The road they lived on was full of old people. People who had lived in the same houses all their married lives, raised their families in there, become a tight little community. Many of these family homes now only had a widow living in them, but nobody wanted to move away, because this was where their friends were.
I remember thinking that nobody seemed to have a first name. Even after forty years living as neighbours they still called each other "Mrs Lawrence" or "Mrs Langston", at least, in front of us grandkids.
My grandfather was kind of the general handyman and errand runner for all the old ladies in the area, especially as the husbands grew frailer and passed away. He'd dig the gardens, fetch their shopping, wash their windows -- mostly because my grandmother told him to. Grandad was tough as old boots and fit as a fiddle, but he was so under Gran's thumb...
Gran would cook him lunch at midday and dinner at seven every day without fail, and he in return, would make cups of tea for the old biddies who came in to gossip and run down into town to pick up whatever bits and pieces they all needed, slipping into the betting shop on the way home to have a flutter, even though he knew that when he got home Gran would nag and scold him unmercifully about being late, and wasting his money.
He seldom got a word in edgeways, but when I was there, he would shrug his shoulders at me and throw me a cheeky wink, as she listed his faults for him for about the twentieth time that day. He was the model of a hen-pecked husband. I always assumed he must be more or less miserable and that he ran the errands to get out of her way. After fifty years, I kind of figured that the marriage was a habit.
Then, just a couple of months after I got married, Gran had a massive heart-attack and died. Because my husband and I lived just an hours drive away, we got into the habit of visiting Grandad for tea every Sunday, and I found him very changed. He talked all the time, told us stories of his boyhood unceasingly, almost as if finally he was allowed to talk, and so he couldn't stop himself. He was always animated and cheerful, but he never talked about anything after his marriage.
I watched him get thinner with every week that passed, and began to wonder if he ate at all on any day but Sunday. We started bringing him hampers of easy to prepare food when we came, and the next week the food was gone, but Grandad just kept getting thinner. He never seemed unhappy, but the fitness went, and he faded into a very talkative shadow.
Less than a year after Gran died he went into hospital. He never really came out. He lingered for another few months in nursing homes -- long enough to see my daughter born and baptised, joining the family for Christmas, but every day he slipped further away.
When I hear someone say "I can't live without you", I think of Grandad. He'd never have said that, he wasn't that kind of man, didn't have that kind of extravagance in his nature, but it was true. For all the nagging and bullying and bossing around, he simply wasn't capable of living without Gran. I guess that I was wrong about the marriage.