The priest was furious at me. He snapped, “How dare you profane the church with this shabby mockery?”
Dateline: March 1969
She fell in love with a Jewish man. Her parents forbid her from marrying him. Shocked by their hypocrisy, Joanne defies them, and marries Alan in a civil ceremony. Later, almost nine months pregnant, Joanne is finally persuaded by Alan to be wed before the Catholic Church, with her parents in attendance. When she shows up bursting out of a white wedding gown (!) -– her spiteful act rekindles their feud.
No doubt about it, interfaith marriages can sometimes create tension for families. Parents express concern that common experiences build a solid foundation for marriage. Or, perhaps, there is simple prejudice, or fear of the unknown. Will the arrival of a beautiful grandchild be the peace offering that brings this feuding family together?
“But I simply cannot understand,” Father Keller said as he regarded me with grave, searching eyes. “If the boy himself has no objections, why should you be the one to object? Surely, Joanne, you have nothing against our faith?”
I sighed heavily. I’d known Father Keller ever since I’d been a little girl. I loved and respected him for his goodness and kindness of heart. But how could I make him see?
“No, Father,” I said, hoping desperately that he would feel the sincerity behind my words. “How could I have anything against our faith? I believe now as much as I ever did. Perhaps more.”
“Very well, child.” Father Keller accepted me at my word. But his heavy lined face was sorrowful. “Why, then, did you persist in living in sin?”
I stiffened. He wouldn’t understand. He didn’t want to. “That’s not true,” I replied, shortly. “Alan and I are legally married.”
“Married in the eyes of man,” the priest said, quietly.
“But not in the eyes of God?”
Father Keller was silent. My question lay between us like a leaden cloud.
“If that’s true,” I went on, carefully controlling my voice, “who is to blame? Who refused to marry us—simply because Alan is of another faith?”
“My child,” Father Keller said, sadly, “for your soul’s sake I beg you not to distort the truth. You know that I may not marry you unless you promise to allow your children to be brought up as Catholics . . . nor may any other priest marry you.”
“Why, then, do you refuse?” His solemn eyes clutched my own and would not let them go. “I ask you again,” he continued. “What do you have against our faith that you will not permit your unborn children to be raised in it?”
“It’s not that I won’t permit them to,” I answered in a quavering tone. I wondered what I was doing here in Father’s study. I knew when he asked me to come that our meeting would not accomplish anything. Yet I had to come. And I had to keep on giving my reasons even though I knew in advance that they would not be accepted.
“I’ll permit them to be raised as Catholic,” I said. “I want them to be, but I just don’t think it’s right to make Alan promise—”Joanne,” he interrupted, chidingly. “If the young man was adamant about not making such a promise, well, of course I could not approve of that attitude, but at least I could understand it. But Alan told me to –my face that he has no objections—you are the one who refuses.”
I sat where I was in the worn brown leather chair. My eyes were lowered.
“Why?” Father Keller asked, sorrowfully. “Why must you be so stubborn?”
“I don’t feel I’m being stubborn,” I said after a long moment. “I feel that I’m doing the right thing. Alan is sweet and softhearted. He wants me to be happy. And—especially since he learned that I was going to have a baby—he feels that I would be more at peace with myself if we had our marriage consecrated.”
The priest nodded. “And wouldn’t you be?”
“Perhaps I would,” I admitted. “And I did not object at first, when Alan made his offer, but then Mom and Dad. . . .” My voice trailed off into nothingness.
“They refused to give their permission for you to be wed,” the priest said.
“Yes. Alan is a wonderful man. Everything that I could have hoped for in a husband; everything that they could have hoped for in a son-in-law. There was only one little problem,” I continued with a harsh laugh. He happens to be Jewish!”
“Stop that, Joanne,” Father Keller said, firmly. “Perhaps your parents were wrong to try to stand in your way. I don’t know. Times are changing. While we must not swerve from moral law, of course, perhaps we should all make an effort to understand these changes.”
He paused for a while, as though to collect his thoughts. “But whatever your mother and father did, Joanne, they did it because they thought it was best. Mistaken they might have been. But they were not guilty of some shoddy anti-Semitism. I know them better than that, and so do you.”
“Then why did they object so? Even after Alan offered to—”
“Because the young man is of a different faith, child,” the priest said, wearily. “They were frightened, but they would have been just as frightened if he were a Protestant.”
“Father, you keep making excuses for them.”
“No, I do not.” Father Keller was as angry as I’ve ever seen him. “But I will tell you that if what they did was wrong, what you are doing is far worse.”
“Why?” I demanded. “Because I won’t let Alan make a promise now—through love of me—that he may not want to keep later?”
“No. Because you are acting in a way that you know is not right simply to spite your parents.”
“That’s not true,” I protested.
“Isn’t it? Think, child. Why would you have let Alan agree earlier? Before your civil marriage?”
“For my parents’ sake,” I said.
“And not for your souls?”
“Maybe,” I admitted with reluctance.
“And now you are no longer interested in your parents’ feelings?” the priest went on, remorselessly. “Or your soul?”
“Please, Father,” I said. The tears were starting to fill my eyes. “I just don’t know.”
“And that, my child, is the beginning of wisdom,” the father said, his voice gently ironic.
“But I still don’t want to do this to Alan.”
“Ah, Joanne, if you will only reflect, you will understand that I wouldn’t have you do anything to Alan: I’m begging you to do something for yourself.”
“Father,” I whispered, taking a tissue from my handbag in order to wipe my eyes, “I know you mean well.”
“And isn’t that what you young people call a ‘put-down’?” the father asked with a brief smile.
“Why, no. I—”
“The poor old priest. He means well, but he doesn’t understand.’ Isn’t that it?”
“Please,” I began.
“But I do understand, child. We of the cloth usually do. They say we lead a cloistered life, that we do not know the world, but that is not true. Hardly a week goes by that I do not hear some new story of passion or anger, of hatred or love that would set your tears to flowing or fill you with fear. And through the grace of God, I am sometimes given to understand or even help. That’s why I believed I can help you, now—help you to do what your heart really wants to do.”
I felt as though I were being torn apart. I couldn’t take any more. I stood up. “Father,” I said. “I have to leave.”
He bowed his head. “Very well. But will you think about our conversation, child?”
“Yes,” I promised. “I’ll think about it.”
And how could I not think about it. Driving back to my home—to the little house where Alan and I lived—it was all I could think about. I asked myself the same questions over and over again: Was Father Keller right about me? Was I fooling myself about only wanting to be fair to Alan? Was I really doing this to spite my parents? I didn’t think so, but how could I be sure within my heart?
I drove into the driveway, parked in front of the garage and entered the house.
It was a small white house with a pretty green lawn in front. Inside, everything was gleaming and spanking new. I loved this little house. Here I had known the joy of love fulfilled in marriage. And here—only last month —I’d told Alan about the visit to the doctor and the wonderful verdict that we were going to have children. But it was also a house in which Mom and Dad had never set foot.
Day and night that fact was never far from the surface of my consciousness, but I tried not to think about it. I’d set it firmly aside, but it would rise again to taunt me at odd moments, when I was watching television, for instance, or when I was shopping in the supermarket, or when I was having a coffee session with friends.
They hate the man you love, a little inner voice would nag. They hate the man you love! Dear God!
The worst of it was that I’d always been so close to my parents. I was the youngest of their children, and neither my two brothers nor my sisters were as dear to them as I was.
When I was very little, Dad used to call me his “Jo-kitten”. He would sit me on his knee for hours and tell me all sorts of fantastic stories that he would make up as he went along. I was the baby of the family. And if my brothers and sisters were jealous of me, they had the good sense not to show it.
Years passed, and we all grew up. My brothers and sisters got married one by one and moved out of town. Alison married an Air Force man and moved to a little town inTexasnear where he was stationed. Cora married a man who worked for an insurance company and left for the East Coast when he was transferred. Then the boys moved away, John to have a career with the Navy and Quentin to a South American office of a large oil company.
I was the only one left. And I became even closer to my parents than I’d been before. My dad used to tease me about leaving. “You’ll be running away from us soon, kitten,” he said once. “You’ll meet a handsome young man and run off with him and forget all about your mom and me.”
“But that’s not true,” I protested.
“And supposing it is true,” my mother interrupted to say. “Isn’t that the way of life? The young have to spread their wings and fly off on their own.” She turned to my father. “You certainly don’t want Joanne to end up as an old maid, do you Gene?”
“There’s little chance of that,” my father said, proudly. “Our Jo-kitten has a whole truckload of suitors standing in line to propose!”
“Oh, Dad,” I smiled. “It’s not that bad.”
“Who said it was bad, darling?” My father laughed that full-throated laugh of his. “I thank the Lord that you’re so beautiful.” He winked at me. “But you’ve your mother to blame for that. You’re exactly the way she was at your age.”
“Get on with you, Gene,” my mom said, blushing. But I could see that she was pleased.
I remember wishing, then, that I could have a marriage one half as wonderful as the one they had.
“I will promise you one thing,” I said, impulsively.
“That any man who does want to marry me will have to remain here in town. I refuse to move so far away that we won’t be able to see each other.”
Dad’s eyes lit up. “That’s my girl.”
But my mother shook her head. “Don’t make promises now, Joanne, that you might not be able to keep later.”
“I’ll keep this promise,” I replied, sincerely. Of course it was a brash promise to make. But the ironical part was that I did keep it. I did remain here in town when I got married. I could have been no farther apart from Mom and Dad, however, if Alan and I lived half-way across the world.
We had that conversation two years ago, when I was just eighteen. Three months later I met Alan for the first time. Sylvia Warren introduced me to him. Sylvia was my best friend and we were both working as file clerks in the office of a manufacturing plant. Her steady boyfriend worked in the plant’s accounting department and one day she asked me if I would be willing to accept a date with a friend of his.
“No thanks,” I said with a little laugh. “No blind dates for Joanne.”
Syl grinned back at me. “I don’t blame you,” she said. “I’ve been stuck that way, too. But Alan Kerwitz is different.”
“Oh…?” Despite myself I was curious.
“He’s only been with the company about a month or so. But Bob says that he’s very bright and very nice.”
“And he’s very handsome.”
“Does Bob say that, also?”
Sylvia stuck her tongue out at me. “No. I do. As a matter of fact, he’s far too good looking for you. You don’t really deserve him.”
I shrugged. Sylvia certainly made him sound like he was something extra-special. And even if he wasn’t—it would only be for one date.
“All right,” I said.
The strange thing was that my friend had spoken the absolute truth. Alan was good looking and nice and bright. He was so terrific I could not help wondering why some girl or other had not staked out a claim on him.
Of course, he’d only been in town for a month. He had come—so Sylvia said—to accept the job at the plant.
“Bob says he won’t stay very long,” Sylvia confided later, when the two of us excused ourselves to go to the powder room of the little restaurant where we were being taken for dinner. “He is sure to get a better offer.”
“I’m impressed,” I said.
“Do you like him?”
I decided to answer honestly. Sylvia was my best friend. “Very much.”
“Wait until we go to the hotel ballroom,” she told me. “You have no idea how well he can dance.”
Although I knew how much my friend was in love with Bob, I could not help but feel a twinge of jealousy. Alan was tall, with dark good looks and softly brooding brown eyes. Whenever he looked at me, I felt the world fade away on either side of us. It was as if he and I were the only two people alive.
Later, all four of us went to the hotel. This was one of the few places in town where there was dancing to a live band. It was not a very good band. The players mostly kept with old standards which they played with a dull, unimaginative beat.Once in a while the band would try one of the new dances, but they were so unused to this music that they sounded lost when they played it. It didn’t matter. Alan was a free and easy dancer. He guided me gently but firmly through the older dances and stepped back so that we could both express ourselves while the band stumbled through the newer ones. We could have been dancing at the wildest discotheque or to the music of the greatest band in the world.
The evening went so fast that it seemed to have only started when Sylvia looked at her watch and suggested that it was time for us to leave.
“It’s almost two,” she said. “My dad will be furious.”
I started then as if I’d been awakened from a trance—which in a way I was.
“Yes,” 1 agreed. I turned to Alan. “You’ll have to take me home.”
Alan and I said good night to the other couple and started back in his car. I was alone with him, the way I had wanted to be all evening. But now I did not know what to say.
Later, Alan was to tell me that he had felt as awe-struck as I. He also felt that something wonderful was happening and that this was not to be merely another date.
But at the time I couldn’t tell how he felt. And I was too cautious and embarrassed to show my own feelings. Alan parked in front of my house. He placed his arm about me and I thought that I was going to melt.
“Will I see you again?” he asked, gently.
“If you want.” “How about tomorrow night?”
I knew what I was supposed to say: That I was busy then. That I could not possibly make it on such short notice. That he should phone me. But I was too bemused—too much in a trance—to play those games.
“Yes,” I said. “Tomorrow night.”
He drew me to him and our lips met.
I’d been kissed before, of course. Even the plainest girl can hardly get through her teens without being kissed—more times, probably, than she really wanted to be. And although I’d never considered myself strikingly beautiful, I was not plain, either.
So I’d had more than my share of kisses. But none of them—not one—ever—had affected me like this.
I felt weak—as though I were a baby again, held in the impossibly strong arms of my father. But Alan was not my father. No! He was everything I had wanted in a man without knowing it. He was the strong lover of my secret dreams. He was the hero who I believe every girl hopes to meet, but does not dare to believe in until after she had recognized him. He was. . . . What can I say? He was a man. And I knew then that I would make him my man.
The strength of him was overwhelming me. I realized that he could do whatever he wanted to. I could not prevent him. Then he slowly moved away. He was breathing hard and fighting for self-control. “Tomorrow night?” he asked, again.
“Yes,” I repeated.
Alan helped me out of the car and took me to my doorstep. There, he kissed me again and once more the world spun dizzily around me.
I climbed the stairs to my bedroom on limbs that had turned to water. I undressed.
I needed Alan, then. I wanted his strength. I would have given almost anything if one or both of us had not been so bound by moral strictures. I wanted him as my lover and I knew that he wanted me.
But we were the way we were. And, thinking back on it now, I wonder if we would have been so much in love if we had been any different. For we did fall in love at first sight. I know that phrase is overworked and trite. Most people who use it have no idea of what it means. But it happened that way with Alan and myself.
Yes, I was frustrated by the effort of control we had made. (He more than I, because he could have done anything with me—could have convinced me to do anything.) But at the same time, I knew without being told that he loved me and respected me as a person.
We saw each other on the following night. And on the one after that and the one after that.
They were strange evenings. Silent evenings. We did not need to speak. Everything that needed to be said could be said with a glance or a touch or a kiss. I did not even know that he was Jewish for another two months. Or maybe I was aware and did not think about it. Alan brought it up on the night that he asked me to be his wife.
“Yes,” I had said, almost before he had finished stumbling over the words. “Yes, of course I’ll marry you.”
“We may run into difficulties,” he told me.
“Mmnnn,” I murmured. I wasn’t really listening.
“I mean it, darling. You might not have an easy life with me.”
“It will be a wonderful life,” I responded, dreamily.
“You must pay attention,” he said. “You have to think this over before making up your mind.”
I really didn’t know what he was talking about. I wished that he would stop talking and kiss me again.
“Yes,” I said.
“Your parents might not approve.”
I laughed. I still wasn’t taking him seriously. “Why shouldn’t they?” I wanted to know.
“Because of the difference in our religion,” he replied.
“That’s right,” I said, slowly. “You aren’t Catholic, are you?” I hesitated, forcing myself to concentrate on the problem. “But Mom and Dad won’t care about that. They just want me to be happy.”
“I’m Jewish,” he said.
“So? Is that supposed to matter? One of Dad’s closest friends is Jewish.”
“You’re not marrying him.”
I giggled. “I should hope not. He’s almost ten years older than Dad.”
“Be serious for a minute, darling,” Alan told me. “I do think we have to be prepared for a certain amount of disapproval.” He looked gravely at me. “I know that your parents aren’t biased in the usual sense. And if I were a Christian—even a Protestant Christian–I don’t think they would object very strongly. But to see their daughter marry a Jew…” He shook his head slowly. “I think we are going to have to be patient with them.”
“Stop worrying, darling…,” I began.
“Tell them . . ,” he interrupted.
“Tell them that I won’t make any objection about raising our children the way you wish. As long as a child of mine is taught to believe in God, I don’t care what religion he is brought up in.”
“All right,” I said with a smile. “But I really think that you’re worrying about nothing at all.”
But when I told my parents that night I learned that Alan had been right. I’d been living in a dream world of my own making. Love, it seemed—neither their love for me nor mine for Alan—was enough. I remember staring at Mom and Dad as we sat in the living room. I remember seeing the way that their smiling cheerful faces froze. I remember seeing their obvious joy to see me turn into . . . something else. It was as though a heavy leaden weight formed itself in for the back of my throat and sank down to my stomach. I couldn’t believe this was happening—but it was.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, as my dream of happiness—of all of us living happily ever after—turned into a nightmare. “What’s wrong? Alan and I love each other. We want to be married.”
Mom and Dad exchanged glances. It was like a knife in my heart to realize that, although I was the subject of those glances, I was not included.
“What about your children?” Dad asked in a thick, almost unrecognizable voice.
“What about them?”
“Who will they be? Will they know who they are?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Your father’s talking about their religious upbringing,” Mom said, slowly. “You know who you are, Joanne. You were baptized. You had the proper religious training. What about your own children?”
“And how will you be married?” Dad added, bitterly. “By a justice of the peace?”
“We’ll be married by Father Keller,” I said, coldly. How disappointed I was in them! How angry I’d become! “Alan has already offered to agree to allow the children to be raised as Catholics.”
“I appreciate that,” my father said. And he was not being sarcastic. “But your children won’t really be Catholics. Not the way you were. Or myself or your mother. We were all born into the faith, don’t you see? Just as our parents were born into it before us.”
“But what does that matter?” I asked, unhappily. “Don’t you like Alan?”
Once again, my mother and father exchanged their glances.
“I do like the boy, Jo-kitten,” my father admitted after a while. “Perhaps that’s the trouble. If I didn’t like him, I would have objected to your seeing him before things got to where they are.”
I didn’t reply. But after that first date, no one could have stopped me from seeing Alan.
“We’re thinking of you,” my mother said, softly.
“How, Mom? In what way?”
“We don’t want you to be unhappy—married to a . . . stranger.”
“But we love each other,” I said once more. “We won’t be unhappy.”
“You don’t know,” Dad said “You’re too young to understand.”
“I’m old enough to understand that you don’t approve of Alan simply because he’s Jewish,” I said bitterly.
“Joanne . . . !” Mom was shocked.
“It isn’t that at all, Jo-kitten,” Dad said. But I thought that he said the words weakly. “You know that my closest friend on the job is Henry Katz. And if he’s not Jewish, I’d like to know who is.”
“You mustn’t accuse your father of being prejudiced,” Mom put in.
“A friend is one thing,” I said, coldly, remembering Alan’s earlier words. “Having your daughter marry a Jew is something else.”
“It does take some getting used to,” Dad admitted. “Perhaps if you’d give it some time…”
But I was in no mood to be generous. I was terribly hurt. I felt that I had come to them with an open heart and that they had turned me away.
“Alan was right,” I said then. “He warned me that you would be against us.”
“We’re not against you,” Mom retorted. “We’re thinking of you. Your children. Your happiness.”
“That’s what you say. Maybe you even believe it. But . . . .”
“Now, just hold on a minute.” I could see the thunder clouds in my dad’s eyes. “You come to us with something like this. You walk in here and announce what you are going to do. You’ve got to give us some time to think it over, or . . . .”
“Or your mother and I will forbid you to ever see the man again—never mind marry him!” ! “You… you can’t be serious?”
I stared at him. Fury was written on his brow. I had rarely seen my dad in one of his tempers. But I knew that if he was aroused, it was dangerous to cross him. Despite my resolve, I could feel myself grow frightened and nervous.
“All your dad and I want is a little time,” Mom told me in a soft voice. “A little time to think it over. Is that so much to ask?”
“But Mom, can’t you see how it is!” I exclaimed, desperately. “Alan isn’t a car you’re thinking of buying or a house you’re taking on approval. He’s a man. And I happen to be in love with him.”
My father stared at me, stonily. Then he turned to Mom. “Leave the girl be,” he said at last. “It’s our own fault—we’ve spoiled her till she’s stubborn. And I’ve had my say.” “You mean about not permitting me to marry Alan?” I asked.
Dad did not reply.
A pulse was throbbing heavily in my forehead and I felt sick with tension. Yet I had to say what I had to say. “I’m of age now, Dad. I can marry whomever I want. The law says so.”
My father jumped out of the large leather chair on which he was seated. He strode toward me and for a brief moment I felt real physical fear. But he merely glared at me and turned away as though disgusted.
“The law, is it? You’re quoting law to your own father?”
He was hurt now. Deeply hurt. I told myself that I didn’t care. He had hurt me, hadn’t he?
“Marry and be damned to you!” my father growled, turning his back to me. “Only don’t expect me or your mom at the wedding.”
“I won’t,” I snapped. “And, anyway, it is going to be performed by a justice of the peace.”
I left them without another word and went to my room.
After that night we were not a family any more. We were strangers and worse than strangers. Dad and I—who had been so close—regarded each other across an unbridgeable gap. We hardly talked. There was nothing left to say.
Mom did her best to bring us together—for both our sakes.
“Do you think it’s good to start a marriage this way?” she asked me several days later. “In hatred instead of in love?”
“Alan and 1 love each other,” I replied, defensively.
“You know that I’m speaking of your father,” she retorted. “Don’t you think I’m aware of how much you loved him?”
“I . . . still do.”
“Very well, then. How can you bear to start off married life without him there to give you his blessing?”
The words were like a knife in my throat. I could feel the tears—never far away in those days—begin to well up in my eyes. “I do want him there,” I breathed. “And I want you….”
“But you know that he wouldn’t come to see his daughter married by a justice of the peace,” she told me, mildly.
“And . . . and if I did the other. . . . If Alan signed those papers and we were married by Father Keller? Would you both come, then?” I bit my lip as 1 waited for the answer.
Mom smiled. “I think so . . . if you went to him and apologized.”
I felt myself begin to soften. Why, not? What harm would it do? But then it was as though I had been hit in the face with a cold glass of water. Why should I have to go to him and beg his forgiveness? He was the one who had hurt me—had hurt Alan.
“He ought to apologize to me,” I told Mom. “I’m the one who’s right.”
Mom looked at me sadly. She seemed to have aged since that terrible night. “Are you so certain?”
“Yes. I am.”
“Perhaps you are right,” she said in a resigned tone. “And perhaps you’re not. But you’re young. Your father has his pride. . . “
“Am I not allowed pride?” I asked. “Just because I’m young?”
“Of course you can have pride,” Mom said, sounding exasperated. “But a man’s pride is something different. If you really are getting married, that’s the first lesson you must learn: A woman can be more flexible. She can put her pride aside. But if a man doesn’t keep his pride, he’s no good to himself, to you or to anyone else.”
“Maybe that’s the way it used to be. Times are different, now. Alan and I are different.”
“I didn’t know that they’d passed a law repealing human nature.”
I sighed. There was no sense in arguing with her. I hadn’t realized before how old-fashioned her ideas were. According to my mom’s generation, a woman was supposed to be a kind of slave.
“Will you be there when Alan and I get married?” I asked, softly.
“No, my dear.” She shook her head. Her little smile was both sad and resigned. “I don’t know who is right. Though I’ll venture to say that you’re both at least partly wrong. But I married your father and I won’t desert him—even for you. I suppose I’m too old to change my ways now.”
And so it happened. When Alan and I were wed in the small office of a justice of the peace, Sylvia and Bob were there as witnesses. Nobody else.
I must say that Alan tried to get me to relent.
“Wouldn’t you feel better if we were married by your Father Keller?” he asked on the very night before the ceremony. “And if your parents were at the wedding?”
I stared at him in hurt and in shock. He knew the whole story. It was for him that I was doing this!
“Would it be so difficult for you to apologize to your dad?” he asked me, his arm about my shoulder. “It seems like such a little thing. Yet it could mean so much.”
“But darling,” I said, finding my voice at last. “After what they said about you. You were the one who warned me that they wouldn’t approve of you because you are Jewish.”
“I know,” he said. He paused for a few moments. “Maybe I was wrong,” he admitted, then. “Maybe I was being too sensitive.”
“But I heard them,” I protested. “I know the words they said and the words they didn’t say but thought.”
“Your parents are only human, darling. It was a shock to them to learn that you wanted to marry a non-Catholic.”
1 was completely bewildered. If my own Alan didn’t understand. . . .
“How can you say that?” I asked.
“Maybe because I’ve never been as lucky as you. I don’t have a family to care who I marry.”
I knew that. Alan had told me how his parents had died when he was a little boy inChicagoand how he had been brought up by a series of relatives—none of whom could or wanted to take the place of his mother and father. He had also told me how he’d managed to go to college and get his degree in accounting—by working during the day and attending night school. No, he did not have an easy life.
I saw him looking at me. There was tenderness in his eyes, but something else as well: A deep appraisal.
“A family is too precious to throw away,” he said, then. “It’s a wasteful thing—an evil thing—for love to founder on the rock of pride.”
“But, Alan,” I said. “What about my dad’s love? All he’d have to do would be to tell me that he’d accept you.”
“So it’s a matter of which one of you speaks first? Is that all it is?”
“I suppose so,” I said, reluctantly. “You could put it that way.”
“Then why don’t you, darling? You’re younger . . . more flexible. . . .”
Those were practically my mother’s words. Perhaps it was that which caused me to harden.
“And I’m a woman?” I asked.
Alan looked at me without speaking.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I can’t. I can’t beg Dad’s forgiveness for objecting to his prejudice.”
Alan did not argue with me any more. But I knew that he was troubled. As—in truth—I was, myself.
The next day we were married. I moved out of my parent’s house and into the little cottage where Alan and I started our life together. I tried to forget all about Mom and Dad and the fact that they were so close, yet so far away.
At first I almost succeeded. The joy of living with Alan—of having his strength and love all to myself—drove out almost everything else. But even then—even in those earliest days —I was not as completely successful as I liked to pretend. The thought of my estrangement hung overhead like a single, hardly noticed cloud that was a harbinger of the storm to come. Then I went to the doctor who told me that I was going to have a baby.
When I informed Alan, the two of us were ecstatic. Our former joy—the self-centered
joy of two people in love and together was nothing to this expansion of our happiness. Another human being—one being formed inside my own womb—would share our love and our happiness with us. But now that single cloud was expanding, also. If only Mom were here, I would catch myself thinking. If only Dad. . . .
Alan would notice the shadow on my face. But when he tried to suggest that I call my parents, I fell silent. I wouldn’t discuss it.
Once he came home to tell me that he’d had an interesting phone call at the office that day.
“Who from?” I asked.
My heart stopped for an instant, then began to race. I had not been to church since our marriage, but its pull on my conscience was as strong as ever. I did not like to think about it. Or Father Keller.
“He’s a nice man,” Alan said then. “A really lovely man.”
I nodded. I knew how wonderful Father Keller was. “What did he want?”
“He’d like to see you.”
I shook my head. “No.”
“It wouldn’t do any good.”
“Would it do any harm?” Alan asked gently.
Of course I had to admit that it wouldn’t do any harm. And it would have been a horrible thing for me to hold out and stubbornly refuse to see the priest whom I loved and who only wished me good. So I saw him. And we had our inconclusive talk, which left me even more bewildered and upset than I’d been before. When Alan came home that evening he asked me how it went.
“It didn’t,” I replied. “He wants us to agree to bring our children up as Catholics.”
“You know that I wouldn’t object,” Alan began.
“Father Keller told me what you said. But I couldn’t let you. Or make the promise with you.”
“Because it’s not right. My parents didn’t want us to marry at all. The father didn’t object then.”
“How do you know?” Alan asked, more tartly than usual. “How do you know what he said to them?”
“All right,” I admitted. “I don’t know.”
“Well, I do. Father Keller told me that he tried to convince your father not to be so adamant. But your dad is as stubborn as you.”
I was taken off balance. But I didn’t care. “That doesn’t matter,” I replied. “Now that we’re married and going to have a child, they can’t do anything about it. The only thing they can do is to make you swear a solemn oath to raise the child in a religion that you don’t believe in yourself. How can you accept that, Alan?”
My husband shrugged. “I’m not a very religious man in the ordinary sense,” he admitted. “But I do believe in God and I feel that our children—my children—should have some religious training. Just what religion doesn’t matter that much to me. I imagine that if I were more religious, myself, it might. I don’t know. But I do feel that they all teach the love of God and the difference between right and wrong.”
I shook my head. “You’re too easy, darling. People take advantage of you and you don’t seem to care.”
Alan’s face broke into slow grin. “Jo, sweetheart, I do believe you’re right,” he chuckled. “If I wasn’t so easy going, I’d turn you over my knee and give you a spanking for being such a stubborn little fool.”
“Not while I’m carrying your child,” I grinned back.
He made a face at me. “You always did know how to take advantage of me.”
So the discussion ended in our making love. We did not bring up the subject again. But I was still troubled and I knew that Alan was too.
Still and all we were happy, I think, as the months went by. Then, when I was in my very last month, Alan came home from work looking upset. At first he didn’t want to talk about it. But I kept at him until he did.
“I’ve been talking to the MacMahan Company,” he finally admitted. “They are thinking of asking me to accept a job with them.”
“What’s wrong with that?” I asked. MacMahan was a manufacturer of airplane parts with a branch factory in our town. By reputation, they paid very high salaries.
“Nothing at all,” Alan replied. “As a matter of fact they would like me to head the local accounting department. It would not only mean more money for us now, but a very good future.”
“Why that’s marvelous, darling.” I kissed him. “That’s absolutely marvelous!”
“There is only one thing,” my husband said. His face was still concerned.
“MacMahon wants their people to have happy home lives. They believe that the best young executives are the sort with lasting marriages. In our present circumstances—”
“What about our present circumstances?’” I snapped, angrily. “Don’t you think our marriage will be a lasting one?”
“Of course I do. I think it will last until the two of us are sharing a room at an old-age home.”
“I…” He hesitated. “I really don’t know if I should upset you. Especially now.”
“Go on, Alan,” I said, grimly. “Pregnant women aren’t all that emotionally fragile—despite what you men may believe.”
“If you insist. You have to look at it from their point of view.”
“Most lasting marriages are made by people with similar backgrounds. Or—if the backgrounds do differ—one of the parents has made some sort of compromise concerning the children’s upbringing. There is also a strong family tie there. I mean with the couples’ parents.”
“I see.” I thought this over for a moment. “Then MacMahon in its infinite wisdom would not think of us as very good risks?” I asked, coldly.
“That’s only their opinion,” Alan replied.
“But their opinion is what counts.”
“Not necessarily,” Alan told me in a soothing tone. “I don’t need that job. We’re doing well enough. . . .”
How selfish could a woman be? I thought. Of course Alan didn’t “need” the job. But he deserved it. He had earned it with his talent and his own hard work. If I stood in his way, now, he might never mention it again—knowing my husband, I didn’t think he would—but I wondered if he’d ever be able to forgive me in his heart. Or if I would ever be able to forgive myself.”
“I’ll phone Father Keller,” I said.
“I’ll tell him that you’ll sign those papers. That both of us will. I’ll beg him to marry us.” Alan looked at me gravely. “Are you sure?”
“Yes. Very sure.”
“I think it’s for the best,” he told me. “The job is the least of it. Forgetting all about the job, I think it’s for the best. ”
And maybe he was right, I thought later after I’d made the phone call. It was true that I felt a sense of peace then that I hadn’t felt since that awful night with my parents.
I was weary after having spoken to the father and I decided to go to bed early. Alan had some reports to finish so I left him and went to my room. I undressed and remembered that I left a book I was reading outside. I put on a robe and went to get it. That was my mistake. For as I opened the bedroom door, I could hear my husband talking on the phone.
“Yes. It’s all right. She’s in bed.”
He was talking about me. I stood there hesitant for a moment, wondering who he was talking to.
“Yes, Father,” he was saying. “She has no idea that MacMahon had already made me a firm offer. I did hate to lie to her, but there was nothing else I could do. When the time comes, I’m sure she’ll understand.”
I crept back into the bedroom and silently closed the door. My world had crumbled about me. It was too terribly clear that I’d been made a fool of—a complete and utter fool.
I’d been tricked. My husband had lied to me in order to play on my sympathies. And, what was worse, Father Keller was a part of the lie. I remembered his sermons about honesty. About truth-telling. The hypocrite, I thought. The awful hypocrite! How could I ever trust anyone again?
But what was I to do, now? My first impulse was to run out into the parlor, shrieking that
I hadn’t been fooled after all. That I would never sign any papers. That I would never permit Father Keller to marry me. But that would be too good for them. No. I would go through with it. But on my own terms.
Father Keller wanted me to be married now, though I was nine months pregnant. He didn’t recognize the ceremony Alan and I had gone through—even though, I thought, the justice of the peace was probably not nearly the hypocrite that he was. Very well. I would get married in the whitest, most virginal wedding gown I could find!
I smiled to myself. It would be revenge. Good revenge. But how was I going to get hold of the gown? It would not be easy on short notice. Then I remembered. There was a theatrical costume shop in town. They would be able to fit me. I would tell them that I was going into an amateur role. It would be a comedy part. Some comedy!
I did it, all right. I told Alan to meet me in Father Keller’s study because I didn’t want him to see me beforehand. He wasn’t suspicious—no more than I had been at his story—and he decided to humor me. So I walked into the study: The pregnant bride!
But when I entered, I saw that the father and Alan were not alone. Mom and Dad were there, also. Mom did not look well. She had lost much weight and her face was thin. She had a smile on her face as I entered, however. Then she saw my costume and the smile faded into horror. She fainted. Collapsed on the worn carpet of the priest’s study.
Dad ran to her. He rubbed her wrists and helped her up. He gave me a look of disgust and led her away.
“That was a terrible thing to do,” Father Keller told me, sternly. “It was a cruel and unkind thing to do.”
I began to sob. “What about what you did? What about the trick that you and Alan tried to play on me?”
“Ach. . . . So you found out?”
“I see,” my husband said, quietly.
“Well,” the priest said, shaking his head. “That’s what comes of lying. I suppose it was my fault for allowing it. But . . . it was in a good cause and I might even allow it, again.”
“What cause?” I demanded. “Making certain that my child will be raised the way you want?”
“No, young lady. Not that.” He paused, heavily. “Your husband didn’t want you to know this before you gave birth. He thought the news might upset you. But with his permission, I’m going to tell you now.”
“Go ahead,” Alan said.
“Tell me what?” I asked, frantically.
“It’s your mother. She’s a very sick woman. A cancer is eating away at her and she doesn’t have much longer to live. Alan felt it would he a kindness to let her see you married properly.”
The earth rocked beneath me. I only wished that the ground would open up and swallow me.
“But. . . .” I wailed. “I didn’t know. . . .”
“I suppose you didn’t,” the father said “But the damage is done, now. And perhaps you’d better leave. It’s a weakness in me, I know, but I don’t feel in the mood to perform a marriage, right now. I don’t feel joyful enough.” Alan took me home.
For the rest of that week, he was kind and considerate toward me—but he was withdrawn. And all my tears and beseechings could not break through that withdrawal.
Then the pains began. It was time to go to the hospital.
Afterward when he saw me with the baby in my arms Alan smiled at me the way he once had. I promised him, then—I swore by everything I held sacred—that I would beg Father Keller to forgive me and to perform the sacrament of our marriage. Of course he performed it. And I began to attend church, again.
It was not that easy with my parents. Mom was in the hospital, now, and Dad had left orders for me not to be permitted to enter her room. I tried to call him on the phone, but he would not speak to me.
Then one Sunday, we were both in church together. Father Keller came out after the service and took us both into his study. After a while, Dad agreed to let me go with him to the hospital. Mom was clearly dying, then, but I think she found a little happiness from seeing us together.
Dad and I see each other now. He comes over to our house to play with his grandson. There is still a gulf between us, but I don’t believe it’s unbridgeable.
I wonder if any gulf between humans really is.
Copyright © 1969, 2012 by BroadLit