When I got engaged to my husband at the age of 23, Nana gave me some advice. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in the kitchen at Tremont, my grandparents home in Barbados, sitting at the table. Nana, 83 at the time, was standing in front of the bright orange cutlery drawer, wearing one of her cotton sleeveless house dresses that kept her cool. How the subject came up I now cannot remember, a detail far less relevant than what she had to say. Having known Papa for 10 years before and being 28 when they got married, I figured Nana would be the one person to listen do. One might expect to hear from a matriarch advice along the lines of ‘give and take’, kindness, love, respect for each other, or even teamwork or compromise. Not Nana. She said three very specific words.
Train. Them. Well. I laughed and filed it. Oh Nana! Sounded like something a drill sergeant might say. Yet I would never forget these words. Somehow they got absorbed into my belief system about what a successful relationship should be based on. Well, according to Nana anyways.
As a homemaker pretty much her whole life, Nana was Commander-in-Chief. To say that Nana was strong, stubborn, determined, opinionated and empowered would be an understatement. Those are compliments. If Nana liked you, you were golden. If she didn’t, you were flat out of luck. She knew everything that was happening in the family at any given time. If she ever told you something that you did not agree with, you would no sooner find out that Nana was right all along. Nine times out of ten. Or was it ten? She would also let her opinions be known. Nana was good at opinions. Funny too.
I never forget when Nana and Papa got a new gardener to help them out at Tremont. One day, shortly after he started working, he showed up for work drunk. It was morning time. Nana looked the gardener straight in the eye and said: “You drunk already?” From that day on, Nana refused to call the gardener by his name. Nana called him Drunkalready. To his face. He loved it. He worked for my grandparents for years. Nana was like that. She could be fierce and opinionated but everyone respected her. She always told it as she saw it.
My husband and I have now been married for 20 years and whenever we get invited to a wedding, or are asked by anyone what the secret to a good marriage is, I wink at Tony, lean in to the conversation and say:
“Well I can only tell you the advice my grandmother gave me. She said to…. Train. Them. Well”. Then we all have a good laugh.
As I started working on this story I thought I would Google the term “train them well” to see where perhaps Nana might have come up with such a philosophy. Instead of finding the lyrics to an old song, a speech from the Queen perhaps, or some other bit of trivia to help me, I found this quote by Sir Richard Branson:
“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to”. I don’t want to speculate but I believe Sir Richard is referring to his business philosophy about training people/employees to foster loyalty and respect. I am also certain Sir Richard would never call one of his employees “Drunkalready“. But I have no doubt that Nana would have liked him.
That quote got me thinking about what advice I want to give our children. Make no mistake, a relationship is serious business. A lot is at stake, physically, mentally and emotionally. Divorce is a 50/50 chance these days. Marriages that last 65 years like my grandparents are not easy to come by. Kids getting married today are going to need all the help they can get. So if I can respect both Branson and Nana’s philosophy and marry them together, my relationship advice for my own children might very well be:
“Train each other well enough so you both can be independent,
treat each other well enough so you both want to stay together.”
To this day I reflect on Nana’s advice. I am still trying to get to the root of what she meant. I think I am getting closer though. There is a familiar saying: behind every good man is a better woman. Could this be it? I wish I could ask her now. Was it that men needed a woman’s guidance? A leader? To be told what to do? A Commander-in-Chief? I mean, I never really thought of Nana as a feminist. As a homemaker for well over six decades, she did not exactly fit the mold. Her advice at the time did not seem like equality. What her advice sounded like was an ambitious rebellion to the archaic notion of show them who wears the pants. The opposite of playing second fiddle. Definitely not boring. Something I am beginning to realize a “nasty woman” might say. And that’s a compliment, in case you have not been following the news.