90 years ago today, Elbridge Hutchinson McLean and Doris Horton Dennison were married in Portland, Maine. He, despite his tremor from being gassed in France, where he’d been a motorcycle dispatch rider and horse-drawn ambulence driver. She, despite watching her first fiance die of tuberculosis after they both graduated from art school. Both were much older than the average newlyweds, but that happened in war time.
February 14, 1922 was very probably a colder Valentine’s Day than the one we’re having. The world was recovering from World War I; my grandparents lived in the time of Downton Abbey and courted through written notes asking for chaperoned dates. The fact that she was 29 and he was 31 probably still did not allow them much alone time.
They married and the artist became a mother in a small mill town in the western Maine mountains. The family celebrated their 50th anniversary on Valentine’s Day in 1972. It was my senior year in high school and I was a newly-minted romantic, being firmly in love with one of my small town’s “bad boys” that my McLean grandparents thought very handsome and polite, but a little wild. I was sure I would marry him and we, too, would have 50 years of overall happiness, while suffering through tragedies together as my grandparents had.
I never heard my grandfather speak a single disrespectful word of or to my grandmother. It had been his idea to marry on Valentine’s Day and I believe he loved and respected her all his life. My grandmother made crisp sugar cookies and soft boiled eggs and oatmeal for his breakfast every morning for 50 years; she was of a generation that showed her love through care and cooking. She never tutted over him, but always firmly told us what would please Grandfather,which is what we were expected to do. She liked petunias; he grew petunias. He liked a simple yellow cake with fudge frosting; it was in the pantry weekly.
She wore a dress and stockings (not panty hose) almost every time I saw her. He wore string ties. She washed, he wiped. He was the one who scrubbed the kitchen floor. She was the one who made sure the cream on the top of the milk bottle was saved for his coffee. Their mutual affection and care for each other is still an example for me of what a long marriage means. Mammie and Grandfather, I remember: Love is a verb. It’s an action word. Thank you.