The Couple

 

What is it I wonder that makes up true love?  Opposites attract, similarities make co-existence more comfortable.  Perhaps we can say the binding energy in a faithful love match is composite trust, confidence and oneness with no secrets unless it is about things which could never threaten the bond; that union of spirits which survives any material upset.

 

She came from a family of nine, a close family where loyalty was the unspoken determiner of behaviour.  The father was a stern good man, a farm labourer and a road worker, a man known for integrity and straightforwardness a man who believed in the intrinsic value of work and the uncomplicated worth of those who performed it to the best of their ability.  But a man too who always had time for his children, children who returned his love for them by their life-long respect for what he stood for. 

 

The mother somehow managed to feed and clothe the nine from the meager weekly wage.  She was an inventive cook, managing the one-fire stove to produce on the table each night two courses of wholesome food, much of it sourced from their garden or caught in nearby fields.  Clothes were handed down or made up, rarely purchased.  But a birthday was always recognized; nine birthday cakes a year and nine presents, funds for which were drawn from the small sum put by for such purposes or against real emergency. 

When the older children went to work some return of capital to the home was expected and received and when the last had left there were still contributions to be made to pay off debts run up with local trade’s people. 

 

She was the youngest of the nine and the children enjoyed an Arcadian life.  Living then in a country town drew from limitless resources; sunshine, laughter, love and respect and although the family were poor there was always enough to go around.  Country people were inventive then, making the most out of materially very little, and the family of nine lived as one, enjoying friendships outside the group but always strongly directed to one another.  They played as a family, climbing local hills, swimming in the creek and picnicking on its banks, fishing, rabbiting, and climbing trees.  They walked everywhere together, their cheerful noisy gang a feature of the town.

 

He came from a nearby town, not so large a family but one with similar bonds and ideals.  Who knows where they met we only know they did.  Country life meant country socializing: dances, sport, and festive gatherings to celebrate anniversaries long since passed out of the calendar.  Boy met girl on those occasions and many locals found their partners along the wall of a dance hall. 

 

And so these two young people from the nearby towns married and received from her parents the clock which was the wedding gift to all the children, a sort of symbol still maintaining the family unit but welcoming a new member; eight of the children married and eight of the clocks survive.

 

They came to live in the same country town where she had lived taking a house next to the post office and opposite the police station.  The families manning both these official institutions soon became friends with the newcomers.  He like his father and hers worked on local farms but there was a spirit of independence within them both so soon there was a sideline, foxhunting and rabbit catching, which brought in welcome extra funds.  Encouraged by the success of this partial withdrawal from the strictures of farm laboring they bought a tractor and hay bailer and within a few years the family business was where the local landholders went to have their summer grass put into shedable bales. 

 

They became contractors.  He working day and night in the summer, she keeping the house and often bringing meals to the fields in the dark,  hailing the tractor as its single light bore down on her.  They had children all of whom went to school in the town as she had.

 

He had served overseas in the war so was eligible for a soldier settlement farm.  This scheme had enjoyed mixed success after the first war when prospective soldier farmers were not given enough land and then often land of poor quality.  The country could quickly forget sacrifices made in its name.  The second scheme was more generous but no less demanding and when the couple was granted a parcel of land it was a still a perilously small acreage.  Theirs was of western-district clay.

 

And so they collected up their possession and left the home town and district, leaving behind them everything they knew and had grown up with.  The spirit which had made them hay-baling contractors when they might have been expected to join the general laboring ruck had exerted itself again.

 

Life was hard on the farm, no house to start with, no fences, no grass, and no stock until the place was fenced.  They lived in the garage for a year whilst he built the fences, sowed the pasture and tended the stock once it arrived.  She managed the money, what there was of it, and made sure there was food on the table, clothes to wear, that the children were properly looked after and it was she who maintained family life.  They were a devoted couple each complementing the other, deeply in love, surviving the setbacks and enjoying successes together.

 

And so the place prospered.  Good seasons combined with good judgement and brutally hard work from them both saw a steady rise in receipts until they comfortably outranked expenditure.  A brand new car appeared, there was time to join sporting clubs and local associations.  He once referred to himself in public as a grazier and no one argued.  Like their forbears they became greatly respected members of the local community; people of integrity and hard-won good standing.

 

For some years they enjoyed the good life but their lives had inexorably moved on and it was time to ease off, retire and enjoy the fruits of their labours.  And so like their forbears, and repeating their own history, they took a house in the local town near the farm and became esteemed local townspeople. 

 

But they were to enjoy this new-found freedom for just a short time.  She became ill.  Perhaps the stresses and strains of managing on very little for so long had taken their inner toll, perhaps the long years of risk and uncertainty had damaged some vital inner mechanism.  He sat with her for two years, quiet devoted attendant, eyes filled with sad pain.  She kept on to the last; wife, confidant and partner in all things to the man she loved.  And then she died.  The union had run its material course.  He returned to the house in the country town with her ashes which occupied centre place on the mantelpiece.   She was always there with him; requited love never dies.

 

He lived in the house for two more decades: as you might expect bravely maintaining the life they had established for themselves.  His life became a memorial to what they had been through together and in everything he did he honoured the memory of that unbreakable bond which had formed between them.

 

Then he too became frail and we saw the paradox of the commander losing his way; still in control but now of imaginary forces.  He was never afraid of death and he died quietly, confident of re-union with the love of his earthly life. 

 

With the passing of the couple this world lost part of its strength; a small pulse of goodness, vitality, loyalty and love passed with them.  They leave progeny and grand progeny to keep the faith.

 

The ashes of both were loving mixed so that in death as in life they were united, and to the observer they were once again one.  And the family gathered on the banks of the local country creek where they had played as children, he in the town slightly upstream of her; the gently rippling water now as it did then mixing the fortunes of those it passed. 

The remains were cast into the water some floated immediately downstream, some remained sunken on the bottom; metaphors surely for lives which capitalized on life’s choices, but lives too which were ever governed by an irremovable love and mateship.  Both had returned to their history; that time which had formed them and brought them together and where the journey had begun.