When my grandfather died after a massive brain aneurysm, I drove my grandmother home from the hospital in her little blue Taurus.
“It’s for the best,” she said.
“He wouldn’t want to be hooked up to machines.”
“The only thing is.”
“I don’t know who’s going to change my sheets now.”
She dissolved into big shaking sobs, with fat tears inking powdery streaks down her wrinkly caramel face. I started crying, too. I reached my hand to her shoulder to rub her back, and in the process of trying to comfort her nearly ran us off the road.
“TRICIA!” she shrieked. “KEEP BOTH HANDS ON THE WHEEL!”
The time to grieve had slipped by like the scenery. When we arrived home at her little suburban tract house, she went directly to the bathroom my grandfather had used and cleared out all his stuff: shaving cream, hand lotion, denture cleaner, Dial soap, Band-Aids, hair tonic, combs….she threw it all away.
She wasn’t one for dwelling on the past, my grandmother, and my mother inherited that trait. The other day, my dad called me in tears. I wasn’t alarmed because he cries all the time these days. Sometimes when I’m feeling unappreciated I’ll call him and say, “Hi, Dad. I just wanted to say hi because I really miss you.” Then he’ll start crying and I’ll feel really loved.
Anyway, Dad called me crying. He said he was clearing out the 20,000 boxes of paperwork had been hoarding and had come across some old letters my mom had sent him when she was pregnant with me and Dad was away on a Navy ship. He read me excerpts – about how my mom predicted I would have red hair, and that she was amazed by how hungry she was all the time. She wrote about how much she missed my dad.
Really sweet stuff. As he talked, I pictured my 22-year-old mother, alone and pregnant in a strange city, writing love letters to her newlywed husband in order to pass the time.
“Oh, Dad,” I said. “How great that you found those letters. That’s so amazing that you still have them. Please put them in a safe place so they don’t get lost again.”
“No, no,” he said. Sniffle. “Your mom says I need to throw them away.”
CAN YOU IMAGINE?
shouted said calmly. “Dad. I’m sure she didn’t mean to throw out those letters. Send them to me if you don’t want to keep them!”
“No, they’re too personal,” he said. And I thought, WHAAA? Like, sex talk? Ew. But that’s not what he meant. I don’t think.
“But Dad,” I said, feeling a little desperate. “You can’t throw them out.” I considered hopping in the Motorized Landfill and driving the 500 miles to New Orleans to save them. In addition to getting the letters, I’d have two days of quiet. I could rent some books on tape, and listen to something besides Ke$ha and Lady GaGa. And maybe I could stop at my sister’s vacation condo in Destin?
“Your mom says we can’t relive that time, so we might as well get rid of them.” And boy, did this phrase stop me. We can’t relive that time. What did Mom mean? That she couldn’t relive a time when she was young and carefree and in love, and awaiting her firstborn child? Before the inevitable heartbreak of adulthood jaded her sense of what her future could hold?
I called my sister and said, “OH MY GOD! MOM IS SO GANGAN!” GanGan is what we called my grandmother. “TOTALLY!” my sister said. Between us, I think we convinced my dad to save at least a few of the letters and put them in his sock drawer for safekeeping.
Now. Today is Hot Firefighter Husband’s birthday. He is 50 years old. That’s a half of a century. Which, incidentally, is not my age. Not at all. But it’s absolutely his. He is 50 years old. Yep.
He has not written me any love letters that I can remember. So actually, I hope he hasn’t written me any love letters, because how sucky would it be if he had, and I didn’t remember them? Total buzz kill.
But when we first moved to Florida, we rented a dusty old Victorian house with no central air, and every morning Husband would leave the lazy coolness of the bedroom to go make coffee in the hot kitchen. While he waited for the coffee to brew, he would use a magnetic poetry kit to create little poetic stanzas for me. Usually I didn’t read them until after he had gone to work, and they always made me smile. After a few of them, I got the idea to write them down so that I could remember a time when we actually had time to write refrigerator poems while the coffee brewed. This morning while the coffee brewed, I let the dog out, cleaned out the lunch boxes, killed two mosquitoes in the house, searched through a laundry basket for the Pterodactyl’s favorite Pokemon shirt, and weighed myself. Write a poem? Please. Roses are red, violets are blue, I am tired. Are you?
Here is my refrigerator magnet love poem, comprised of several mornings worth of stanzas composed by my Husband, who is now 50 years old.
Play in the delicate spring garden and recall a lazy love.
Smear him with the milk and smooth beauty.
A peach falls behind the enormous sun and I love her red hair.
I will whisper in her pink forest. (Seriously, he wrote this.)
Diamonds take her swimming in a gorgeous place.
Eat the lemon and drink the juice.
Sleep, honey, behind the garden.
Something about you smoothes the bitter.
Like a rock garden, you only ask to produce delicate beauty.
When I reread this today, for the first time in YEARS, I wondered: Why isn’t he a poet laureate? But what struck me more is the image of my husband standing in the kitchen, groggy with sleep, thinking of me and putting words together in a way he hopes will touch me. Like the letters my mom wrote to my father 48 years ago, the sentences don’t matter nearly as much as the fact that she wrote them, and that simply beholding those words recalls a time when everything was different.
If I lose Husband, I will not have to worry about who will make my bed because it just won’t get made. Sort of like now. But who would clean the bathrooms? Who would bring me coffee on cold mornings? Who would watch The Daily Show with me?
Who would smooth the bitter?