About five years ago, I decided to interview my mother about her relationship with my deceased dad. Enough time had passed, we shared more funny stories than sad ones. Since we lived 2,000 miles apart, we scheduled an hour most Sunday mornings to talk on the phone.
We recorded our conversations, and I transcribed her memories. Our project turned into my parents’ love story – one that ended 45 years ago. I made one print copy to give her as a Valentine’s Day gift that year. It stayed on her coffee table until she died a few weeks ago.
I’m so glad I wrote that story when I did, and I’m urging you to think about the idea, too.
When I was asked to write Mom’s obituary, it was an easy assignment because I had come to know her so well. I could write many more chapters of her legacy since Dad’s death. But it was the love story that opened my eyes.
My mom was a pretty Iowa girl – a child of divorce who vowed never to get too attached, especially since she’d just landed a great job and was moving to New York City after the holidays. Dad was a hog farmer from Illinois. He was on leave from the Army and would soon be stationed in New Jersey.
Their paths had crossed before, but they’d been on dates with other people. At a holiday dance, they recognized each other, grabbed one waltz and promised to meet in New York City. After a short Big Apple courtship, Dad shipped out for Korea. Mom was lost without him.
As soon as she learned he was headed back to the Midwest, she packed up her New York City dream life and traded it for that of a hog farmer’s wife. “I knew I could live with him in a cave,” she told me. I wonder if she knows how many times I’ve asked myself, “Could I live with him in a cave?”
At the same time I was writing Mom’s love story, my own was failing. After more than 30 years, the “cave” had become uncomfortable. We were good financial partners, but the trust and intimacy had eroded into ugly ruts.
I’m grateful now we were able to have a successful divorce, if there is such a thing. But deep in my heart what I really, really want is the kind of love my parents shared.
My siblings and I tell everyone what a great life Mom had: all the travel, a doting family, even luxury assisted living for her last days. But we acknowledge to ourselves that it wasn’t such a great life. Sadly, she never found true romantic love in the second half of her life.
Aging alone was one of the biggest reasons I didn’t want to be twice divorced. I watched Mom’s aloneness for 45 years. She was always active and surrounded by people, but true love? It didn’t find her again.
As I ventured into the dating world, I caught myself drawn to the same types: older, retired, secure. That was before I figured out I had to design the life of my dreams before I’d find the potential partner of my dreams. But here’s what really happened.
A date was late for a wine tasting. When it was over and I’d had double my share of wine, I popped into a pub to wait for my late date. I asked the man sitting next to the only open bar stool if it was available. He smiled at me and at that moment looked so vividly like my dad, I said, “Oh my gosh, you look just like my dad.”
I know – what a silly thing to say. But I like to believe Dad played a hand here. We sparked a friendship, then a romance and now a partnership. This summer we’re hitching his red pickup truck to my white and blue camper, and we’re pulling out for Mom’s Celebration of Life in Illinois. A camper isn’t a cave, but you get the idea.
At the graveside, we will read from Mom’s love story since it serves now as a family history. I hope my story encourages you to write your own or your parents’ love story. It’s a gift that lasts forever.
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