February is “Favorite Romance” month at Romancing The Genres. When Sarah Raplee and I were brain storming ideas, this seemed like a great one to me. Why? There are several hundred books on my ‘keeper shelves’! Also, I write contemporary romance, perhaps one of my story lines? In addition I have a few favorite movies, plays, and television programs with romance as a main theme.In the end, my story isn’t about something I’ve read, written, or watched on a screen. It is, however, a story that I’ve watched unfold my entire life. Alert: this is a longer than usual post.
My Mom and Dad met fell in love and married. I was born 16 months and 12 days later. (My mother once told me that my being born 16+ months after they were married was considered scandalous. Who knew?)I never saw a Grand Love Story. In many ways their lives were ordinary. They’d been married four months shy of 58 years and my Dad was dying before I saw how deep their love was, before I did see their Grand Love Story. I find it fascinating that I was blind to their romance for so long and it took the terminal illness and death of my Dad followed four years later by my Mom for me to see it. Fascinating! Because running through me is a wide romantic streak.
Their story begins in the mid 1930’s as the U.S. was struggling out of the Great Depression. Even though going to college was not something every family could afford, my college-educated-grandparents sent their middle child, my mother, to the University of Oregon because they knew the value of education and wanted her to have an educated husband, one who could support her. She pledged Gamma Phi Beta and through the sorority’s activities met my Dad, who was active in his fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon.They dated and somewhere along the way fell in love. My Mom used to say my Dad fell in love with her family, a good-sized (5 children), boisterous group who loved to play board and card games, have sing-a-longs, and generally got along well. My favorite story is of my grandfather, hearing my Dad’s car come up the road behind their house, getting out the cards so he could play Canasta or Bridge or checkers with my Dad.
Of the two, Mom was more extroverted and fun loving. Dad was more introverted and serious. Mom volunteered as homeroom mother for each of their children (my two brothers and I) and was my Camp Fire Girl leader and my brother’s Cub Scout Den Mother. Dad volunteered at the Cub Scout Pack level. They were both active in the school’s PTA and my Mom sang in the school’s “Mother’s Choir”.
Back to the love story.As the years passed, times were not always easy. I remember hearing my parents argue. I remember wondering if they were going to divorce. I remember my Mom being (from my perspective) harsh, demanding, a perfectionist for herself and me. At some level I knew my Mom was not happy and I figured it was because of her marriage. She’d never finished college, leaving at the end of her sophomore year when she was engaged to my Dad. There were three children. And in the 1950’s and early 1960’s divorce was hard to get and a stigma was attached to the children.
More time passed and my Dad retired. His routine was to sleep in, putter in the yard or around the house. He was a ‘stay-at-home’ Dad, willing only to travel to see family who lived nearby (within an easy day’s drive). He didn’t want to travel and see the world something my Mom always dreamed of – well, not necessarily ‘the world’ but at least some of the United States. She’d been a stay-at-home Mom waiting until Dad retired to live life.I remember when I was in my 30’s, my Mom traveled with me to a conference so she could see friends who lived nearby. She was almost physically sick leaving the house and my Dad. It was the first time she’d ever done anything major without him or his blessing. My Dad didn’t want her to leave, didn’t want to fix his own meals, didn’t want to take care of himself but he didn’t want to travel. She truly worried that he’d change the locks to the house and she’d find herself divorced.
Why were they still married? Neither seemed really happy. From my outsider’s perspective they seemed to live almost parallel lives. Was a love of college sports (Go Ducks!) enough?
In the fall of 1996 my Dad, the man who’d only been in the hospital overnight once in his life, became ill. Numerous tests were done and while there was evidence of something being wrong, nothing definitive was diagnosed. In August 1997, exploratory surgery revealed lung cancer. The surgeon said "Don't worry, we got it all."He was wrong but by the time I convinced my parents to get a second opinion, it was too late. The oncologist said Dad’s cancer was aggressive and he was so weak from the ravages of the disease and the surgery, the treatment would kill him. The lung cancer had spread to his brain, and to minimize those symptoms, Dad did agree to undergo radiation.
It was a 40 mile round trip between my house and my parents but I made it every day my Dad had his radiation treatment…not only because I loved him but because I could see as my Dad declined, so did my Mom.I would talk to my Dad on the trips for treatment, follow-ups with the doctors, and on those occasions when my work brought me into the neighborhood and I stopped by to see how things were going. During those talks, I was the one who told Dad he was dying and listened to his worries about Mom that he hadn’t done enough to provide for her after his death. My assurances and those of my brothers didn’t help. What if he hadn’t done enough?
A friend of mine, an estate and probate attorney, met with him at home. She listened to his concerns and carefully read each page of his Will. As she handed the papers back to him, she said, “You've done an exceptional job in seeing to your wife’s needs.”His relief was palpable, tears welled in his eyes and he slumped back against the pillowed couch.
After that, my Dad’s decline was more rapid as was my Mom’s. She was so ill, the Hospice nurse and I wondered whether she would survive him.On March 8, 1998 my Dad died.
There were a few more things my Mom had to finish up in her life and she did survive him.
She died on March 4, 2002. During the time I sat with her near the end, I could feel my Dad’s presence.
After his death my Dad’s remains were cremated, sat in an urn with a golfer on the top, in the original funeral home box at the back of Mom’s closet. After her death and we had her cremated remains, the family gathered on a stormy day. Their ashes mixed, I shook the box tossing the contents into the air. As their ashes were picked up by the winds and swirled away, I heard my Mom’s laugh. Another shake and I saw them as they must have looked when newly in love – young, happy, a glow about them both. The last of the ashes were now on the wind when she danced away in my Dad’s arms.They’d been a ‘couple’ for over 60 years and married almost 58. I realized then in a way I never had that their love had been strong enough to survive heartache, disappointment, but most of all the drudgery that is a part of everyday life.
In 2013 I will celebrate the 11th year of Mom’s death on 03/04; the 15th year of Dad’s death on 03/08; and on 03/26 the 9th year of my younger brother’s death. At one time I dreaded “Death Month” but no more. Time has passed and as I look out into my backyard I see the cluster of three growing huckleberry bushes (my Mom was noted for her wild huckleberry pies), the copper whirligig with a crystal in the center from my brother, and tucked in the middle the urn with the golfer on top.May you all rest in peace. Blessed Be.
© 2013 Judith Ashley