Why essayist June Grant never got married
Special to CBC Radio
This essay was originally broadcast in 2001. For years, June Grant was a regular voice on the program, who contributed her utterly original take on the cosmos, poetry, solitude and the human condition. She died in June 2014 at 88.
It's amazing how often a single woman is asked the question: how come you never married? Especially a woman of my generation, because when I was young having a husband was so vital (socially and financially).
Most of the girls I grew up with married the first man who "proposed to them. I didn't. I've lived my whole life outside the "magic ring". Partly because "till death do us part" seemed too much to promise.
I'd start thinking about how quickly I kept outgrowing books, for example. What would happen if I came to the last page of a husband? Could I still love certain things about him, put him on a shelf with his special paragraphs marked for re-reading, then go off by myself in a different, more mysterious direction? Me? A nice Catholic girl of the 1940s? Not a chance.
There was also a deeper reason, one I never spoke about even to my friend Marge. I wanted to live alone and learn to provide for myself, because depending on someone else was too dangerous. That was a lesson I learned from the Great Depression of the 1930s, which hit my family hard.
Mother, for example, had never even made a cup of tea in her life, but during those years she learned how to soak a lot more than a tea-bag. I can still see her washing our sheets in the bathtub, using a broom-handle to swirl them around.
And things went from bad to worse when my father was suddenly paralyzed by a stroke.
One day soon after that I went downtown to Birks with my mother. She had an appointment to sell her engagement ring. I remember vividly the evaluator she dealt with - his sensitivity and courtesy. It was as if I knew a whole new world was taking shape, in which sensitivity and courtesy would be in short supply.
When the deal was done, the two of us went to Woolworth's for their 25 cent luncheon special.
I noticed my mother kept her left glove on, and I wanted to say, "Does your hand feel cold? Let me hold it."
But I didn't; in our family we never discussed reality. Unpleasant things were politely ignored, like a faux-pas at a dinner party. But something in me was howling: I never want an engagement ring, or a husband, or a family. Never.
"And so," says my sensible friend Marge, la widow: "were you any better off working in an office year after year?"
"Well don't forget, Marge, I had a lot of freedom after hours. I had freedom to run off with Tennyson's "Ulysses" and "Follow knowledge like a sinking star/Beyond the utmost bounds of human thought."
I had time to delve into the spiritual insights of the East, which can transform a life. And I even discovered a little-known woman poet, whose words still make me grateful for every quiet moment where "When I am alone, envy me then/For I have better friends than women and men."