She adjusted his tie before they walked out the door. They were on their way to their 50th wedding anniversary party. Their son Robert was there to pick them up since both her and her husband hadn’t driven in many years. Evelyne is a petite woman. When she was young she was beautiful and fashionable. It was very important for her to keep her figure. She had a tendency to be on the chubby side. This was unacceptable. Early on she began eating like a bird. For lunch, only ever soup and half of a sandwich and in the summer a few slices of cucumber with a light sprinkling of salt. She held her egg sandwich with both hands, taking one small bite after the other and chewing it slowly.
Tonight she wore her winter green calf length wool skirt with a lovely white chiffon blouse and a white cardigan trimmed with lace. Her husband, Thomas, wore a steel grey tweed jacket with a burgundy tie that had very small white polka dots on it and rubber overshoes to cover up his black leather loafers.
They make their way to the car and Robert helps them in. It's a short drive to the small community hall their kids had rented for the party. They have been to many events in this hall. Weddings, baby showers, new year’s eve parties, church teas and funerals. She glances over at Thomas and he seems calm and content.
This wasn’t the case three hours ago. Thomas has been suffering from Alzheimer's for the past 2 years and his sickness brings on fits of anger. There was an episode that day but things were better now.
Thomas had been, in his youth, what Evelyne always described as strong willed. It had faded as he got older. But now the more he got sick the more it became like it had been in the early days of their life together. She didn’t talk about it much. Evelyne loved Thomas.
It wasn’t always easy being his wife. A few months after their first born, Marcel, arrived she remembers asking their neighbour Marguerite to come watch him, then walking over to the tavern in the village, sitting down at the bar and demanding that the bar keep go get her husband. In those days women were not allowed to be in taverns. Thomas may have been strong willed but he married a very stubborn woman. She was sometimes blamed for being too rigid. He came home that evening but there were many other times after that when he didn’t. Thomas wasn’t a bad man. He didn’t hit Evelyne. He cooked and cleaned which was virtually unheard-of at the time. He spoiled her with gifts. But, he didn’t speak much and was extremely strict. Nothing out of place, nothing too loud. He was hard on himself and others. One stern look and you froze in your tracks. And when he did speak his words were often sharp.
Evelyne was strong and preferred keeping her head up high rather than being pitied even if she knew that everyone knew about his visits to the tavern.
As he got older and grandchildren began filling the house, he softened. Still didn’t talk much and he was still strict but he made preserves and always had snacks ready that he took out much faster than she ever did. He played pichenotte and gave the children empty pop bottles for their trips to the corner store to buy candy.
Evelyne stayed stern as she got older. She had been a housewife yes, but she had also, for a time, been head cook at a small radar army base near her village. You see they lived near the nickel capital of the world and Canada thought that if the enemy ever made it over the ocean and attacked, her town would be a target. She ran that kitchen and the entire staff to her most efficient standards, which were incidentally very high. She raised her boys. She also liked to have a drink and did, often. She did what she needed to do.
For Evelyne hiding behind judgment and snobbery over the years ensured that her walls were high and her house was solid. But through the window she could see that Thomas was the patriarch, the one who kept his family together. They admired the qualities which in her they reproached. Even with all of the old grudges they both kept alive from the old days that pushed so many friends and family away, they somehow lived on her shoulders alone. The family was able to see past his faults. They turned to him for the New Year’s day blessing and last year when he just wasn’t up to doing it she stepped in and everyone cried. She did too.
Now, sitting at the front of their community hall at a long table with the oldest grandchildren next to them the toasts began. Fifty years of marriage is something to celebrate. They toasted longevity and love. They talked about how lovely Evelyne and Thomas were when they danced and how they hope to find what they have one day. They talked about Thomas’s quiet wisdom and Evelyne’s elegance. They patted them on the back for being pillars of their community; Thomas as a "Chevaliers de Colomb" and Evelyne as a "Dames auxiliaires". That’s what the wives of the Knights of Columbus were called; auxiliary, ally and partner sure but still also subordinate, accessory, auxiliary. They admired Thomas’ way of dotting on his wife. They were truly both an inspiration.
Thomas said a few words. Evelyne was happy that he was feeling good. Finally when it was her turn she spoke for a minute or so, but not much longer. She said she felt very lucky, she was. She said she loved her husband very much, she did. She didn’t mention the drinking.