Henry and Lydia Gudz are the picture of a dedicated and long-lasting couple. They are humble and community-oriented and have never lived outside Winnipeg's North End. They favour routine and simple living with an occasional treat, whether that's an after dinner liqueur or a vacation once a year.
This December they are achieving something today's couples will likely never experience; modern living simply does not accommodate it. They are celebrating 70 years of marriage. It is literally the last recognized anniversary, the platinum anniversary.
Henry and Lydia are my grandparents. They are 93 and 89 respectively.
Growing up in Winnipeg, I would get excited for sleepover weekends at their house on Bannerman Avenue. After both of them read the Winnipeg Free Press, Grandpa would check on the neighbours and Grandma would bake "butergleiss" (matzo balls) and "burrucks" (meat buns).
They taught my sister and me to play games like "shut-the-box" and the national German card game Skat (31). If Skat prompted my mild fixation with Blackjack, they taught me how to bet moderately, wagering only a nickel a round.
I'm the second oldest of four granddaughters. I live in Toronto now, along with my older sister. Both of us, in our 30s, are unmarried. Our cousins, both in their 20s, live in Winnipeg, They are also unmarried.
This is our norm. Marriage means something very different to women and men today. The societal pressure to marry, while still strong, is not what it once was. Heterosexual marriage is not the only option. Marriage is not necessarily forever.
Henry and Lydia wed on December 19, 1942 after Henry persistently courted Lydia. My grandmother had an outgoing personality and movie-star good looks. My grandfather was a tall, charming and naturally good-humoured man.
They were married just before he was to return to duty in the armed forces. Henry served in the RCAF as a navigator on a flight crew that searched the North Atlantic for German U-boats. "Gudzy" as he was known by his air force buddies, lost partial hearing during the war effort and has since worn a hearing aid. After he left the air force, he went into sales at various companies, such as the former Ashdown's Hardware. Gudzy still knows how to charm a lady (or a fella!) and sell any one on a good deal.
Before and after the war, Lydia threw herself into volunteer work with the kind of passion characteristic of humanitarians. Starting as a schoolgirl, she was the president of the Red Cross club at Isaac Newton School. Throughout high school, marriage, and the birth of her two sons, Donald and Howard, she worked a variety of clerical jobs to support her family and has not stopped volunteering her time to this day.
The Gudz family was small, but my grandparents extended their circle with hundreds of friends from their activities at Christ Lutheran Church, Centennial Pool and other seniors clubs they were active in. They did all their social activities together — even teaching underprivileged children how to swim for more than 20 years.
Theirs was an interdependence I could understand even at an early age. Grandma cooked, Grandpa did the dishes. Grandpa drove and took care of the car and outdoor chores, Grandma did the laundry.
Rarely did they speak ill of each other. There was no name-calling. They were able to laugh at each other's foibles but also take healthy space from each other. Grandma would watch her favourite shows, such as Murder She Wrote and Magnum P.I. (Grandma has a not-so-secret crush on Tom Selleck), while Grandpa watched the Jets or Major League Baseball in the basement.
My grandparents don't like to fuss or get fancy, but they are two of the most open-minded seniors you'll ever meet. When I came out to them as a 21-year-old, they barely batted an eye. "We love you and just want you to be happy" was their immediate response. They made sure to inquire about my girlfriend every time we spoke.
My cousin has felt their acceptance most recently, as she is currently in an inter-generational relationship that has raised eyebrows -- but not my grandparents' eyebrows. Sure, we all get the occasional nudge to have a baby soon, but all us granddaughters can say they respect our choices for romantic partners.
When you live as long as Henry and Lydia have, you experience much joy but maybe even more heartache. They still carry the weight of outliving their eldest son, my father Donald Gudz, who died of cancer at 59. It's a pain that doesn't go away. Every week, another friend is lost, and there's another funeral to go to.
I like to believe that the Golden Boy, who faces the North End, has been an angel of sorts, keeping watch on them. His lit flame and body in forward motion is an inspiring symbol of persistence to keep carrying on, even in dark times. This is what my grandparents do.
Henry and Lydia will be celebrating with family on the big day in Winnipeg, then flying east two days later to spend Christmas in Toronto. At their age, they recognize that travel is risky and very taxing, however spending time with their granddaughters has been on their wish list since their last visit seven years ago.
It was a privilege to grow up with a strong example of balance in a relationship. Not relationship bliss, just balance. They taught me to develop humility through service to the community; taught me the importance of lasting friendships; and perhaps most of all, that loving a partner well, for as long as you can, is one of the greatest things to strive for in this world.
None of us granddaughters will reach the platinum anniversary, but we are all richer for seeing the character it takes to get there.