People got married all the time in the late 1950’s, and I just figured that people always got married. Right there in the beginning of our story (in the Bible, at least), it says “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”
Funny thing is that when you read Genesis there aren’t any fathers or mothers around yet, just Adam and Eve (people don’t even know if Adam and Eve had belly buttons). And the explanation of what a guy and girl do – leave, cleave, be one flesh – was about as specific as dad’s answer to my questions about what marriage was. And the word marriage isn’t there either, but that’s what they were doing – everybody knows that.
Marriage was the fancy word to talk about the ceremony and what makes it formal – you know, official and all. The titles people get when they get married, becoming husband and wife, are about what they get to do to each other, the “they shall be one flesh” thing (you get to go to the wedding ceremony, but nobody is supposed to see the couple become one flesh, if you know what that means).
It is the cleaving part that makes marriage different from prostitution and just sex, and most people think that Genesis also tells us that this leave and cleave thing is also about monogamy and almost explicitly eliminates polygamous and polyandrous unions (the problem is that when you keep reading the Bible nobody who is anybody, absolutely nobody, has just one wife, and no wife had more than one husband). The idea is that marriage is about exclusiveness, one guy and one girl, together, always, only. Anything else is, well, just not done.
The whole question of marriage really took on importance since the nineteenth-century because of evolution and people wondered aloud, for the first time in civilized circles, whether humans were like (other) animals who just screwed-around, made babies, and died alone.
It was either this or we always got married. And smart people with French names who were called anthropologists tried to figure out the relationship between sex and economics (not that, but common property, homesteads and family trees).
Turns out that most people got married, and only uncivilized tribes didn’t (that’s what made people civilized or uncivilized, so of course the definition fit the description). Even Darwin tended to agree that males and females paired-up, even if they didn’t always stay together, both of them usually wound-up pairing-up with another partner. But, then, Darwin married his own cousin.
There was one really funny thing anthropologists told us about: polyandry, that is, a woman with several husbands. The typical primitive deviation of monogamy was the harem thing with a sultan, king, or stud with a stable of phillies, but there were stories about how in the good old days some Arabs, Aborigines, Thibetans, New Zealanders, and, of course, the Hottentots had really rich and powerful women who kept more than one husband. (We always heard about the Hottentots – it was a fun word to say, even for adults.)
Sometimes it was a fraternal thing with the husbands being called brothers (but even then there was always an older brother who was the chief husband, even if he wasn’t the chief). So the woman was actually married to one family, not to just a bunch of different guys; this sort of thing is even in the Bible where if a man dies the brother has to marry his sister-in-law and keep the family name going (which always seemed weird). But nobody believed that polyandry was ever normal or more than a passing fad like when there were a lot more men than women in a culture, or in a culture where women were in charge – a Sadie Hawkins kind of thing.
Even Sadie Hawkins day wasn’t always around; it came from a Li’l Abner comic strip in 1937 and Sadie was “the homeliest gal in the hills” who was tired of waiting for guys to ask her for a date. So Sadie’s big shot dad in Dogpatch, Hekzebiah Hawkins, decreed the first annual Sadie Hawkins Day because he was afraid that his ugly daughter would never leave his home. The event of Sadie Hawkins Day was a footrace in which the unmarried girls chased the town’s unmarried guys and when caught they had to get married. It became an empowering rite in high schools and colleges long before women started burning their bras (that’s a way of saying that the whole feminist movement was the result of Al Capp’s cartoon, Li’l Abner).
And everybody knows about the alternative – polygamy, and that means many marriages. But even though everybody knew about it, not everybody did it (the Greeks and Romans didn’t, but that’s probably because the men had concubines, otherwise known as sex slaves, although some Muslims still have the concubine thing going).
The only civilized people who were polygamous were those wacky Mormons in Utah and they said that God told Joseph Smith to do it in 1841 – it wasn’t even optional, it was a requirement from God. Smith’s chief apostle, Bringham Young (who’s favorite quote was supposedly, ‘I don’t care how you bring ‘em, as long as you bring ‘em young’), said “Some of my brethren know what my feelings were at the time Joseph revealed the doctrine; I was not desirous of shrinking from any duty, nor of failing in the least to do as I was commanded, but it was the first time in my life that I had desired the grave, and I could hardly get over it for a long time. And when I saw a funeral, I felt to envy the corpse its situation, and to regret that I was not in the coffin, knowing the toil and labor that my body would have to undergo; and I have had to examine myself, from that day to this, and watch my faith, and carefully meditate, lest I should be found desiring the grave more than I ought to do.”
You know he was either lying or the most truthful man ever born; either he was really, really happy about having to have a harem and just didn’t want to seem too excited about it, or he really thought all his wives would kill him (but what a way to die).
I think he was lying because Bringham had twenty-seven wives, the first was sweet eighteen-year old Miriam Works when he was twenty-two and the last (but not necessarily the least) was a perky little twenty-three year old Ann Eliza Webb when Bringham was sixty-six (that old dog).
That was about the average age of his brides – in their early twenties (two were in their forty’s, but three or four were closer to sweet-sixteen). That also meant that he had a whole bunch of kids – fifty-seven or so (you see, he wasn’t too morbid about his conjugal privileges after all). He had his troubles too; like his last wife who divorced him, and he married six of Joseph Smith’s widows when Joseph was killed in 1844 (not all at once, he spaced them out over five years…how many honeymoons can a guy handle!). He never had more than nineteen wives at one time (look who was killing whom!).
But most guys can’t afford more than one wife, so most in cultures guys are faithful because they are poor (that’s the sex-economics thing anthropologists were talking about). Either that or the guy is a hound and just can’t wake-up next to the same girl every morning until death to us part. Nobody got divorced in The Hills in the 1950’s, just like nobody got divorced on television (although the divorce rate in Hollywood was off the charts and everyone knew this but attributed it to the indulgent lifestyle of show business or just living in California which people in The Hills called the land of fruits and nuts and then laughed at their pun). Nobody who was normal got divorced, or at least nobody talked about it.
Mrs. Green, our next door neighbor was not normal like this, but I didn’t know that for a few years. Mr. Green was around for a couple of years when I was a kid, but he lived in the basement of his own house (which I thought was neat, but mom said I couldn’t move into the basement).
After Mr. Green wasn’t around anymore, Mrs. Green would come over on Saturday’s asking for help with something around the house – a stopped up sink or a leaking washer or a window that was stuck. Mom would always make me go with dad and that was fine because I would get a cookie (but they were always out of a package or box, not like mom’s and homemade).
She was always grateful, she’d say to dad, and a couple of times she was angry about having to have someone else unclog the sink or clean leaves out of a gutter, but she wasn’t made because she wished she knew how to do cool things like that. She said things about Mr. Green or about money, or about lacking both. And when mom and dad had cocktail parties, Mrs. Green was always invited and sometimes she’d dance with someone else’s husband, and one time with someone else’s wife. But all I knew was that Mrs. Green was alone even though she was still a Mrs.