Everyone makes promises, but fewer and fewer people actually mean them. This is obvious from the current number of failed marriages and single (female) parents, who make their vows before God, the state and all their friends and relatives, and then break them. Promises, it turns out, don’t mean much anymore.
And yet, where would we be if commercial promises (contracts) meant nothing, if banking promises (mortgages, loans) meant nothing and if promises between men and women (marriage) meant nothing? What kind of society would that be? The answer is it would be chaos, a calamity, a pit of despair, much like the Middle East and Africa today.
One of the reasons for Western dominance in the world, perhaps the main reason, is that most Western Europeans believe in contract law. So this is a big deal on multiple levels.
More than fifty years ago, when I received the letters you’ve been reading, things were different. Most marriage partners stayed together. Most people believed you when you made them a promise. I believed them when people made promises to me.
I certainly believed the promises Penny gave me in the Spring of 1964. Here, for example, are the promises she made in just the first ten days of April.
April 1: All my love – Forever – Pen X X X
April 3: Write soon my man, Always yours, Pen x x x, I love you
April 4: All my love, Always, Pen
April 7: Oh Frank – Frank my husband-to-be – my man, I love you with all my heart. Sleep warm. X Boo
April 8: I love you Frank, Your Penny X X
April 10: Not long now! I love you. I love you – oh yes I do! Always, Pen X X
Love always, forever, husband-to-be; it’s pretty compelling stuff, and Penny was consistent in saying so. And these weren’t the only promises she made. She also promised to marry me as soon as she got to England, whenever and wherever I liked.
I took all these promises to be gospel truth, and still, reading them today, they look as real and honest as they looked at the time. Maybe it was because my father was a United Church minister. I don’t know.
I have written elsewhere I was a naïve young man and that Penny was “sophisticated, and worldly.” Why that should be true, given that we were the same age, and both sexually active, is unclear, but it was true.
Naïve is defined as “deficient in worldly wisdom or informed judgment.” At first glance, that definition makes it sound like a bad thing. Don’t we all want “worldly wisdom?” But, on reflection, if worldly wisdom is to generally not believe someone when they make you a promise, maybe being worldly isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
I know this one thing; I meant it when I said I loved Penny and that I wanted to live with her, and support her, for the rest of my life. I made a promise and I kept up my end of the bargain.
I just thought I’d remind you if you’re reading this ‘Boo,’ somewhere in another dimension.