Forty years on…

“Shall we go out for lunch?” Gilbert gingerly asks. Menopause is a bitch and sometimes I am too….

I can’t recall many wedding anniversaries we’ve celebrated, except for one that wasn’t the right date! I’m transcribing my diary from a time we took the children to China and stayed in the village Gilbert’s Father came from. I’ve just read in there that we spent our wedding anniversary in a hospital room lying on stretchers side by side. But that’s another blog all together! 

Life has been busy, with anniversaries many times slipping by unnoticed. This year the kids all texted, after no doubt reminding each other. I suppose forty years is a significant milestone with some couples having trouble staying together four. Not that it’s always been an easy ride.

In those days courting involved the girls wandering up and down the main street, looking in shop windows at things we could never afford to buy. While the boys hooned up and down the down the same main street in their cars looking at the girls. Sometimes we would meet in the milk bars where we had milkshakes, never coffee.

We lived just five kilometres apart and were a couple before I even left school. I guess we have grown up together. After five years we decided to live together. My Catholic parents loved Gilbert, thought it was a great idea and fully supported it. Gilbert’s Dad, in his broken English and with tongue firmly in cheek, constantly asked when he would be going back to China to get a wife, while Gilbert’s Mum, with a new strong Christian faith, had a blue fit at the idea of living together before marriage. To appease her we became engaged with plans for marriage soon and I chose a simple ring. We decided something simple would suit us for the wedding too, rather than a whole lot of drama costing a fortune. We had seen many thousands of dollars spent on what we thought was unnecessary palava.

It made much more sense to buy a sewing machine, rather than spend a lot of money on froth that would be completely useless the next day, so Gilbert handed me $200 for a sewing machine and the plan was I would sew our wedding outfits. I drew up a picture of the simplest of dresses and bought some fabric. Mum had some suit fabric she bought from a traveling salesman who also sold insurance. She bought insurance too by the way! I bought a suit pattern for Gilbert and started to sew. I made a very average job of his suit but a pretty good job of my dress, if I may say so myself. I wore a pair of sandals I had owned for some time. Well, who sees them really?

Gilbert and I on the big day

My dress was trotted out several times after in fact. I wore it at the end of the year at our teachers college graduation ball, after cutting the ‘train’ off it. I wore it again at a ball the next winter. If anyone else thought it was just a little weird, they never said so. I didn’t really care I suppose, and thought I looked amazing. Perhaps they were too polite. They were probably like ‘Jeez is she wearing her wedding dress again? That’s weird….’ and our girls have worn it to a number of ‘dress up affairs’. I talked about the making of these in my blog January 18 2017 if that interests you. 

Gilbert refused to marry in the church, so our wedding service was held at Gilbert’s brother’s house. The Catholic priest presided on the condition we did the Catholic, pre-wedding six week sessions with him. I can barely remember what we discussed for an hour each time, but vaguely it was about love, respect, contraception and God. We nodded at the right places and he agreed to marry us.

I sewed Gilbert’s shirt on the morning of the wedding which was a bit mad. Mum, Dad and Lindy arrived as I slipped my dress on. Fluffed up my hair myself and just as I was about to walk out, virtually make up free, our lovely neighbour popped in and handed me a shot glass full of whiskey. “One for the road”, she smiled. We had shared many a BBQ and drink with her and her husband, and a few nights earlier when we laughingly told them the wedding was going to be in a bit of a hurry, for not the usual reasons, and the budget couldn’t quite stretch to a ring for Gilbert. Jeff immediately took his ring off his finger and handed it to Gilbert and said “it’s yours for the day mate. You can’t get married without a ring”. When I had told Mum and Dad we were just going to use my engagement ring like a wedding ring, Dad went to a draw and plucked out an 18ct wedding band. Someone had left it behind years before and never came back for it. Perfect. We now had two wedding bands.

Dad, Mum, Lindy and I. Lindy can still fit her bridesmaid dress! 

We had a couple of photos taken just before leaving for the wedding. Actually…. just a couple. Dad drove Lindy and I to the wedding like a silly bastard in Tony’s red camaro. That must have been a tense moment for Tony. Haha! And just as we pulled up I spied Gilbert arriving through a side door, fresh from Rugby. Now that would have been embarrassing…

I spy Gilbert arriving out of the corner of my eye

The Catholic priest was ready and Don, Gilbert’s brother who was a Jehovah Witness, took his opportunity to stand up and preach about his God, as he was wont to do at any occasion. Oh well. We had written our own vows at a time when nobody did that. We had a couple more photos taken outside the house but never thought to take any gorgeous garden shots. We just lined all the family up and snapped before heading to the reception.

Gilbert’s family

My family

I was just 18 and Gilbert was 21 years old. The wedding reception was at the Puni hall, just across the road from where we were renting, metres from the primary school we had both attended, and a few kilometres from where we had each grown up. Gilbert’s rugby team and mates had put a hangi down earlier. A bit like a roast dinner cooked on hot rocks underground. After a couple of speeches, this was served out in the supper room, so you had to go and help yourself. Mum must have been having kittens. She knew nothing about hangis, so I’m guessing it was nerve racking for her. Dad had organised a whole lot of alcohol and Dad’s mate had offered to be DJ for the night as he had a turntable set up.
No complaints from us, we spent all night on the dance floor. I didn’t even go and change into a ‘going away’ outfit as was usual in those days.

1) we weren’t going away till next day and

2) I thought I looked gorgeous in my wedding dress. Why would I change out of that!

At about 2 am we staggered across the road to our house and fell into bed, only to be woken by stones being thrown onto our roof. ‘Bastards’ Gilbert muttered as we drifted off to sleep.

The next day we grabbed our bags and while most couples went to Whitianga or Northland for a honeymoon, thanks to Graham, Gilbert’s brother loaning us some cash, we flew to Fiji and what a great time we had. We swam and sunbathed and partied up with other guests. It was unbelievably hot and I kept getting blood noses which was a bit of a pain, but an old Chinese man went and got a eucalyptus leaf, rolled it up and motioned for me to stick it up my nose and it stopped immediately. I went off with a little stash of leaves and one up my nose and continued shopping.
This was where we first experienced cruise ships coming into port, when prices would be tripled for the time of their visit. That was an amazing trip and our first away from New Zealand. The year was 1977.

Today to celebrate, we wandered up one side of our town’s main street and down the other, chatting to the locals and enjoying the sunshine. We had a leisurely lunch and later movies and dinner. Life can throw out many challenges and marriage can be a roller coaster all on its on. Sometimes the troughs are deep and dark, while the highs pull you through. As long as we can recalibrate from time to time, we should get through the storms, one by one. 

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2 Responses to Forty years on…

  1. Tara Moala says:

    This is such a beautiful story mum. So innocent and cute!

  2. renanopolis says:

    Love, love, love so many things about this post Mum!! You guys are so cool in SO many ways. It’s a lot to look up/live up to! Thank you for writing it down and happy anniversary xoxoxox

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