] It was a match made in heaven.
My mother always said to me “get to know a man’s family before you marry him”. This, however, was advice which she only applied loosely to herself and, having first seen my father in October, 1966 she got engaged to him in June, 1967. At that point, she had met none of his relatives and she wasn’t there when he broke the news either.
Every Thursday, my father used to drop his mother to the Imperial Hotel to meet his Aunt Cecelia for tea. On this particular Thursday, just before he was to head off on a four week sailing holiday (when he would be uncontactable) he said to her as she got out of the car “I have a bit of news”. “Oh yes?” said my innocent grandmother who, I feel, cannot have in anyway anticipated what was to follow from her only son who, after all, had turned 42. “I’m engaged” he said and sped off. He didn’t tell any of the friends he went on holidays with either. My parents both pride themselves on their discretion [action/reaction - their elder daughter puts everything on the internet]. I might just take this opportunity to clarify that I (their eldest child) was born two years after their marriage and that there was nothing about either of them that the other’s family could take the slightest exception to and, in fact, they both got on very well with their in-laws when they finally met them. Mind you, years later a (Cork, obviously) boyfriend of mine asked me whether my mother was very rich. I replied regretfully that she was not. In fact, insofar as there was any money, it was my father’s – he had just saved up to buy a yacht when he met my mother and he married her and paid cash for their house instead. Why had he asked? Well his (Cork) family couldn’t quite understand why my father at his age would have married a Limerick woman for no particular reason.
“Marry in haste, repent at leisure” is another proverb of which my mother is fond. Again, it was for my benefit (before I married the current post holder, I hasten to add) as it didn’t really have any application to her. She and my father were married within 12 months of their first meeting and I don’t think either of them has regretted it for a moment in 40 years, 3 weeks and a day (this post is a little late). The only time I have seen my mother really annoyed with my father was when he wanted his washbag from the boot of the car which she had just carefully packed with camping gear.
My parents never fight. When I was young, I had two good friends and their parents always fought, it didn’t bother me but I thought that this was normal and my parents were a bit odd. When I grew up, I realised that, in fact, my friends’ parents had been very unhappily married and my parents were pretty standard. Now that I’m even more grown-up and happily married myself (but, you know, our lives though perfect etc. are not entirely argument free), I’m having third thoughts and wondering whether they are odd, after all.
A very happy belated anniversary to my happy parents.