Marriage Project, Day 35

If you haven’t read novelist Sally Bellerose here’s an opportunity. This story is absolutely delightful. Meet my guest for today’s Marriage Project:

Grandmothers, Unmarried and in Love

Our four-year-old granddaughter Kennedy stands in our dining room with her hands on her hips. “You know, girls can get married, Memere and Teddy,” she informs us, in case we somehow missed her previous twenty assertions that her grandmothers can and should marry each other. Kennedy calls me Memere. She calls my spouse Teddy.

Kennedy is wearing the only dress I own, which she calls her wedding gown, a once bright blue, now graying, sleeveless number. Frankly, it hangs like a sack on her and is not her best look. Fortunately, with her ponytail bobbing as she hops around the room trying not to trip over yards of faded polyester, she is the most beautiful and talented bride ever to grace a ceremony. Despite the baggy dress, she looks divine each and every time she marries, which is often. Wedding is her favorite game. She is happy to marry any gender. And, to alarm the “same-sex marriage is a slippery slope” folks, she will, in a pinch, marry her beloved Lamby, a stuffed toy of dubious species.

Teddy and I have loved each other for decades. Ours’ is a committed ‘til-death-do-us-part affection. Despite an offer from my beloved son and daughter-in-law to plan the ceremony, we have not taken the state of Massachusetts up on its offer to legally sanction our union.

Our reasons for not marrying are old-fashioned political ideas that exclude the State from overseeing personal relationships. My spouse and I support other people’s reasons for choosing to marry. We get it. When couples love each other they often want to celebrate and have their relationship recognized. The social status of individuals belonging to a group that is allowed to marry is elevated and the financial incentives such as greater access to health care and tax breaks can’t be denied.

As for the religious aspect of matrimony, we don’t have much patience with people who foist spiritual views on private relationships. By our reckoning, the sacred aspect of sex, love, and coupling is all the more reason for the state to divorce itself from marriage. We have always considered the separation of Church and State a splendid idea. Few of our friends agree with us, but we take heart in the fact that our neighbors in The Live Free or Die New Hampshire House of Representatives are considering a bill, (HB569) that would privatize marriage. New Hampshire would not offer any couple a marriage license, but grant domestic partnerships to straight or gay couples, leaving the legal/contractual side to the state and the sacred covenant side to the religious, spiritual, or secular choices of the couple.

In May of 2004, after the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that it was unconstitutional under our state’s constitution to allow only heterosexual couples the right to marry, our same-sex-couple friends began marrying in droves. It was the spring of backyard barbeques, solemn Church services, and barefoot on the beach clam bakes to celebrate the legal wedlock of men and women in tuxes and women and men in yards of flowing shiny fabric. These gatherings were celebrations of the queer community’s acceptance as a legitimate part of society as well as ceremonies to honor the love of the brides or grooms. It was at one of these backyard pot lucks that we became aware that the choice not to marry needed support. Some of the guests disapproved of the fact that Teddy and I decided not to partake of this historic moment by kneeling at the altar of matrimony. More than one couple was personally offended. The extreme pro-marriage position being that if a couple can marry, said couple should marry, and if the couple didn’t marry one or both parties in the couple was not committed to the relationship.

Teddy and I are pro-choice marriage advocates. We made our calls to the State House supporting marriage equality even as we continued to lobby for universal health care and tax reform that offers fair tax burdens to all. We would like all people, in and out of coupled relationships, to share equitable tax burdens, universal health care, and egalitarian social footing. Why should marital status, or domestic partnership status for that matter, have any relationship to healthcare or taxes? Why should people who choose not to marry be penalized?

With the exception of our adorable matrimony-loving granddaughter, those who insist that it is our civic or spiritual responsibility to get married merely make us dig in our secular unmarried heels. Periodically, we do check in with each other, just to be sure, “So, you want to get married, honey?” This often happens while emptying the dishwasher or right before bed after we spit out the toothpaste. So far, the answer has always been, “No, thank you, dear.”

Wedding is not our favorite game, but grandmotherly love has us engaging in activities we had not previously considered. For example, who knew that making up Pinky Stinky Underwear songs with socks on our hands and tee shirts on our heads could be such fun?

As Kennedy holds up the skirt of her gown and steadies herself into Timberlake boots, I ponder the miracle of her and her assertion, “Girls can get married.” Who can deny the civil rights gain in that statement? Kudos to Massachusetts for being the first state to offer same-sex couples the right to marry.

As I watch Kennedy stomp and twirl around the living room hugging her couch cushion bride or groom, a pillow totally unworthy of her, I am filled with familial love, gratitude, and the notion that Teddy and I might be able to have our wedding cake and eat it, too. Almost seven years after the landmark Massachusetts ruling, Kennedy, who is now using her cushy partner for a drum, is pretty much the only person left who really cares if we marry. And she’s in it for the party, not the politics. Helping the kids feel secure and happy is one argument for marriage.

I’m about to ask Teddy, “Why not a party?” Kennedy could wear a fancy dress in her actual size. Her dad could be best man. Her mom could be maid of honor. Including ourselves and her other six grandparents we’d have a little crowd. Not a piece of paperwork, clergy, or a State official need be involved. We could get a bouquet of flowers from Stop and Shop for $9.99. We must have a couple of rings hanging around. It might be a hoot. We like parties. We like attention, food, music, gifts. Maybe we’d receive a crock pot, a new model with a removable liner that can be put in the dishwasher.

But, I get ahead of myself. Kennedy and Teddy have not stood idle while I ruminated about wedding swag. The game of matrimony seems to be on hold for the moment. My two favorite girls are under the dining room table on their backs, giggling, Scotch-taping art to the bottom of the table, the Underbelly Cafe.

The curators crawl out. I start singing, “Going to the Chapel.” Teddy and I join hands and stroll around the dining room table while Kennedy belts it out, singing into a flashlight microphone. Teddy takes the handmade doily my Memere tatted seventy years ago off the coffee table and puts it on her head. “Lovely,” Kennedy says. I grab a walking cane my mother carved during her whittling phase. Kennedy frowns at the cane, but I tap out the beat and her skepticism vanishes. After several rousing renditions of “Going to the Chapel” while promenading around the first floor, I broach the subject of marriage. “What do think, should we get married, have a little party?” I wink at my spouse. Teddy just stares at me, perhaps because I’ve never winked at her before.

She and Kennedy give each other a look. Our granddaughter explains, “You just got married.” She holds up her fingers. “Three times, Memere.”

I sit on the couch, disappointed – no cake, no crock pot, or, one can dream, no Dyson vacuum cleaner.

Kennedy puts her arms around me. “Memere, are you okay?”

“Yes, honey, Memere is fine.”

I’m fine, but planning. I love my spouse, but I’m a set-in-my-ways dyke, and I don’t need the State involved in our relationship twenty-odd years after we got together. There are all kinds of gestures, ways of honoring a relationship. A couple can order a lemon cake with coconut frosting, buy tulips for themselves and a wrist corsage for their grandchild without feeling coerced into marriage assimilation. A couple can waltz around the living room, unmarried, and be perfectly happy together for twenty, thirty, forty years, or more.

Sally Bellerose
Northampton, MA

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Jill Malone

Jill Malone grew up in a military family, went to German kindergarten, and lived across from a bakery that made gummi bears the size of mice. She has lived on the East Coast and in Hawaii, and for the last seventeen years in Spokane with her son, two dogs, a hedgehog, and a lot of outdoor gear. She looks for any excuse to play guitar. Jill is married to a performance artist and addiction counselor who makes the best risotto on the planet.

Giraffe People is her third novel. Her first novel, Red Audrey and the Roping, was a Lambda finalist and won the third annual Bywater Prize for Fiction. A Field Guide to Deception, her second novel, was a finalist for the Ferro-Grumley, and won the Lambda Literary Award and the Great Northwest Book Festival.

Giraffe People

Giraffe People

Between God and the army, fifteen-year-old Cole Peters has more than enough to rebel against. But this Chaplain’s daughter isn’t resorting to drugs or craziness. Truth to tell, she’s content with her soccer team and her band and her white bread boyfriend.

And then, of course, there’s Meghan.

Meghan is eighteen years old and preparing for entry into West Point. For this she has sponsors: Cole’s parents. They’re delighted their daughter is finally looking up to someone. Someone who can tutor her and be a friend.

But one night that relationship changes and Cole’s world flips.

Giraffe People is a potent reminder of the rites of passage and passion that we all endure on our road to growing up and growing strong. Award-winning author Jill Malone tells a story of coming out and coming of age, giving us a take that is both subtle and fresh.

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A Field Guide to Deception

A Field Guide to Deception

In Jill Malone’s second novel, A Field Guide to Deception, nothing is as simple as it appears: community, notions of motherhood, the nature of goodness, nor even compelling love. Revelations are punctured and then revisited with deeper insight, alliances shift, and heroes turn anti-hero—and vice versa.

With her aunt’s death Claire Bernard loses her best companion, her livelihood, and her son’s co-parent. Malone’s smart, intriguing writing beguiles the reader into this taut, compelling story of a makeshift family and the reawakening of a past they’d hoped to outrun. Claire’s journey is the unifying tension in this book of layered and shifting alliances.

A Field Guide to Deception is a serious novel filled with snappy dialogue, quick-moving and funny incidents, compelling characterizations, mysterious plot twists, and an unexpected climax. It is a rich, complex tale for literary readers.

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Red Audrey and the Roping

Red Audrey and the Roping

Occasionally a debut novel comes along that rocks its readers back on their heels. Red Audrey and the Roping is one of that rare and remarkable breed. With storytelling as accomplished as successful literary novelists like Margaret Atwood and Sarah Waters, Jill Malone takes us on a journey through the heart of Latin professor Jane Elliot.

Set against the dramatic landscapes and seascapes of Hawaii, this is the deeply moving story of a young woman traumatized by her mother’s death. Scarred by guilt, she struggles to find the nerve to let love into her life again. Afraid to love herself or anyone else, Jane falls in love with risk, pitting herself against the world with dogged, destructive courage. But finally she reaches a point where there is only one danger left worth facing. The sole remaining question for Jane is whether she is willing to accept her history, embrace her damage, and take a chance on love.

As well as a gripping and emotional story, Red Audrey and the Roping is a remarkable literary achievement. The breathtaking prose evokes setting, characters, and relationships with equal grace. The dialogue sparks and sparkles. Splintered fragments of narrative come together to form a seamless suspenseful story that flows effortlessly to its dramatic conclusion.

Winner of the Bywater Prize for Fiction, Red Audrey and the Roping is one of the most memorable first novels you will ever read.

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