“She isn’t the best woman in the world, this is what I have had at the back of my mind for all these years. You know what that means? It means there are more women out there with better qualities than she has but she is the one for me and I made her who I wanted her to be.”
This was Francis Mensah-Quaintson’s answer to my first question about how he managed to stay with his wife for this long.
He is 97 and his wife, Anna Mensah-Quaintson, 92 have been married for 71 years. They have six children (four men and two women) and about thirteen grandchildren and two adorable great-grandchildren.
They live in a house with a number of their grandchildren.
Their eldest granddaughter said her grandparents are never still. “Grandpa is always walking around the house either clearing weeds in the garden with his hands or helping the guys in the house fix faulty items,” Cassandra said.
She said her grandma (Anna) used to sweep the church every morning until she became too weak to move out of the house without assistance but she still helps with the folding of clothes and cooking sometimes. She believes those activities keep her energetic.
Anna, a teacher, taught for over three decades and her husband who was a farmer have both retired. She and Francis believe those little activities keep them fit and make them feel useful.
Clad in her ‘kaba and slit,’ Anna sat in a rocking chair with a floral cushion supporting her when I entered their house. From where she sat, I could see she was quite tall and slim, her short grey hair neatly styled. Although wrinkled, her face was full of joy and amusement as she observed the children go about their duties and made comments.
She drew forth her spectacles and asked: “who is that?” as I approached.
Francis was smartly dressed and sat in another chair not far from where Anna sat. He had a fringe of grey-white hair around his balding, mottled scalp. His forehead had numerous lines and his twinkling eyes were framed by thick white eyebrows and on his stubbled chin were white whiskers.
Engaging these two amazing oldies in a conversation about their life together was a great experience.
How they met
Francis laughed when I asked him how he met Anna after an introduction by their daughter. That gave me the sense that it was probably under very interesting circumstances.
‘I met her in a village in Brong Ahafo, where my family has hundreds of acres of cocoa farms. I went there from time to time to supervise work on the farms. It was on one of those trips that I met her. The first time I saw her, she was standing in front of a blackboard with a pointer, telling the children to repeat what she said. Her piercing voice caught my attention. But it took me days to approach her. Some friends of mine had to set us up before I talked to her. I was a very shy person,’ he said.
After several days of practice, he told her he wanted to marry her and like women used to do, she asked for time to think about it. She sent for him one evening and he was so excited, thinking she was going to tell him, yes. Then to his disappointment, she said she couldn’t marry him because she had been betrothed to someone.
Did she love the person she had been betrothed to or she just did not like you? I asked Francis.
“After a little push, she told me she did not like the man she had been betrothed to because he was a musician. Anna comes from a very big family, her father was a driver and the right-hand man of the chief of their town. He had over 23 children with four different women.’
In a slow voice and stumbling on his words, he continued
‘You know in those days, musicians, bandsmen, drivers and some others were tagged womanizers. Most of them travelled a lot due to the nature of their job and as a result, some got involved with different women in almost every town they travelled to. Some had children with many different women and this made it really difficult for the innocent ones to be trusted.’
‘Anna feared her betrothed would turn out to be like her father who married her mother but had other children with three other women. But you know I was shy but I had more words to convince her to be with me,’ he said laughingly.
Francis had met some women before Anna but he said it felt different any time he was with her. He tried to see her almost every day.
“We had a special meeting place and it was under a tree close to Anna’s house. Interestingly, her father was a very strict man. He warned me once when he caught us standing under a tree one night so we changed our meeting place,” Francis recounted.
It was really great listening to him explain how he got Anna to come out of their house for their meeting each night. He said he would go close to their window and whistle with two fingers in his mouth.
“Anna came out as soon as she heard the whistle and on days when security was tight, (when her father was around or still awake) she would throw something at me from their window.
‘She accepted to marry me eventually and before I left the town, I introduced myself to her family and told them about my intention to marry her, I did what we called ‘knocking’. Her family was hesitant at the beginning but they agreed after some time.’
‘And you know those times there was nothing like mobile phones so it was really hard leaving her and going back to where I lived. I could only write her letters and it took a long time before it could be delivered. I went back as soon as I got paid that month to pay her dowry. There was no time to waste. And marriage was not as expensive as it is now. It was simple,’ Francis said.
He told Anna to stop teaching so it wouldn’t clash with her duties as a wife.
But she refused and secured a transfer to a school in Cape Coast, where she and Francis lived after their marriage.
She said the beginning of their marriage was a bit rough as Francis’ sisters were hostile to her. And their reason was that her hometown was too far. Ridiculous, isn’t it?
She said they provoked and maltreated her anytime her husband travelled out town but she never mentioned it to him. She simply did not want to tear the family apart, she indicated.
I lived with it until they realised there was little they could do about the situation and gave up.
She said when she married Francis, she wasn’t expecting a bed of roses. “Those days you couldn’t just marry anyone you or your family did not know. My family had an issue with our marriage and our family head had to come all the way to Cape Coast and inquire about his family before accepting his drink.”
She said she was not surprised at the negative reaction from her in-laws. “All I did was to pray,” Anna told me.
How they managed child-bearing and the marriage
There was no child in the first five years of their marriage, she lost three pregnancies. She tells me it was the most difficult time in her life. she was very young and ignorant and she said Francis married her a virgin so what could the problem be? The sad thing is she could not ask anyone so once again, she prayed about it.
She endured the five-year trying period and conceived in the sixth year and gave birth to twins.
“When I had them, I felt they had saved my marriage and so I gave them all my attention. I ignored some duties to my husband and attended to the children every time. Francis was very understanding but I realised at some point that the bond between my husband and me was gradually fading away. The children were to add to the growth of the marriage and not to destroy it. I would make sure my kids had eaten and slept before attending to my husband.”
Francis said she denied him sex each time he went close to her. “She would tell me she hadn’t healed yet. I was losing her and there was not much I could do because if I said anything, it would sound like I did not care about her so I managed.”
How did you do that? Did you cheat on her? I quizzed.
“No, I informed my mother about it and pleaded with her to talk to my wife. She called us both and solved the problem but advised us to learn to solve our own problems. We had more children but I still had time with my wife. But that advice from my mother I must say is one of the reasons why our marriage has lasted this long.”
Francis said they have had countless problems, some of which nearly ended their marriage but they never involved third parties. They always solved their own problems. He tells me there were only a few times that their children knew about their fights.
“It was good we learned that at the early stage of our journey. We disagreed about things and quarrelled on some occasions but our fights did not last. The once we could not solve before bed, we woke up at dawn and talked about them.”
Their sex life
‘Sex was one thing that we both agreed on almost every time. It was like whenever I wanted it, she wanted it too and whenever she wanted it, I did,’ Francis said with a loud laugh.
He said communication helped them during sex. We have never been shy discussing sex. We had sex whenever we felt like and it worked for both of us, Anna said.
She added: ‘At some point in our marriage, sex was our problem – solving tool. She sniggered as if what she said had kindled some memories.
At what age did you stop having sex?, I interrupted her.
“We stopped ‘doing it’ when I was around 63, 64. You know…the urge to do it was just not there besides we did not have the energy like we used to.”
So you have been together for over twenty years without sex?, I quizzed.
‘We have become like siblings, living together and talking about our children and sometimes sharing some memories is all we do now,’ Anna indicated.
Being with her felt safe and I knew that from the very first time I met her – the main reason why I chose to be with her for the rest of my life,’ Francis said.
Anna repeated these words and added that it grew stronger even as they grew older.
‘I simply enjoy his company. There were times when we let things such as work, children, and some other problems come between our relationship but the strong foundation we had always brought us back on track.’
‘Francis is the only friend I have. He is the one I talk to when I have any issue. The people who call me friend are the same people who call him friend. These are people we either worked with, attended church with or lived in the same neighbourhood with.’
They said they spent time to build their relationship even after they were married.
Francis tells me he could share everything with his wife. ‘There was no secret, but I am not a saint,’ he said and followed it with a smirk.
What does he mean by saying “I am not a saint?” I asked myself.
This forced me to put this question to him – Have you ever cheated on her? I know it was an awkward question but I was curious.
Then he said yes. How did it happen? Tell me.
‘I cheated on her with a woman I met on one of my trips but I couldn’t hide it from her when I got back home.’
Overtaken by emotions that had been buried in the memory for decades he paused and said: ‘She was very upset with me for some days but we solved it.’
Wow! was all I said after my eyes flicked between the old couple. How many women of our time can easily forgive their husbands who cheat on them? And how many men can have the courage to inform their wives about their extra marital affairs?
How they managed their jobs and finances
“Francis used to be the typical African man who thought the place of the woman was in the kitchen and that was why he asked that I quit my job,” said Anna.
She actually tried to quit and stayed home for some time but she realised teaching was something she loved to do. She taught at children service in her church. She said: “He later agreed that I taught in a school at Cape Coast so I secured the transfer and did.”
She catered for some little expenses at home with her salary while her husband paid their children’s school fees and other expenses.
‘In those days there was nothing like water bill and electricity bill. We fetched water from a stream in the town for free and food was much cheaper,” Francis indicated.
‘It was good that I allowed Anna to continue teaching. There was a time that black pod destroyed my cocoa and I used all my money to get the farm back and we lived on her salary,’ he added.
Anna tells me she handed all her salary to her husband as soon as she got paid. ‘He is the head of the family and I had to do that to make him feel that even without a job, he still was the head of the family. And despite the fact that I was the bread winner for the family at that time, I still performed my duties as a wife and a mother, by then we had just had our second born. It wasn’t easy but we sailed through.’
“Few marriages of today would have survived this. We had a couple of such cases when we were on a marriage committee in the church. Most women try to take the power of the men from them as soon as they lose their jobs and that is very dangerous. When your husband begins to feel worthless, you should be worried. They are the head, that is who they are no matter the situation, that is who God made them and it is stated clearly in the Bible.”
Their message for new couples
Love they say has to be shown by deeds not words, Francis began. ‘I showed her love more than I told her and she appreciated the things no matter how small they were. Today’s marriages are almost all about love, love , love. And they say it more than they prove it. So I always tell couples, ‘before you tell someone you love them ask yourself do you really love them?’
‘An African proverb says people who love one another do not dwell on each other’s mistakes. No one is perfect, no matter how beautiful, intelligent, attractive, caring or loving someone would be, there will always be that part of them that you would wish could change.’
Anna was a bit hesitant when I asked for her final advice for young couples. After a while, she said: ‘What worked for us may not work for everyone, we are different people but I believe the success of every marriage depends on the individuals involved. Endurance is key. Once you make up your mind to be with the person for life, you would have to be ready to take in the things that come with the package (spouse), good and bad.’
This is fiction by Akosua Asiedua Akuffo of Myjoyonline.com. This piece was also published in the 2016 Joy FM Beauty and Bridal Fair magazine.