Marriage has fueled endless hilarity for millennia. The comedy "Lysistrata", for example, in which wives deny sex until their men end war. Especially targeted in modern times is the "Little woman". "The Ball and Chain". "Take my wife. Please".
Pretty well all other major genres are included:
Anecdotes: Losing a wife can cause actual physical harm to the surviving spouse. Divorce can only cause depression and indigestion.
Conjecture: the ErdősSzekeres happiness conjecture. Virtually impossible to understand except by a PhD in quantum physics.
Drama, richly mined: The spit and sparks of Kate in "Taming of the Shrew", Nora's shout of independence in "A Doll's House", "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" We all should be.
Poetry: The worldly "Wife of Bath" of Chaucerian fame. Penelope, the personification of faithfulness in Homer's "Odyssey" saga.
And that's just a surface skim of an ancient and enduring establishment that used to be a yardstick of morality, as well as the sole purpose of a young woman's reason for being. (On the latter point, we've come a long way. The former, not so much.) Focus favors the bride. The mother, not the "Old Man", sits at family center. An entire civilization rose on the doctrine that the angel came to Mary, not Joseph.
I've been married since I was twenty-one. Most of my life. Sixteen years the first time to a beautiful girl from Brooklyn. Today, still steaming at flank speed after 40 years on a second run when an otherwise sensible, grounded Irish-Swedish woman from Minneapolis with two innocent children suffered a crashing lapse of good sense by accepting my proposal.
Both marriages endured the stresses of military service. First time, a scant 30 days after the wedding when orders came down for assignment to Vietnam. A difficult year followed. And the home coming was much too quick. Time to decompress would have been a mercy. Going there took a week aboard propeller-driven aircraft via Hawaii, Wake Island, Manila, and Guam. Return was on a Pan Am clipper from Tan Son Nhut to Tokyo, thence Anchorage to San Francisco and New York City. My boots still had mud on them from Củ Chi when I landed at Idlewild (now Kennedy) Airport.
Readjustment to a peaceful environment was slow to come. Inexplicable emotions ran amok. A radio playing the song, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" sent me into a paroxysm of grief. God knows I'm a German with all the obligatory genetic Wagnerian impulses, but not that much. When I couldn't sleep, when even sitting still was intolerable we walked the streets together, day or night.
The unbroken series of wars in the 56 years following have familiarized everyone with post traumatic stress disorder. Not in 1963. There had been physical trauma, but most corrosive was the steady drip of missions in a combat zone. Imperceptibly, fatigue set in marrow-deep. And rooted. Brain and body got twitchy. Twenty years passed before crippling migraine headaches stopped. Lucky they did.
The marriage did not endure. The fault, mine. No help that in graduate school I took a commission in the U.S. Navy. She became a draft counselor advising students how Sweden and Canada were superior alternatives to Vietnam.
For the second run there was Minneapolis, her freckles and bright brown eyes that radiated sense and irrepressible good humor. Her daily production of home front news made an Everest of letters, higher than any other, on the wardroom table during deployment at sea whenever mail could catch up with the ship. She saved my life. Literally. "If you don't see about that persistent cough, I'm going to kill you!" The diagnosis was lung cancer caught at an early stage. Operable. Twenty years on still in remission. About 50 years of cigarettes take a toll, starting at age 6 following GIs around postwar Berlin, begging. So it goes.
Palmer Larson, an older chum who served in the same military police battalion was a 75-year old bachelor farmer living with his 70-year old brother, also a bachelor farmer, on a small farm 90 miles north of Des Moines, Iowa, where he was born and lived all of his life except for the short stint in uniform during the Occupation of Japan. He needed a knee replaced and reported into the local hospital where the receptionist asked a lot of questions.
My stepson Ted could have written this anecdote into one of his Hollywood scripts. Palmer recounted, "When you're a bachelor you have to go around and around with married women who don't understand. The receptionist at the hospital where I was an outpatient filled out a form on my life history. When I got done she had me read it over, and she had me down as married. I said 'Whoa!' I told her I was a bachelor. She said divorced? I told her never married. She said I look married. I told her it must be the arthritis."
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