Her granddaughter slammed through the screen door, throwing her purse on the counter.
"He did it again," Sophie snarled, tearing her hair through her hands. "I tell you, Grandma, I don't know how you stayed married for 63 years. I've been married for just 2 years and the next 60 days seems like an eternity. And you already had Mom by this time, and you were younger than me! I can't imagine having a child with that irresponsible, selfish man!"
Sophie plopped into the kitchen chair, staring at her grandmother. For as long as she could remember, her grandmother had always stood at that stove. She was always stirring something, pouring batter for cupcakes into her worn steel pans or icing a cake.
"Grandma, didn't you feel slighted?" Sophie pressed. "You were so smart! You could have run your own business or had a big life! You could have traveled to exotic beaches or tiny towns hidden in the South America mountains. Why didn't you?"
"I wanted to marry your grandfather," her grandmother replied mildly. "Women didn't work back then once we were married, unless they had to. And I didn't have to. So I didn't."
"Why did you marry Grandpa?" Sophie asked. "Didn't you want to do more with your life than just raise babies and putter around the house?"
"Not particularly," her grandmother said. "I enjoyed running a household and raising a family. I loved your grandfather."
"I don't get it." Sophie leaned back and crossed her arms. "I can't imagine loving anyone that much to give up my life."
Her grandmother put down the spoon and turned, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. Her eyes glowed and her lips were spread in a sweet smile.
"When I was 18, I worked at a local radio station while I was going to college. One night, a bunch of girls from the dorm and I went to a dance on campus. We curled our hair and put on our best shoes and dresses. The war had just started, so there were still some men left to dance with."
"This tall, thin boy with a sweet smile asked me to dance. I loved his blue eyes and the way he said my name. We talked all night. By the next day, I knew I wanted to marry him."
"Of course, he had to go overseas and fight. We wanted to get married, but my parents wanted me to wait until he got back. I understood. They wanted to protect my heart. What they didn't realize was my heart was already his."
"He got shot down in the war and it shattered the bones in his legs. They never thought he'd walk again. For three years, he stayed at the hospital. I was there with him every day. We got married and he drove me around town, pointing at all the houses. 'I may not have much now, Iris,' he told me, 'But I promise you that you'll get a fine house someday. The finest in town.' But I didn't care. I would have lived in a shack to be with him."
"Grandma, that's really sweet," Sophie said. "But didn't you worry he wouldn't come back when he went to war? And didn't you worry that he'd never work when he was in the hospital? I don't know if I could have stayed with someone through all that."
Her grandmother shook her head, with a small smile on her face. "We didn't have it bad at all, dear. Even by your standards."
"But you had to live with your parents for the first five years of your marriage until Grandpa could afford a house!" Sophie protested. "And you already had Mom by that point. She told me stories about how you clipped coupons, made her clothes--all of that. Weren't you worried about security? Didn't you ever feel unsatisfied?"
"What you don't realize, Sophie, is that love is not as hard as everyone makes it out to be," her grandmother informed her. "As long as we had each other, everything was fine. I was just so happy to get him back from the war, I didn't care what happened. And then we were blessed with our three children. Ed worked hard to make sure that I could stay home with the kids, and I loved every minute of it. I never felt repressed like your generation does. We had a lovely life full of laughter."
"But marriage is work," Sophie argued. "It's hard navigating life for two people. I mean, surely not everyone who got married felt like you and Grandpa did."
"True," her grandmother said. "But as I always said to my friends, why did you marry if you didn't like him?"
"I just wish it wasn't so hard," Sophie whined, burying her face in her hands. "Sometimes I just think I should be single again. It'd be so much easier."
Her grandmother shrugged. "You just have to figure out what's important, Sophie. To me, it was simple. I loved your grandfather. As long as I was with him, I was just fine. Divorce won't change things if you're not happy with yourself. You won't be happy with anyone."
She took her granddaughter's hand and patted it.
"You've got to remember, dear, that life is pretty simple. It's we who make it complicated. As long as you focus on the important things, you'll be fine. Just love and laugh. That's all you need in life. The money, the career, the important PTA meetings and kid's activities--it all fades. At the end, all you've got is each other. And if you don't like each other, then you're in for a rough time. And if you don't have anyone, well...you're alone. It may be easier, but it's sure not as much fun."
She gave her granddaughter a wink. "And I didn't give up my life for anyone. I made one. With him."
Sophie's eyes strayed to a photo of her grandparents. She stared at their wrinkled, smiling faces. Her gaze roamed over the photos hanging on the wall; her grandfather in his uniform, her grandparents on their wedding day. Pictures of her mother and brothers as infants hung on the wall, followed by snapsnots of the growing family at various birthdays and simple celebrations. Her mother once told her she was excited if she got a cake and ice cream for her birthday. Sophie had never gotten excited over something like cake. It took a fancy purse to excite her.
She wondered how many fights her grandparents had, how many times her grandmother had wished to be doing something other than baking or tending children. Then she thought of the love they must have shared, the excitement over creating a life together. She thought the dedication it took to sit at a hospital for three years, day after day, waiting to be married to the man her grandmother had loved and waited for.
All of the sudden, she felt ashamed.
The screen door banged open for the second time that morning. Josh, Sophie's husband, stood sheepishly in the doorway.
"Hi Nana," he addressed Sophie's grandmother. Hanging his head, he peeked up at Sophie.
"Honey, I'm sorry I wasn't sensitive to your needs, like you said before. I didn't realize you wanted to go on a trip for our anniversary. I called around and got some extra overtime, so we won't have to skimp like you were worried about. And I'll get you that necklace you want. I didn't mean to forget our anniversary, it's just with that big project at work...but I don't want you to think I care about work more than you. I never wanted you to think that."
Sophie glanced at her grandmother and stepped closer to her husband. "I'm sorry too," she replied. "I realized there's something more important than a trip or a necklace."
A look of worry and exhaustion crossed her husband's face. "What?" he replied in a wary tone.
Sophie smiled. "Love," she replied. "And making a life. Our life. Together."
Her grandmother smiled.
1 year ago