i received a call from the nursing home. grandpa was failing rapidly. i should come. there was nothing to do but hold his hand. "i love you, grandpa. thank you for always being there for me."
memories...memories...six days a week, grandpa in that old blue shirt caring for those cattle...on hot summer days plowing the soil, planting the corn and beans and harvesting them in the fall...always working from dawn to dusk. survival demanded work, work, work.
but on sundays he put on his gray suit and hat. grandma wore her wine-colored dress and ivory beads, and they went to church. grandpa and grandma were quiet, peaceful, unemotional people.
the nurse apologized for having to ask me so soon to remove grandpa's things from the room. it would not take long. there wasn't much. then i found it in the top drawer of his nightstand. it looked like a very old handmade valentine. what must have been red paper at one time was a streaked faded pink. a piece of white paper had been glued to the center of the heart. on it, penned in grandma's handwriting, were these words:
to lee from harriet
with all my love,
february 14, 1895
are you alive? real? or are you the most beautiful dream that i have had in years? are you an angel—or a figment of my imagination? someone i fabricated to fill the void? to soothe the pain? where did you find the time to listen? how could you understand?
you made me laugh when my heart was crying. you took me dancing when i couldn't take a step. you helped me set new goals when i was dying. you showed me dew drops and i had diamonds. you brought me wildflowers and i had orchids. you sang to me and angelic choirs burst forth in song. you held my hand and my whole being loved you. you gave me a ring and i belonged to you. i belonged to you and i have experienced all.
tears streamed down my cheeks as i read the words. i pictured the old couple i had always known. it's difficult to imagine your grandparents in any other role than that. what i read was so beautiful and sacred. grandpa had kept it all those years. now it is framed on my dresser, a treasured part of family history.
dance with me
when we're young and we dream of love and fulfillment, we think perhaps of moon-drenched parisian nights or walks along the beach at sunset. no one tells us that the greatest moments of a lifetime are fleeting, unplanned and nearly always catch us off guard.
not long ago, as i was reading a bedtime story to my seven-year-old daughter, annie, i became aware of her focused gaze. she was staring at me with a faraway, trancelike expression.
apparently, completing the tale of samuel whiskers was not as important as we first thought.
i asked what she was thinking about.
"mommy," she whispered, "i just can't stop looking at your pretty face."
i almost dissolved on the spot.
little did she know how many trying moments the glow of her sincerely loving statement would carry me through over the following years.
not long after, i took my four-year-old son to an elegant department store, where the melodic notes of a classic love song drew us toward a tuxedoed musician playing a grand piano. sam and i sat down on a marble bench nearby, and he seemed as transfixed by the lilting theme as i was.
i didn't realize that sam had stood up next to me until he turned, took my face in his little hands and said, "dance with me."
if only those women strolling under the paris moon knew the joy of such an invitation made by a round-cheeked boy with baby teeth. although shoppers openly chuckled, grinned and pointed at us as we glided and whirled around the open atrium, i would not have traded a dance with such a charming young gentleman if i'd been offered the universe.
the giving trees
i was a single parent of four small children, working at a minimum-wage job. money was always tight, but we had a roof over our heads, food on the table, clothes on our backs and, if not a lot, always enough. my kids told me that in those days they didn’t know we were poor. they just thought mom was cheap. i’ve always been glad about that.
it was christmas time, and although there wasn’t money for a lot of gifts, we planned to celebrate with church and family, parties and friends, drives downtown to see the christmas lights, special dinners, and by decorating our home.
but the big excitement for the kids was the fun of christmas shopping at the mall. they talked and planned for weeks ahead of time, asking each other and their grandparents what they wanted for christmas. i 5)dreaded it. i had saved $120 for presents to be shared by all five of us.
the big day arrived and we started out early. i gave each of the four kids a twenty-dollar bill and reminded them to look for gifts about four dollars each. then everyone scattered. we had two hours to shop; then we would meet back at the “santa’s workshop” display.
back in the car driving home, everyone was in high christmas spirits, laughing and teasing each other with hints and clues about what they had bought. my younger daughter, ginger, who was about eight years old, was unusually quiet. i noted she had only one small, flat bag with her after her shopping spree. i could see enough through the plastic bag to tell that she had bought candy bars—fifty-cent candy bars! i was so angry. what did you do with that twenty-dollar bill i gave you? i wanted to yell at her, but i didn’t say anything until we got home. i called her into my bedroom and closed the door, ready to be angry again when i asked her what she had done with the money. this is what she told me:
“i was looking around, thinking of what to buy, and i stopped to read the little cards on one of the salvation army’s ‘giving trees.’ one of the cards was for a little girl four years old, and all she wanted for christmas was a doll with clothes and a hairbrush. so i took the card off the tree and bought the doll and the hairbrush for her and took it to the salvation army booth.
“i only had enough money left to buy candy bars for us,” ginger continued. “but we have so much and she doesn’t have anything.” i never felt so rich as i did that day.