The Marriage Bed…
August 15, 2002
Just recently, Phil was admitted to Whitehorse General Hospital for a serious health situation and I spent two weeks alone in our queen-sized bed. Well, I didn’t spend the whole two weeks in it, given that my days were taken up with bringing love and comfort to my poor sick husband, cold potato sandwiches and gossip to my elderly mother, banana-nut muffins and a pair of willing hands to the Shipping/Receiving area at Mac’s, and a modicum of joy to the nice man who wanted me to help sponsor wildlife refuge in Africa. But I did try to be there by eleven PM or so and tried even harder to stay there until dawn’s early light, which comes a whole lot earlier in July than it does now that August is on the way out.
Nice, you’re saying, all that room to yourself, sleep kitty-corner if you want, quilt or no, just as you desire. Four pillows… and they’re all yours to curve over or under or even between. And you’re right. After nearly 47 years of sharing, for fourteen glorious nights that haven of rest was all mine to command.
I should have loved it, and did, for a couple of days. I could even have gotten really used to it and would have, maybe, if it weren’t for my unfortunate propensity of making a habit of things. Like, for example, the tradition of rolling into bed after sitting up reading until the house cooled off and arranging the chilly portions of my body on and around a warmly accommodating person who rouses just long enough to utter a token complaint before subsiding once again into a coma. I like waking during the night to the sound of rain on the roof and knowing that there is someone awake beside me listening to the soft pattering with the same goofy smile on his face. I like the early-morning discussion of the coming day and the comparison of minor discomforts that will decide who get the bathroom first. And I REALLY like to wake later to find he’s not only finished in the bathroom but has put the coffee on, as well.
I missed all that and I found the bed a chilly and lonely place. On occasion, of course, I have found it a chilly and lonely place even with Phil in it, have gone to bed angry and hurt and spent most of the night clinging to the very edge of my side, God forbid one part of me stray into enemy territory and touch one part of him. By morning, though, habit has usually taken a hand and we wake in the usual tangled knot symbolic of a marriage that has taken some major hits and has kept on ticking.
There are lots of jokes about the marriage bed but really, aside from some of the ridiculous antics that go on in it, there isn’t really anything too funny about it. Mostly it’s a place of peace and comfort, where a couple can often overcome all the discomforts and stresses of this fast-paced life, by simply lying comfortably aligned, cold feet against warm, until sleep claims them.
Phil tried to convince me of its charms long before he had any real right to but being of good Lutheran stock and upbringing, I was probably the most the determinedly chaste young woman he had ever encountered in a long and admittedly-successful bachelorhood. At last, he conceded the game and went to my father to ask for my hand, assuming, I suppose, that all the rest would come along with it.
“Bob,” he said, “I’d like to buy Ellen a ring.” Dad looked at him with some surprise. “A ring? Didn’t you just buy her a purse for Christmas?”
Finally, Phil was able to get across to my obtuse father that his desire to buy me a ring was a roundabout way of asking permission to marry me and after much striding up and down and lamentations about my comparative youth and consultation with my more intuitive mother, Dad agreed to our engagement. “Buy the ring,” he said and added, pragmatically, “But you don’t marry her until after the tourist season is over and you stay and run the tire shop.”
For ten very long months, while I finished school and the tourists came and went, Phil ran the tire shop and he and Dad built us a little house adjacent to the shop and close to the gas pumps. (Dad might have made a token fuss about losing one of his several daughters but he was quite exuberant about gaining a live-in pump jockey and man of all trades!) Two weeks before our October wedding, Phil had to go out to Alberta for some family business. “Do think your Dad would let you come with me?” he asked. “Yeah, right,” I hooted. “With us not married? He’d never let me go.”
“Well, I don’t see why not,” Dad replied when Phil asked. “What does her mother say?”
So there we were, after 18 hours on the road, approaching the grubby little town of High Prairie and 45 minutes from meeting the rest of Phil’s family. Vainly, I brushed at my jeans and wrinkled blouse. “Gee, I wish I could have a wash and change my clothes before we get there.”
Phil rubbed his whiskery chin. “We could stop for a little while, get a room and clean up, if you want. I could use a shave and a wash too.”
He pulled up in front of a small hotel. “High Prairie Inn,” he read out. “Sodom and Gomorrah,” I translated under my breath, then asked out loud, “How are we going to register, as Mr. and Mrs.?” I blushed even as I asked. “Sure, that would be alright.” He grinned at me. “It won’t be long before it’s true, hmm? I’ll go see if they’ve got a room.”
Moments later he came back. “Got one, but you’ll have to register, too. Just sign your own name.” We went in and over to the desk. “Here you are,” said the slight, middle-aged man behind the counter, smiling as he handed me a pen and turning the register toward me. “Just sign your own name,” Phil said again. I took the pen in my shaky hand and, taking a deep breath, firmly wrote “Ellen Davignon” in my large round schoolgirls handwriting.
The clerk handed Phil a key. “That’s room # 203, just left of the top of the stairs.” Phil took my little suitcase from my hand and we walked up that long staircase and into our room.
“Why didn’t you sign Ellen Porsild?” he asked, curiously. I gaped at him. “I thought… you said…” “I told him that you were my girlfriend and that we were just going to clean up. He’s probably wondering what the heck…” I just stared at him, suddenly so nervous and worried, I nearly wept. What on earth was that man thinking? I KNEW what he was thinking, that we had rented the room to, well, you know what he was thinking too. And there was no way I was going to let him go on thinking THAT!
I grabbed up my bag and bolted into the tiny bathroom “Its OK, Ellen, he knows we’re only going to wash and changed…” but I didn’t have time to listen. I ran about 2 inches of silty grey water into the tub, jumped in, sloshed, jumped out and rubbed the thin towel over my wet parts with one hand as I combed my hair and drew on fresh undies with the other. Then it was into clean jeans and shirt, dirty clothes in a bundle in the bag, out the door and downstairs, leaving the tub for Phil to use or empty, just as he pleased. I figured I was in that room seven minutes, tops, barely enough time to properly wash my face and comb my hair, never mind any kind of hanky-panky the clerk might be imagining. He looked over as I sat down on the edge of the small easy chair at the bottom of the stairs.
“Do you feel better?” he asked, kindly.
“Oh, yes,” I replied, blushing and perspiring as if I’d been in a race. “Very refreshed.”
I blush and perspire even now, to think of that innocent and rather naïve young girl. The miracle is that Phil didn’t leave her there in the hotel and go and find himself a woman to marry. He took me to his family, who made me welcome, then returned me, unsullied, to my father who in turn gave me back one short week later.
Phil is home now, from the hospital, far from well, but already back to work. My supper is ready when I get home in the evening after a hard day in the stacks; my bed, warm and welcoming when the house cools and my eyes are closing. It was nice for a few days to have the house and the bed all to my self but you gotta know: it’s a lot nicer with a man in it.
As Martha would tell us: It’s a GOOD thing!