Friday, February 28, 2014

A short wedding, a long marriage, and a fish

I've contributed to a local high school's half-day marriage conference for Year 10 several times. We've talked about the cost of a wedding, which is reported as being between £15,000 and £20,000 these days. The wedding industry is a lucrative one. When I've said that a minority of couples have been happy to wed on a budget, including buying a second hand wedding dress, several of the more opinionated students didn't think much of the idea. I've told them the story of the wedding that cost shillings, followed by a happy marriage that lasted well over sixty years.

I met an old couple, years ago, who lived in tied accommodation on a Suffolk farm. They'd asked me to conduct a funeral for the wife's sister. Several years later, the wife died, and I visited the husband, by this time very frail, to plan her funeral, and heard how they got married.

Ipswich fishmonger, 1938
They met through their employer, a farmer. He was a farm labourer, she was nursemaid to the farmer's children. One day, working in the yard, he glanced up at a window on the first floor of the house and spied a young women with a lacy cap, looking down at him. "That's the girl I'm going to marry," he said to himself. Her parents were strict Plymouth Brethren and didn't approve of the courtship. In those days you had to be twenty-one to marry without your parents' permission, so they waited. She turned twenty-one one hot summer. They didn't have much money but planned to live with his parents until they could find a place of their own. Their employer gave them the morning off so that they could get married. The register office was in Ipswich, about ten miles away, so they caught the bus into town. Two strangers agreed to be their witnesses at the ceremony. Afterwards, they walked back to the bus depot. It was so hot, they paused at a fishmonger's shop to cool off under the awning next to a marble slab covered in ice and fish. The fishmonger, thinking they were customers, asked what they'd like. They had barely enough money for the bus fare home. It all looks very nice, they said, but no thanks. Bursting with excitement, the new wife couldn't contain herself and said, "We just got married!" "Congratulations!" said the fishmonger, wrapping up a big piece of fish. He handed it to them, saying it was a wedding present. They ate it for supper. Not long afterwards their employer offered them the tied cottage where they spent the rest of their married life and raised their daughter. When he died, soon after his wife, I think he hadn't been able to live without her. The last time I'd seen him, he was lost.

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