There was a Ralph Lauren perfume commercial on TV during The Grammy Salute to the Beatles last Sunday night. It showed a couple on horseback with the guy’s arm curled around the girl’s neck as he stole a kiss. That arm/neck cradling brought back a memory of the first time Don applied that gesture of affection to me. We were riding pink elephants in the park early on in our relationship---the kind on giant springs made for children. It was a gesture he repeated a thousand times over our years together. Don wasn’t the hand-holding-in-public type but on occasion he did do the arm/neck cradling, heads touching thing for public consumption. If I was Barbara Streisand this is where I’d break out singing, “Memories, misty water-colored memories of the way we were….”
Before our big downsizing after Don’s stroke, I collected greeting cards. Fifty years’ worth of collecting went up for auction along with more than half of our possessions and I never started collecting cards again even though the inclination to do so pops its head up from time to time. Of my card collection, I only saved a few things including an 8” x 10” Valentine's Day card in its own, custom box and an old leather suitcase full of Valentines from the 1800’s that came down through Don’s family and had to be thrown out when my basement got flooded last year.
I found the card recently while cleaning closets. It was from Don and opening that card, made me smile warm and wide. I had forgotten his habit of rarely signing his name on the greeting cards he gave to me. Instead, he’d put a few words and his name on Post-it notes so he wouldn’t lower the collector value of the cards. That was Don. He could spend money with abandonment on silliness and flowery, over-sized cards but his practical side always showed up as well. It was very cool to re-discover that card so close to Valentine’s Day and it came with the Hallmark message of, “Loving you, sweetheart, the way that I do means finding contentment in being with you…finding such joy in just knowing that you care and real inspiration in the dreams we share.” Don never, ever calling me ‘sweetheart’ unless he was holding a pretend Groucho Marx cigar in his hand while making a smart-ass remark. His endearment for me was a made-up word and as much as I’d like to remember what it was, right now I can’t. The tiny details that made up our relationship are fading with time and leaving behind broad strokes we might label love, loyalty and friendship. Finding that forgotten card brought some of the details back and that was a good Valentine’s Day gift to get this year.
This will be my third February 14th living on Widowhood Lane and this week I went to the annual Valentine’s Day luncheon at the senior hall. The first year I went---less than a month after Don’s passing---I had to leave shortly after the entertainment started because I couldn’t keep my tears in check. Bands that are entertaining a bunch of mostly widows shouldn’t sing sad songs like Duke Ellington’s, “Missed the Saturday dance. Heard they crowded the floor. Couldn't bear it without you. Don't get around much anymore.”
In my second year of widowhood I stayed for the whole Valentine’s Day program at the senior hall and I didn’t cry when the entertainment played an assortment of longing-for-love songs but a recent widow sitting near-by did and I whispered understanding words in her ear. This year something astonishing happened. While the entertainer was singing Fats Domino’s, I Left My Heart on Blueberry Hill the lady sitting next to me burst out laughing. Then she explained that the song reminded her of a time when her sister was in high school and a guy came to pick her up for a date. Without asking for permission, he sat down at the family piano and started playing that song. The sister was so put off by his boldness that she made up an excuse not to go on the date. That piano was for Sunday morning hymns, after all, not for singing about ill-gotten thrills found on top of a hill.
“That was my husband’s favorite song,” I told her, “and”---I drew out my words so their full weight could sink in---“in the entire 42 years that I knew him he never passed by a piano without taking the opportunity to sit down and play Blueberry Hill.”
“It couldn’t have been your husband,” she said a couple of times. “This took place in---. “ Then she named a tiny town north of here. By then I was laughing so hard I could hardly tell her that Don grew up just a few miles from where she and her sister lived. Yup, it turned out it was my husband who got judged too bold and brazen to date.
“Tell your sister thanks for passing him by,” I told her. “I got him and he was a keeper.”
What are the odds in a city of over 600,000 people that two strangers would sit next to one another and find a bizarre, half-century old connection like that? Needless to say, I had a great time this year at the Valentine’s Day luncheon. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call progress here on Widowhood Lane. Or was this latest coincidence just another example of ‘ghost games’ at work? I don’t know, doctor, but give me two chocolate covered caramels and I'll call you in the morning when I figure it out. ©