Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Love Letters: Another Kind of Remembrance



It was the summer of 1958.  My father was working in northern Alberta, my mother was back in Fredericton, continuing to work on her thesis.  Dean Martin was everywhere that year, singing the wonderful Return to Me.



"Return To Me"
Return to me
Oh my dear I'm so lonely
Hurry back, hurry back
Oh my love hurry back I'm yours

Return to me
For my heart wants you only
Hurry home, hurry home
Won't you please hurry home to my heart

My darling, if I hurt you I'm sorry
Forgive me and please say you are mine

Return to me
Please come back bella mia
Hurry back, hurry home to my arms
To my lips and my heart

Retorna me
Cara mia ti amo
Solo tu, solo tu, solo tu, solo tu
Mio cuore 
 
 
That summer was theoretical to me until recently.  I suppose for many of us, the grand passion that our parents held for one another is theoretical; by the time we are sentient beings, the heady days of dating and early married life are replaced by whiny kids, too much work, bills to pay.  
 
Your spouse wandering the house in baby spit or scratching their belly is not necessarily  conducive to high romance.

Worse still, we didn't always see our parents having fun, unless they were, god forbid, away from us and having a few drinks.  Around the house, they were just Mom and Dad.  We got to spend the high holidays with them and benefited from the cuddles and care, but we also saw the worst of them: the bickering side, the snide comments, the stony silences.

I had seen pictures of my parents pre-children; only a few, but they seemed pretty happy.  Even in the early years of their marriage, they seemed relatively content.  Lots of pictures with arms around each other.
 
If they seemed worn down later on, who can I blame that on but myself?  Marriages that survive toddler-hood and the teenage years ought really be given a "get out of jail" card in perpetuity, don't you think?

Later, had you asked, I would say my parents had an okay marriage, but I don't know if I would have described it as happy.

I would be proved wrong about that three times.

The first was after my mother died on this day, November 11th, 2001.  It was not a shocking death; she was after all, sick for quite a while in advance of her death.  But it was terribly sad and I continue to miss her.  I suppose I will until the day to mosey along for the next great adventure myself.

After a year or two, I asked my Dad if he had any interest in dating.  "Why would I do that," he asked, "when I've already had the best?"  Well that closed that chapter.

My dad hung on for another eleven year years.  
 
The second time I was wrong was in his death.  As many of you know, he did everything he could do to pass away on November 11th, missing it by a mere 2 hours.  My mother likely chalked that up to the fact that he was always late.  It takes a lot of willpower to take yourself out of the game on the anniversary of your wife's death.  My father was nothing if not willful.

There is a certain convenience in having your parents die on basically the same day - you kind of get the grief out all out at once and then pack it away for another year (ah, but do we ever really pack it away?  Those pesky parents sneak up on me all the time and have been known to knock the wind out of me with no warning!)

So after my dad's grand gesture, I always sort of thought I didn't get the depth of their love while they were alive.  

And then, a few weeks ago, going through their papers, I found the love letters my father wrote to my mother in 1958.  Third time wrong.



These are only a few - there are at least two dozen 



There was typical Bud stuff - descriptions of where he was working and how he hoped they would be married before the end of 1958 so he could have my mother for a tax deduction, something that would be a theme for the rest of their marriage - but there was much more.  

Love.  My father was besotted with my mother.  And fortunately for me, my mother kept every single letter.  Sadly, my father, for all his meticulous record-keeping around household expenditures and mortgage depreciation charts, kept only one of hers.  It is equally loving and passionate.

At 51 years of age, I found myself gob-smacked that these two were so in love.  I think I even had the hilarious thought at one point whilst reading them of "Huh, I guess they did have sex", having been fairly certain as a child that my sister and I were the products of immaculate conception.

The letters are a gift on many levels: seeing my parents for the human beings they were, truly understanding that we were born of two people who really loved one another even if they didn't show it quite as much later on, hearing about my dad's work.

As children, we believe that the world, including our parents' lives, revolve around us, exist only to serve our needs.  I am thankful that down in my basement is a box full of letter written between Barry and I nearly 30 years that will be discovered by my own children on some distant day.  And I will encourage them to put thoughts on paper to their life partners as well someday and hope that there will be a few times they will be separated by some distance that requires more than a random text or sext message.  

So today, and tomorrow, I will be thinking a lot about my parents.  Of how lucky I was to be born of them, of how any brains I may have is the direct result of some co-mingling of an historian with a forester decades ago.  And mostly, I will be glad to have read those private letters, because they are gift whose value is incalculable.

Hope you're somewhere where the rum is flowing and there's a good movie on, Mum and Dad...




36 comments:

  1. What a beautiful tribute. Be kind to yourself today. Xo

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    1. Thanks Jen! It actually turned out to be quite a nice day!

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  2. We really owe them for giving us you! What a lovely way to remember your parents, WMM!

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  3. Beautiful Wendy and what a lovely bride your mum was!

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  4. Lovely Wendy. I so love to picture our parents sitting on a sofa together with their feet up having a drink watching us try to make everything work "better" than they did, smiling in sympathy for how they know our kids will view what we believe is true and lasting love.

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  5. I am also fortunate to have had parents who lived a true love story. Of course the ending is sad when then the elderly surviving parent continues to miss their beloved. But I am fortunate to have had their example and I am always mindful of what I pass on to my own children. I hope you find solace this week reading their letters.

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    1. Thanks teacups! I think it is also worth thinking about how in the end, you don't ever know the true story, do you?

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  6. Wow, what a wonderful post! I just loved this. Sad for you to have lost your parents on these days, but so nice to remember the love they had and the lives. We often don't think about the people they once were. I agree I hope some of this generation do put some ink to paper or it will all be lost. Thank you for sharing this story!

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  7. Love this post Wendy, lovely tribute to your mom and dad.

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    1. Thanks Ger! I am so glad your Mum and Dad are around to still be giving the love!

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  8. Amazing how our parents' lives still hold secrets for us to discover. There are no letters between my parents, and we have very few as we have rarely been apart. I asked for one for our anniversary last year-- I wanted nothing else-- and received a treasure, brief but beautiful.

    Your mom was such a pretty bride.

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    1. The amazing thing is that in the pile, I found a love letter from great-grandfather to my great-grandmother! I am from a family of packrats and I can think my grandfather especially, though my mum was a good one, too!

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    2. What a treasure!!! I am trying to imagine what the letter physically looked like.

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    3. I'll send a picture! He had beautiful penmanship

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  9. This is a lovely post Wendy. After reading it I asked my husband where my letters to him are (I came across his to me a little while ago). Seems like they are in his head and his heart - ahem!! Anyway, you are so lucky to have those letters.

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  10. What a wonderful post, we never think of our parents of having been in love. It is obvious that yours were deeply in love.

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  11. This is such a beautiful tribute to your mum and dad, Wendy. I hope the past two days have been filled with lovely memories for you. Big hugs!

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  12. A beautiful celebration of Remembrance Wendy. I think it is often difficult as a child to see your parents as people… there's always a strange moment when you realise they don't know everything, and in fact they may be wrong on some point. Same with the love part, that they were ever passionate and in love when you just see the day to day as a child and adult. How lovely to have that little trove of letters. xx

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    1. Thanks Heidi. It really struck me when I read the letters, because I also think my parents' generation were much more reluctant to talk about those things, especially with their kids!

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  13. Beautiful Wendy, beautiful, will give me a lot of thinking.

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  14. Just beautiful...love this bc I found letters recently too and it made me think I was hard on my parents when they are only human.

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    1. Naomi - so glad you found them! I think back in horror sometimes about what I put my parents through!

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  15. What treasure to have, Wendy! My parents left no letters for me to discover. They had a long and very happy marriage, living into their '90's. They met on a boat going to the continent. After my mother's death I opened the family safe and found a small piece of paper from the date of their first meeting. My father had written her name and after it, 'green eyes.' We had her name was carved into to his tombstone with the addition of, 'green eyes'.

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  16. What a lovely couple, magical photo.

    Love this par Wendy, encapsulates what many novels have tried to say...
    That summer was theoretical to me until recently. I suppose for many of us, the grand passion that our parents held for one another is theoretical; by the time we are sentient beings, the heady days of dating and early married life are replaced by whiny kids, too much work, bills to pay.

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Kindness is a virtue...