My Grandparents’ Secret

I wrote a post on my blog about my Grandad recently. But I didn’t write about my other Grandad: my Dad’s father.
I didn’t know him that well, I was nine when he died. He wasn’t very old when he passed away but years of ill health made him seem elderly. I can recall he had a shock of white hair and a walking stick. He didn’t say much.
After he died, my Grandma came to stay with us a lot. She lived 250 miles away and was lonely. She always got on well with her daughter-in-law, my Mum. During her stays with us she told Mum some things she hadn’t told anyone.
My Grandparents were married shortly before the Second World War. Grandpa served in the War, I don’t know what he did but he was away from home a lot like most men of his generation. During the War and afterwards their children were born.
Grandpa’s family were wealthy (I don’t know where the money ended up, not on our side of the family!) and apparently it was considered that he’d married beneath him. According to my Grandma the War changed him. Once returning from the War, he had a number of affairs which she knew about. Then he fell in love with another woman. A few weeks before my Dad was born, Grandpa told my Grandma he was leaving her. Devastating for her and even more shocking in 1950 than now.
Grandma was desperate. She already had young children. She’d never worked because most women of her generation didn’t. She was a housewife and Grandpa earnt the money. It was a very traditional household.
The family were religious. Grandma did the only thing she felt she could do. She told senior members of their Church about my Grandpa’s affair and how he was planning to leave her. Shortly after this he was taken to one side and told he must end his affair and be loyal to his wife for the rest of his life. I’m not sure what the threat was, maybe it was public humiliation or excommunication of some sort. Whatever it was, Grandma’s tactic worked. Grandpa left his mistress and stayed with his wife.
For the next 35 years my Grandparents stayed together in an unhappy marriage. And Grandpa sulked for the rest of his life. He hardly ever said a word to anyone. His ill health was probably brought on by years of unhappiness.
I feel sorry for my Grandma, she spent most of her life with a man she knew didn’t love her. I can understand why she did what she did. Being a single mum these days is hard enough, to have done it in the early fifties would have been extremely difficult. The social stigma would have been intolerable. And Grandma would have struggled to support herself. She’d had a limited education. She’d been groomed to be someone’s wife, never to work or be independent.
I feel sorry for my Grandpa too. Clearly the marriage wasn’t meant to work out. But in those days marriages were expected to last for life. He’d made a mistake and he’d fallen in love with someone else. Not ideal. But he was only human. He suffered for it. Both of my Grandparents suffered.
How different times were then and how lucky that these days women have a few more choices. It’s never easy when a family breaks down but at least we’re more accepting of it now. And there’s a bit more help.
I don’t know why my Mum told me this story. I don’t think she’s told many people. She didn’t tell my Dad because Grandma didn’t want him to know. My parents aren’t together any more. And my Dad still doesn’t know the truth behind his parents’ marriage. This is why I chose to publish this post here.

1 Response to “My Grandparents’ Secret”

  1. 1 Its a Mummy's Life February 3, 2010 at 10:55 am

    It’s amazing how different it was in those days. Marriages stayed together because of shame or misguided sense of what was ‘right’. My granny settled for second best because her true love was killed early in the war. I think times were very hard then. Thanks for sharing the story.

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