Tuesday, 16 February 2010


Forty seven years ago today ... taken at our wedding reception. Every time I look at this photo I marvel at how young we were. I also snicker a bit at the arrangement of my feet and the super innocent expression on my face as I grasp my illicit glass of champagne. (My father had just pointed out to me that I was the only person under legal drinking age at the party.) I was twenty: I would turn twenty-one in two months' time. And I lived in a society very different from this one.

In 1963 divorce in Canada was only possible by an Act of Parliament, abortion was illegal and the sole reliable female contraceptive (the diaphragm) was only supplied to married women. The pill was just being invented; the majority of women who trained for a career became nurses, teachers or secretaries and only expected to 'work' until marriage or, at the upper limit, until the first child was expected. Women wore trousers only for leisure; teachers, nurses and secretaries arrived for work dressed in skirts, nylon stockings with seams and dress shoes. We all wore girdles with suspenders to hold up the hose. We were sitting (in some discomfort) at the start of the roller coaster ride into the very different culture prevalent by the end of the decade.

I had been raised by old-fashioned parents pretty much to pre WWII standards - Kipling style standards. I promised to marry 'forsaking all others, as long as [you] both shall live'. That is pretty much what I have done. And so what I am describing here is the life choice I perceived, not that of the boomer generation and beyond whose partnering options are greater and different. When I was a teenager I also speculated about studying law and was deterred from doing that by my father, a lawyer, who told me that the women lawyers he knew were frustrated and miserable. That was his experience and that informed my choice.

There have been a number of times in my life when I have regretted marrying. Not marrying the man I have - I can't imaging being married to anyone else - but marrying at all. The grass growing in the yards of the self managed living quarters of single women with their own incomes and lifestyle and furniture choices has looked very green and lush at such times. If you marry, as most of us do, someone with interests and decision making processes far different from your own, the necessary compromises and choices of life as a couple make you into a person far different from what you ever expected you would become, in your heady and heedless youth. When I decided that I wanted to be married, I clearly remember thinking that I would have to make such compromises and promising myself that I would do so. It has sometimes been harder that I ever could have imagined. I have, from time to time, failed that promise, have been too stubborn or too spineless. I have also, from time to time, been astonished at the generosity of the man I married in accepting my interests and accommodating me against what his choice would have been. But still - marriage can be a very Procrustean bed.

I am sure that my grass might look long and luscious to a single woman from time to time. A strong marriage, and mine is one, gives a woman a husband who earns money, does not stray, is a good father and grandfather, a partner, a companion. While a single woman chooses her own bed, she does lie in it alone, must be solely responsible for supporting herself and has a very different and less permanent support group. For a single woman to have a child is a very difficult choice but the knowledge that she will never have children is also difficult.

Well, it is 2010, and I live in a world so different from the one of my childhood that I can sympathize with my grandmother's bemusement at stretchy baby clothes, television cartoons and suburbs built for car-driving families. Sometimes I imagine myself telling her about my neighbour who checks out her granddaughter via Skype. I own one dress and two pair of pantihose and run a graphics business out of my house while wearing slippers. The only constant in my life has just finished calculating that we have been married over twice as long as we were single. He does that kind of thing.

And I may haul out a bottle of champagne later on to-day.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The Games We Play

I come by my love of cards through my genes. My father was addicted to card games and very, very good at them. According to family legend he financed some of his education playing bridge and his stay in the Navy with poker. He taught my daughters to play poker when they were little more than toddlers; he was always ready for a cut-throat game of euchre or an even more lethal round of hearts.
My mother was not in love with cards but she did love her husband and so she played cards a lot, particularly a highly competitive two man game of solitaire (called variously Racing Demon or Pounce) at which she could keep up with my father through dexterity and sharp fingernails (he said.) They played pounce at our kitchen table most evenings and kept a running score. If there were wagers laid on anything, it was pounce points they bet with.
In fact, most of the adults in my family loved to play cards and, in the days before universal television, most meetings of family and friends included card games. One of my aunts taught me cribbage but I don't remember when I learned euchre. I do remember being hauled out of bed on one occasion to make a fourth for euchre; I can't have been more than nine or ten at the time. I played canasta in high school and bridge in university but was never very good at the latter; I love euchre and any kind of solitaire and hearts to this day. I stay away from poker, though. Unlike my dad, I cannot remember what has been played in detail and if you can't do that you are going to lose.
My husband is not a card player; he can't remember what is trump and can't keep his mind on what is being played. Accordingly, my passion for cards was unrequited for many years. Until we got our first fast computer and I discovered that you can play all sorts of card games against it. Hardly a day goes by that does not find me playing spider solitaire or hearts with my blank-faced (perfectly poker faced!) friend. Talk about a procrastination tool!
Although he bombs at cards, my husband is really good at board games, especially Trivial Pursuit, and so when our daughters lived at home we played that and Scrabble by the hour at our cottage where there was no television. I thought I was a pretty good Scrabble player until we got high speed internet and I started to play with some on-line friends. It's fun, even though I get beaten all to pieces all too often. I don't mind losing at any game with a random element in it. I don't mind losing to a better player. For me, the fascination lies in seeing how well I can do with what I am dealt.
I also love chess, as did my father. After my mother died, dad came to dinner at our house often and we would play chess after we ate. And, with love and sorrow, I would make sure he won half the time as I watched his sharp mind gradually lose its edge. I also have a quite sophisticated chess program on my computer - one that you can set to play at a multitude of levels against computer generated 'players' pre set to make a certain number of typical errors. This is a mixed blessing, though. I hate, hate, HATE to lose to the computer because I have made more than my typical number of errors. There's no random factor in chess at all and if you lose it is because you screwed up, lost concentration or, and this is my nightmare, are losing acuity. I can be in a bad mood all day because I messed up at computer chess. Talk about childish! If I ever disappear from the on-line community, it will probably be because I have put my foot through the monitor after losing badly at chess.
A game of spider solitaire that I win, however, always cheers me up. As does watching my on-line Scrabble opponent score two seven letter words in a row, even though this feat puts me down a hundred points. It's a pleasure to see something so well done.