Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Fifty Years of Wedded Bliss/Blitz

When I married Helen 50 years ago, I had brown hair and hers was blond; now she is a brunette and I am the blond.

I did it then, and I would like to do it now. I grasped the opportunity of making a speech at our wedding breakfast. I chose the word OFFEND as my theme, because in my relationship with Helen and her family I seemed to be 'offending' people all the time, entirely innocently and unintentionally. So I talked about 'off-ending' ( going off the deep end, emotionally, over Helen); and 'fending off' unwelcome attention from other women; and 'off-fendering', causing damage to cars in collisions (I could think of two cases in her family). I do think that it is easy to offend people who are determined to take offence. Later in life I learned the helpful saying: Don't take offence, take a gate (and enter the garden of harmony and reconciliation).

Since then we have had fifty wedding anniversaries, including this one in 2009; it is not like the mistake made by all those stupid people (no offence intended, truly) when the year 2000 popped up; the 200th anniversary came on the 1st day of January in 2001, 2000 years from the 1st day of the first month of the year 1 (1/1/1).

Fifty is a score that allows a person to raise his or her bat and acknowledge the applause of the crowd, but the century is the one to get excited about, if there is any excitement left in your body still (yes, 'still' could be the operative, or inoperative, word). But in wedlock, a husband (meaning 'housebound' slave, wed-locked up in his cell) often has cause to cry out: 'It's not cricket'.

The woman who owned the wedding-reception place remarked after she had observed the proceedings: "This marriage will last". Was it (as it is at this gathering) the gaiety of the occasion, the good humour, the lack of inebriation (only pineapple juice available), and the bride's blissful dazzling smile that led her to this conclusion?

Of course, we do not agree on everything, and there is one thing we have certainly never agreed on: suitable and reasonable grounds for divorce.

Now, I don't count my relationship with Helen from the day we were parsonicly matrimonified, or matrimonially parsonified. Actually there is a long shared history preceding that.

We were married on Friday the 8th of May 1959 at Croydon Park Methodist Church (I belonged to the Balmain Methodist Mission) and we were both aged 22 (a mental arithmetic test for you); but on the 1st of April 1956 we had already met and forged a link at Blackheath, at a Christian youth camp (we made eye contact tramping along the road, though it was the back view of her legs that first caught my eye, a vision of loveliness, I think I said to the wedding guests); and in the previous two years we had both been students at Sydney Teachers College, and must have been together whenever we all lined up for our cheques on pay days; for 5 years before that we were at the same secondary school, Fort Street High, though segregation of the boys and girls was severe, on separate sites, miles apart; but I know that in 1953 we were together a couple of times in a room at her school for French dicatation exercises, and I would have been attracted to that vivacious blonde who was in the company of a pair of famous twins. In our early childhood we lived in adjacent suburbs, Lakemba and Croydon Park, and we could have passed each other in the Campsie shopping centre, on foot or in our prams. So, I am convinced that our loving relationship has been lifelong; and we had even earlier connections through a common ancestor among the earliest British settlers in New South Wales, and through the intermarriage of Collesses and Flacks before we were born or were united in holy matrimony.

Concerning our marital vows, we each learned them off by heart, to speed up the process; and because the repeat-after-me routine makes you think you are married to the parson in the end. It went something like this:

I call upon these persons here present to witness that I Brian Edric Colless do take thee Helen Christine Flack to be my lawful wedded wife (not my awful wicked spouse?),
to have and to hold (yes, nice hugs and cuddles)
for better for worse (when she's bad she's better?)
for richer for poorer (we've tried both of those)
in sickness and in health (that one has surely and sorely tested us)
from this day forward (and now half a century later)
till death uth doth part (thank God for chemotherapy and radiotherapy)
and to love, honour, and obey (that got left out then, but to keep the peace I will say it now).

There was also something about offering thee my body and endowing thee with all my worldly goods, but after I had bought this blue merino suit and a sports suit for going away, and two inexpensive electrum rings, with the cutest little diamond to remind us of our lower-class origins, I was broke, with only a few Bibles to my name.

We took some books with us on our getting-to-know-you holiday, in the school vacation of one week; we were both teachers, and had to do our 'work-plans'. There were Bibles in our luggage, of course, and I was studying Hebrew, Greek, and theology. I can remember two manuals on Christian marriage, one published by the Evangelical Union (IVF Press) and the other written by a liberal married couple (Student Christian Movement Press); actually the fundamentalist handbook was more practical on physicality than the liberal one; but they were both coy about which buttons to press; they seemed to be more concerned with the first commandment from God the Creator, in Genesis 1 ('Be fruitful and multiply', implying 'but don't overdo it'); yes indeed, marriage is solely for procreation, or re-creation, not recreation. Now, I don't throw books away (as the hundreds of groaning shelves in this dwelling will testify to you), but those two have certainly been discarded as obsolete, not to say useless.

We were huddled together in a cold house that did not receive sunshine, being on the wrong side of the hill in the chilly month of May. Kookaburras would fly in every day to be fed on meat (there was a dearth of snakes, apparently), but to no avail; at the time we were earnest vegetarians heavily under Seventh-Day Adventist influence. The stove could not bring water to the boil, to cook potatoes. What did we eat? Peanuts, nutmeat, and gluten steaks, I presume.

Anyway, we went out frequently in search of the sun; and one day we were walking along the rocks beside the ocean, and reached a spot where we would have to leap across a gap as the waves beat against the rocks; we could have been washed away and would have thus created a great mystery in world history (Read all about it: Honeymoon couple disappear into thin air); so we turned back, to work diligently, dutifully, and joyfully on the greatest love-story that this world has ever known.

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