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    What Does it Mean to Support a Marriage?

    January 12, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    There is a poignant scene in the juvenile fiction book Caddie Woodlawn. A family in the community is inter-racial. The mother is American Indian, while the father is white. The children are repeatedly called “half-breeds” throughout the book, which I’m sure is an accurate portrayal of early America.

    There isn’t officially a divorce in the book {were there officially marriages on the plains at that time anyway?}, but the father sends the mother away. The scene I can’t get out of my mind is when the mother comes to tearfully bid her children farewell, saying, “I go to my people.”

    That evening, the Woodlawn children speak to their mother about what happened. Here is her explanation:

    “You see, Mr. Hankinson married her when there were very few white people in this country. He was not ashamed of her then. But now that there are more and more of his own people coming to live here, he is ashamed that his wife should be an Indian. I daresay the massacree scare had something to do with it, too. Folks seem to hate the red men more than ever they did before. Though why they should, I can’t say. Goodness knows, the massacre was only in their own minds. But Sam Hankinson hasn’t a very strong character. Now if your father had married an Indian–“

    “Father marry an Indian?” cried Tom. “He never would!”

    “Perhaps not,” said Mrs. Woodlawn…”But if he had, you may be sure that he would never have sent her off because he was ashamed of her. No, not a good man like your father!”

    It is undeniable that some men have greater virtue than others. But something haunted me about this passage. This half-Indian family had been mentioned off and on throughout the book, and they were always treated as different–and they were. But the treatment certainly reinforced to this weak man that his marriage was a mistake.

    I got to thinking about whether or not this tragic familial disintegration might have been avoided. What would have been the result, had the white women embraced the Indian woman, inviting her to tea and teaching her to quilt {and letting her teach them to parch corn or weave, too}?

    I wonder how many times weak marriages fall apart because there was no tangible support in the community around them. I don’t mean to absolve those of poor character of their guilt in these things, but I also wonder what supporting a seemingly “wrong” marriage would look like today.

    Mixed marriages are accepted more than they used to be, but certainly not everywhere. In addition, many folks have people in their lives that they truly believe married the wrong person. Perhaps a friend or family member married too poor or too rich, into a culture that was too different, or even married outside of the faith {or simply the preferred denomination}.

    I’m not saying that differences aren’t something to be considered before the marriage in the context of pre-marital considerations. I remember once being told that similarities were like money in the bank, while differences were debts you owe. It doesn’t mean you can’t get married, but differences can take their toll, especially if they pile up high.

    But after marriage, ought not people to support the marriage as best they can? To treat the marriage like they do all other marriages? In other words, doesn’t every marriage have the right to be revered and protected by the community?

    In the context of Caddie Woodlawn, it is likely true that Mr. Hankinson became ashamed of his wife. He was a weak man, of that there is no doubt. But I also suspect that the treatment of his marriage by the other settlers reinforced in his mind that he had made a mistake and encouraged him in his decision to send away the mother of his three young children.

    Surely this is a tragedy that can be avoided.

    Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.

    I Thessalonians 5:14-15

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  • Reply Naomi January 19, 2011 at 7:27 am

    We finished Caddie Woodlawn a couple of months ago and enjoyed the book immensely. I never did go so far as to wonder about how the community or the other women might have supported their marriage so I really appreciate your thoughtful perspective. Great post! And you’ve got me thinking now…

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts January 13, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    GJ, I fear that what you say is true! I know for me reading that portion of Caddie Woodlawn was very convicting. I thought back: have I ever treated someone else’s marriage as being inferior in some way? I don’t know…but I hope not…

  • Reply GretchenJoanna January 12, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    Thank you, Brandy, for a meditation that we should all take to heart. From what I’ve seen and experienced, the kind of support that you envision is not common, but it is certainly part of the truly normal Christian life.

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