Saturday, June 10, 2017

Times change; so should our customs

A CLARIFICATION: My aunt, Christine, insists that her mother (also my grandmother) was actually 15 years old at the time of her marriage in 1935. Not that the difference in fact changes the larger point I was trying to make.


I couldn’t help but reflect upon New York state altering its laws that relate to the age of consent for marriage.
My grandmother was a 14-year-old bride

Assuming that Gov. Andrew Cuomo doesn’t change his mind and decide to use his “veto” pen, the “Empire State” will soon require that people be at least 17 if they wish to get married.

THAT COMPARES TO the current status, where Noo Yawkers could get married as young as 14 if they had proper parental consent.

It sounds primitive. It sounds backward. It brings to mind the images of people who value a woman’s place so little that they figure her only worth is as a wife – so why wait?!? Marry her at 14, she can have the first of many babies by the time she’s 16, and if it turns out she can cook, then she’s the perfect mate for some guy.

I have read assorted comments on the Internet from people who are astounded that such a practice was ever permitted, and others who are merely astonished that such thoughts continued to exist in the 21st Century – even if just on paper.

Yet I also have to confess that my maternal grandmother, Socorro Salas, was just such a bride. She was 14 on that day nearly nine decades ago that she was wed to Miguel Vargas – my maternal grandfather who himself arrived in this country from Mexico in 1926 when he was 17 and a few years later was a young man working in the steel mills that used to exist on Chicago’s South Side.

AS IF THE age wasn’t an old-world-enough factor, consider too that it technically was an arranged marriage. It was felt that my grandfather had become established enough in life to think about taking a wife and having a family.

Even though my grandmother was the one of my four grandparents to actually be born in this country (her parents were the immigrants from Mexico at the end of the 19th Century), there was enough of the ethnic sentiment to have her settle down with a respectable Mexican man so they could have their life together.

Which they did, living for many years in the South Chicago neighborhood until they eventually moved up economically, first to the South Shore neighborhood, then to the suburbs of Calumet City, then Lansing, where they lived at the time of my grandfather’s death in 1978 (I was not quite 13 back then).
My grandparents on the occasion of the birth 73 years ago Friday of twin siblings, including my mother, Jenny -- who were children number four and five out of eight

In short, they lived “til death did they part.”

THEY HAD A lasting marriage of nearly 50 years – a partnership that resulted in eight children (including my mother, Jenny, who was one of the twins born 73 years ago Friday).

They fought. They quarreled. They bickered. Yet they were a couple with mutual respect, and I remember my grandmother never did get over my grandfather’s death – mourning until her own demise three years later.

In short, married at 14 wasn’t a disaster for her. Even though they didn’t encourage it for their own children (they actually thought my mother’s marriage to my father at age 20 was too young).

Yet I’m also realistic enough to know that none of the young couples who took advantage of New York’s permissive age requirements are anything like my grandparents.

IN ALL LIKELIHOOD, anybody considering getting married that young today is likely only doing so because of a pregnancy and some desire on their part to put up the appearance of a “happy family.” Meaning it’s likely they’ll never evolve into such circumstances.

And at that age, they likely never will become anything like the appearance of respectability that they’re trying to put forth.

Of course, this would be theoretical in Illinois – where the age now for marriage is 18, or as low as 16 if for some reason the parents do offer their consent.

So call it a step in the right direction that New York got with the program – although to tell you the truth, even a 17-year-old is a tad young to be married off. Somehow, I suspect even my grandparents would agree if they were still amongst us today.


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