- Chapter Nine
- Chapter Eight
- Chapter Seven
- Chapter Six
- Chapter Five
- Chapter Four
- Chapter Three
- Chapter Two
- Chapter One
It was late when I finally reached South Hero. The roads were so familiar here. How many times in my life had I driven down them? I drove past the home I had shared with Alan. I slowed down to take a closer look. There was a car in the driveway. It was strange to think of someone else living there. I had met the new owners at the real estate closing. They were a young couple, a little older than me, maybe. They were new to the area and had a little girl. They had put a gym set in the back yard. It was good that there was life in that house. Would life have been different for Alan and me if we’d had a child? That question would always remain unanswered.
I was happy to finally turn down the road to my parents’ home. They were the only ones who lived on the street. All the land around the house was theirs. I could remember as a child going out to play with my brother and just being able to run and run and still be on our land. I missed that in Springfield. I owned a tiny little postage stamp of land. Oh well, everything in life has its tradeoffs, I suppose. It wasn’t like I was going to go outside and run anymore. Walking around my neighborhood suited me just fine. Besides, it was nice to have neighbors close by in case anything ever went wrong. About a mile down the road, I could see the light on the front porch, welcoming me home. I was nervous, and felt silly for being so. After all, I was going home. These were my parents. What was there to be nervous about? Yet, things were different. I had run away from this world. I felt a little bit like the prodigal daughter coming home, even though I hadn’t done anything wrong. I pulled into the driveway and took a deep breath. This was it.
My mother came running out of the house before I even had the chance to open the car door.
“Lucy, you’re home! It’s so good to see you!” she exclaimed as she threw her arms around me in a big bear hug.
“It’s good to see you, too, Mom.”
“Pat, get her things out of the car,” she hollered out to my father as he came out the front door.
“Hi, sweetheart,” he said, as he opened the back door of the car and took out my things.
By this time, Lady was awake and making her presence known. “Let me get my dog out before she has a fit.”
“Oh isn’t she just adorable?” my mom said as I took her out of the car and she promptly relieved herself on their front yard. “Let’s go inside and get you both settled. You must be tired after your trip.”
I nodded in agreement. I was tired. It had been a long day.
“You look pale,” my mom said concernedly as we stepped into the house. “Have you been taking care of yourself?”
“I’m fine, really. I had the flu last week, but I’m feeling much better.”
“The flu? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t want you to worry.”
“I’m your mom. It’s my job to worry.”
“It smells great in here,” I said, attempting to change the subject. When my mom got to worrying about me, she was capable of discussing the subject for days. I just didn’t want to go there.
“Oh, I’ve been busy getting ready for our dinner tomorrow.”
“She’s been cooking nonstop. She’s so excited to have you here,” my Dad added on his way upstairs.
“I can tell!” I surveyed the kitchen. There were pots and pans everywhere, and it smelled so good. I drank in the scent of pumpkin pie and stuffing. Yum. I was hungry already. “At least let me do the dishes.”
“Oh, good grief! The dishes can wait! You don’t even have your coat off yet. Come and sit down and talk to me a bit. I’ll get us a cup of tea. It is so good to see your face.”
“It’s good to see you, too, Mom.”
Lady followed her around with a hopeful look on her face. “And you? What can I get for you? Let me see.” She rummaged around in the fridge. “How about some leftover ham? Would that work for you.” By the way Lady scarfed it down she seemed to think it was just fine.
“I’m so glad you could get away,” my mom said as she handed me my cup of tea. “It’s peppermint with honey – just like you like it.”
“It just wouldn’t have felt like Thanksgiving with neither of my children here. I know you two had to grow up and live your own lives, but I miss you both so much.”
“How is Bill?” I asked. “I haven’t talked to him lately.”
“Oh, you know, busy as ever. He doesn’t talk much, that one. Like father, like son, that’s for sure! Melissa is good about sending me pictures and updates about the baby, though. You’d be so proud of me – I’ve actually learned how to use email and download photos and everything.”
“Look, Melissa just sent me this one of Emily just the other day.” She pulled over a picture frame she had on the counter. “Isn’t she beautiful?”
“Yeah, she is,” I agreed.
“She looks a lot like you did when you were a baby. I do wish they lived closer. I finally get a grandchild and she lives 3000 miles away. It just isn’t fair,” she said sadly.
“I’m sorry, Mom. Are you OK?” I could see tears starting to form in her eyes.
“Oh, this is silly of me. I’m a grown woman. I’ve just been missing you both so much.” She wiped away a tear with her finger. “I’m just so glad to have you back home, even if it is only for a few days.”
“I’m glad to be here.” I said. For all my hesitation before the trip, it did feel good to be home.
I climbed up the stairs to my old room. Lady had bounded up ahead of me and was waiting for me at the top. The stairway was filled with photos. There was my parents’ wedding photo. My mom looked so beautiful and happy, her red hair up in a perfect French twist (I did inherit her hair). My father looked steady and serious, ready to take on whatever the future might hold. There were baby pictures of Bill and me and photos of us growing up. We got older as I climbed the stairs. Near the top of the stairs was Bill and Melissa’s wedding picture along with a couple more photos of Emily. And, I noticed with a grimace, she still had up a photo of Alan and I from our wedding day. The day probably still held happy memories for her. I was nowhere near as pretty as my mom had been in her youth (ironically, my brother seemed to have gotten most of the looks in the family), but I had been happy. Naïve, I guess would be the more accurate word.
I went into my old room and sat on the bed. My mom hadn’t changed it much since I had been gone. I knew she used it as a guest room, now, but the wallpaper and curtains were still the same. My old porcelain dolls still stood on an upper shelf. There was also a plaque with a little girl in a veil with my name and the date of my first communion engraved on it. My mom would be so happy I was going back to church. I knew it had broken her heart when I had stopped going. I hadn’t told her about my recent foray back into the fold. Doing so would have meant telling her about Mike and I honestly didn’t know what to tell her about him. There was a lot to talk about this weekend – if I got up my nerve.
Here in my old room, I felt a little like I had stepped back in time. Maybe if I tried really hard, I could close my eyes and pretend I was only ten years old again. Life was simpler, then, wasn’t it? I know it didn’t feel that great when I was going through it, but in hindsight it seemed wonderful. In another fifteen years, would I look back and want to be twenty-five again? That was a frightening prospect. Maybe, just maybe, life was a one-way trip for a reason. Otherwise, we would always want to go back and do it over.
I slept soundly with Lady curled up next to me. I woke up early, but my parents were still up before me. Life on a farm meant getting up at the crack of dawn. I didn’t really miss that. My dad was already out taking care of the animals and my mom was in the kitchen getting the turkey ready to go in the oven.
“Happy Thanksgiving, sweetheart,” she greeted me cheerily. I had forgotten just how much of a morning person my mother was. I can’t say that I inherited that gene, especially in the winter when it was pitch black outside. I may get up early, but I don’t really come alive until at least 9 a.m., or at least until after I have had a cup or two of coffee.
“Happy Thanksgiving,” I responded, still in something of a daze. “Do you need help with that?” I gestured toward the turkey.
“No, I’m fine! I’ve been doing this for thirty years! I enjoy the ritual,” she smiled. “The coffee is ready. Would you like a cup?”
“Yes, please – a large one.” Thankfully, she obliged. Mom also apparently remembered I didn’t like to talk too much in the morning because she left me alone to drink my coffee and read the paper. “Do you want another cup of coffee?” my mom asked as I was finishing reading the comics (I had to keep up with the storylines, after all).
“No, thanks. I’m going to take Lady out for a walk.” The sun had just started to come up. I went back upstairs to get Lady, who was still curled up on the bed doing her usual early morning protest.
“Come on, pretty girl. It’s time to go outside.” She rolled over and showed me her belly which I obligingly rubbed. “Yes, you have a pretty tummy, but you still need to go outside. Come on, we’ll go for a walk. You can check out some new territory.” Still no movement. I picked her up and carried her down the stairs. It was a good thing that she wasn’t a big dog because she definitely had a mind of her own.
“Enjoy your walk,” my mom called out after us as we headed out into the cold morning air. I could see my breath as I walked. A couple inches of snow had fallen overnight, which made everything look bright and clean and beautiful. A few flakes were still falling. Thankfully, I remembered to pack my boots. I always loved new-fallen snow. It seemed to give the world a fresh start. I checked my cell-phone as we started out. Some small part of me hoped that Mike would call. OK, maybe it was actually a big part. As I flipped open the case, however, I realized there was no service. That’s right. We never did get very good service out here. I’d have to go into the center of town later to check. He probably hadn’t called anyway.
I walked and walked and walked down the road. There was nowhere to go, really. All I could do was walk down to the main road and then turn around and walk back again. It wasn’t particularly productive which I always found frustrating. I liked to walk with a destination in mind, but it did give me some fresh air and exercise and helped me get the cobwebs out of my head. Lady didn’t seem to mind, either. There were all sorts of new things to sniff. Her nose was twitching and she was in her glory. As I studied the landscape, I realized that not much seemed to have changed in my absence. All the same trees still seemed to be standing guard over the terrain. The old picket fence still marked the territory. The same dilapidated shed still managed to stand. Life here seemed frozen in time. It was strange, yet comfortably reassuring to be home.
By the time I got back, I felt much more awake and ready to take on whatever the day would hand me. Lady bounded in the door as soon as I opened it.
“Mom, let me help you!” I hurried over as soon as I saw her struggling to put the heavy turkey pan into the oven.
“I guess this must be a bigger turkey than usual,” she said as she closed the oven door. “Thank goodness you came in when you did.”
I noticed when she stood up how much older my mother was looking. She was thinner, too. Had she really aged that much in a few months? Somehow, I hadn’t noticed last night.
“Come on, Mom. Let’s sit down. I’ll get you some coffee.”
“I’m OK, Lucy. Don’t bother yourself fussing over me. I just got a little tired, that’s all.”
“Well, then sit and take a rest. I can take care of making the dinner. I’m a grown woman. I don’t want to hear any arguing,” I said quite emphatically, as much to convince myself as to convince my mother.
“Well, of course you are, dear. I’ve just been doing it for so long . . . I guess I could use some help,” she reluctantly acknowledged. “How about we do it together?”
“How about you sit there and tell me what to do?” After all, what do mothers do better than tell their daughters what to do?
“That will work!”
She had really done most of the work the day before. I just needed to get the vegetables ready which took a lot of peeling and boiling water and mashing. Even I, with my rather limited culinary skills was able to accomplish that! As I worked, we talked. We spoke of light topics first. She told me about the happenings on the farm, and in town. As it was such a small town, everybody pretty much knew everybody. She filled me in on all the gossip about her friends from the ladies’ guild at church and on people that she knew that I had gone to school with. I heard of births and deaths and marriages begun and ended. I guess I was wrong. Life did change, even in this sleepy little town.
“I saw Mrs. Lyons the other day,” my mother began with trepidation. I cringed at the thought of my former mother-in-law. We had never gotten along especially well. She always felt Alan had married beneath him when he had taken me as his wife. No doubt she would have appreciated that tramp he was going to leave me for much better.
“Did you?” I tried to sound casual, but I began peeling potatoes at a feverish pace.
“Yes. I saw her at the supermarket. We were both in the frozen food aisle.”
“She was telling me she and her husband are spearheading a campaign to have the old playground at the park renamed for Alan in honor of how he died.”
“You’re kidding?” I asked incredulously. I don’t know why I was surprised. He was their honored son, the golden boy, and they had money and influence. Of course they would want to do something like that. I know, I was being heartless. The woman had lost her son, after all. Would I feel any different if it were my own son? Forgiveness, right? I was supposed to be working on forgiveness.
“No. They are trying to raise money to build a new playscape. You should have heard her! She was so excited about it. She asked me if we wanted to contribute, seeing that he was our son-in-law.”
“What did you say?” I asked, trying to keep the edge out of my voice. I had taken so much off the potato in my hand that it was quickly turning into more of a French fry.
“I think that one is done, dear,” she said, pointing to the potato.
“Uh, yeah. Sorry,” I put it down and picked up another one.
“Anyway,” she continued. “I told her that we would see what we could do. She asked me to ask you as well. She said that she would like you to be involved in some way.”
“Oh, I bet,” I said, remembering the disdain with which she used to treat me. I hadn’t missed her since I left. That is for sure. “Mom, you know she never liked me. The woman could barely stand to be in the same room as me.” By now, my anger was wide out in the open.
“Calm down. I know. She was horrible to you, but she really seems to be trying to reach out. She realizes that she wasn’t the only one who lost someone they loved in that fire.”
“Geez, it only took her eighteen months to realize that! How can you stick up for that woman?”
“Because she is trying. She knows that Alan loved you.”
“Ha! That’s a joke!” Another potato was suffering at my hands. At this rate, we would have no potatoes for our dinner and I quite honestly didn’t care.
“What do you mean by that? Alan adored you.”
“No, he didn’t, Mom. He didn’t love me at all.” I admitted.
“What on earth are you talking about? You have completely lost me.”
“Oh, Mom, there is so much that you don’t know.”
“Well, then come and tell me.” I looked over at her considering whether or not I should. “Come on now. Bring the potatoes over here. You are murdering them anyway. I can peel sitting down while we talk.”
As I looked down at the potatoes, I had to admit she was right. “Hey, maybe that can be the headline in the paper tomorrow – ‘Angry Woman Murders Thanksgiving Potatoes,'” I joked as I handed her the bowl of potatoes and the peeler, my anger subsiding a little.
“Now, now. We don’t want the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Vegetables on our doorstep,” she gave me a wry smile. “Now, dear, tell me what happened.”
Over the next few minutes, I poured out the story, tears once again flowing out. One would think I would eventually be able to get through this chapter in my life without blubbering like a baby. At least this time it was my mother. It wasn’t as embarrassing as crying in front of Mike. She listened quietly as I told her about finding the emails and his girlfriend showing up at the funeral and trying to pretend to be the grieving widow when all I really was an angry widow. When I was done and stopped to blow my nose, she looked at me sadly.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked.
“I don’t know, Mom. He died, and everyone was so sad – even you and Dad. In a lot of ways, it was easier to just go along with what everybody thought was true. It was easier to be thought of as the unfortunate widow than as the woman whose husband didn’t love her. Besides, what good was it going to do to trample on Alan’s memory? Everyone thought of him as the hero who saved those kids. Which, whether I actually wanted to focus on that or not, he was.” I blew my nose again. “Eventually though, I just couldn’t take the way people looked at me anymore. By then, it was far too late to tell the truth. Who would’ve believed me anyway? I just had to get away.”
My mom put down the potato she was holding, and threw her arms around me in a big hug. “I’m so sorry. You should have told me. I would have understood.”
“I know, Mom,” I muffled into her shoulder. “I just couldn’t. I couldn’t tell anybody. I just had to get away.”
“I know,” she said, sitting back down. “I thought you had to get away because being here hurt too much – all the memories of Alan, but I had no idea just how bad those memories were.”
All of a sudden, she got up and headed to the stairs.
“Where are you going, Mom?”
“I’m going to take down your wedding picture that I have in the stairway.”
“You don’t need to do that.”
“Oh, yes, I do,” she stated emphatically. “I had gone back and forth with myself about taking it down before you came because I didn’t know whether it would make you sad, or whether you would be angry and think I was pretending you had never been married. I honestly didn’t know what to do, but now I do and I am going to take care of it right now.” I heard her climb up the stairs, remove the photo and walk into her bedroom. Then, she headed back down.
“There, now that’s taken care of,” she said as she resumed her place at the table. I had started peeling the potatoes again in her absence.
“Are you sure that potato is safe with you?” she asked.
“Yes, I feel better now,” I laughed. “How many people are you having over, anyway? This is an awful lot of food for just the three of us.”
“Oh, I invited the Thompkins over. Their children are grown and gone, also, and they were going to be all alone. I couldn’t let that happen. Besides, we have been friends for years and years. It will be nice to have them share our Thanksgiving meal with us. I also invited Fr. Farling to stop by,” she said hesitantly, then quickly added, “I don’t know if he will or not, though. I know you stopped going to Church. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, but he is our friend and I work with him so often at the Church . . .”
“It’s OK, Mom. Don’t worry about it. It’s not like I have it out for every priest out there. Fr. Farling has always been very kind. He tried to do all he could to help me after Alan died. He kept checking on me, trying to make sure I was OK. I just wasn’t in any position to take his offers of help, that’s all. It was my fault, not his. If anything, I owe him an apology, not the other way around.”
“He’s not angry with you, dear. In fact, he’s always asking me about how you are doing. The people of St. Mary’s are like his family. He cares so much about all of us.”
“I know, Mom. You are lucky to have him.” I decided to give my mom some good news in addition to all the bad news I had been dishing out that morning. “Anyway,” I began. “I’ve started going to Church again.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful!” She clapped her hands in delight and a big smile lit up her face. “Thank you, Jesus,” she said, raising her eyes to heaven. “I’ve been praying for you for so long to find your way back.”
Well, it looks like your prayers worked. A friend of mine from Springfield invited me to go with him and his family. It’s been nice to be back.”
“Him?” she inquired, eyebrows raised. Did I really want to tell her about Mike? And, if so, how much should I tell?
“Yeah, his name is Mike,” I began. “I met him at work – not that he works there. He just comes there often.”
“Ah, a fellow book lover. I see the attraction,” she said knowingly.
“No, it’s not like that,” I clarified. “We’re just friends.”
“Is he married?” she asked. “You said that you went to Church with him and his family.”
“No, he’s not married. He lives with his sister and his nephews. They own this big old Victorian house together that used to belong to his parents.”
“Does his sister have a husband?”
“No. She did, but he left her and the kids. They hardly ever hear from him. It’s too bad, too. The kids are great. He’s missing a lot not being there for them.”
“Geez, good men are hard to find these days, aren’t they?”
“You have no idea . . .”
So, anyway, tell me more about Mike. How did you meet? What does he do?”
“Let’s see, how did we meet? He runs a group at the library for people doing National Novel Writing Month. I met him at a meeting for that.”
“What’s National Novel Writing Month?” she asked as I plopped the potatoes in the water and turned on the stove.
“Every November a bunch of really crazy people attempt to write the first draft of a novel in one month. The goal is to write 50,000 words.”
“That does sound crazy,” she acknowledged. “Do people actually reach the goal?”
“Yeah, sometimes. The point is just to write and enjoy the process – to see where the story takes you. I’m actually trying it this month.”
“Nope. I’ve been enjoying it, too. I don’t know whether I’ll make the goal or not, though. The month is almost done and I still have quite a bit left to go. I brought my laptop in case I had time to write while I was up here.”
“Well, aren’t you full of surprises? My daughter, the writer – I like the sound of that.”
“Don’t get too excited, Mom. I really don’t think that my novel will be the next New York Times best seller. I don’t even know if anyone will want to read it, or if I’ll let them.”
“I’d love to read what you write! I’m sure it’s wonderful. I used to love reading the stories you wrote when you were a girl. You always had such an imagination. I don’t know where you got it from. I never had much of one. Maybe your father did when he was a boy, but I don’t know – I just can’t see it. Your father and I have always been much too practical.”
“Oh, you’re too hard on yourself. You’ve been great. The two of you were, are, good parents. Don’t get me wrong – you weren’t perfect. There were plenty of times when I was growing up that I wanted to trade you two in for someone else, but I’ve come to realize that, all things considered, I was pretty lucky.”
“I think everybody wants to trade in their parents when they are a teenager. I thought the same thing about Grandma and Grandpa when I was growing up. I came to realize they weren’t so bad, either. They had my best interests at heart, even when I couldn’t see it. It makes me feel good that you came to the same conclusion about us. We did the best we could,” she said with a resigned tone of voice.
“That’s all anybody has the right to ask.”
“So, Mike is a writer?” she inquired, changing the subject.
“See, and I thought I was going to get you off topic!” I laughed. “Is Mike a writer?” I mused. “Well, yes and no. He is a writer in the sense that he has completed five of these novels, but he refuses to let anyone read them. He says he writes just for himself, for the experience of it all.”
“That’s his prerogative, I suppose.”
“Yeah, but I sure would like to get my hands on one of those stories. I think that they would be fascinating. He is a very interesting person.”
“Uh, uh, but you are just friends?”
“Yes, Mom – just friends.”
“So what does he do for work?”
“He’s an artist.”
“Really? Is that steady work? What kind of art does he do?”
“Yeah, it is steady work. He’s actually very good, and he will do whatever work comes his way. There is always someone who is wanting to make use of his talents. He’s painted murals and done paintings of houses and dogs and flowers – anything really. He also teaches at the museum down there and at a college. He even taught me how to make a bowl in the pottery studio!”
“It sounds like you have been spending quite a bit of time together. Are you sure that you are just friends? The way your eyes light up when you talk about him – it seems like there might be something more there.” I could feel my cheeks starting to blush. My mother notices everything, doesn’t she?
“I, well, . . ” I stammered.
“You care for him, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I do. I mean, there could be something there. He’s so handsome and kind, and he has the bluest eyes that just seem like they are looking right into my soul. I feel so safe when I am with him.”
“Well, those are all good things, aren’t they? I mean, they were back in the days when I was in dating.”
“Yeah, they are good things,” I admitted, “but he isn’t interested. He has lots of friends that are girls. I’m just one of many. He doesn’t care about any of us in that way. He had fallen in love years ago with someone that he really thought was the ‘one’ if there is such a thing. She left him and married someone else. He’s never really gotten over her. I don’t think I can even hold a candle to his memory of her.”
“I’m sorry. He doesn’t realize what he’s missing.”
“Funny, he says the same thing about what Alan did to me. He said that Alan was a fool for what he did, because he didn’t realize how special I was.”
“You told him about Alan?” she asked, surprised.
“Yeah, one night it just kind of all came out. He’s a really good listener. I know, I probably shouldn’t have told him, when I hadn’t told you, but . . .”
“It’s OK,” she said. “I know it’s not always easy to tell your mother things. There were lots of things that I didn’t tell my mother.”
“He’s just really easy to talk to.”
“Well, that’s good. I’m glad that you made a friend. Just be careful. It’s OK for you to love again, but I would hate for you to get hurt again.”
“I know. I’m not trying to get hurt. It just seems to be turning out that way. I keep trying to keep my guard up. I remind myself our relationship is just platonic every day, and dream of him every night.” I couldn’t believe I was telling her this.
“It sounds like you are a lost cause.”
“I know. I’m pathetic.”
“No, you’re not. You’re just in love. It happens to the best of us.”
“Yeah, sometimes I think it’s God’s idea of a cruel joke.”
“It’s not always easy, that’s for sure. You must have realized that just watching your father and I all these years. There are days I want to hang that man by his toenails,” she said, looking out the window to the barn where he was out working. “But I’m glad that he’s been here by my side all this time. I can’t imagine life without him. I hope that you find a good man, too. Whether Mike is it or not, I can’t tell you, but someday you’ll find someone special. I just know it.”
“Thanks, Mom. I wish I had your confidence.”
“Have you been praying about it?”
“About falling in love? No.”
“Well, maybe you should.”
“Yeah, you might be right,” I admitted.
My mom looked off into the distance for a while. “Did I ever tell you about Anthony?”
“No. Who’s Anthony?”
“Well, don’t tell your father I told you – it’s so silly – he still gets jealous after all these years,” she said, shaking her head and grinning from ear to ear.
“I think I’ve got a photo around here somewhere.” She went over to an old chest that they used to keep blankets in the living room. One could never have too many blankets in Vermont. I think a couple of my first quilting attempts were still in there, serving their intended purpose alongside my mother’s much more accomplished handiwork. She reached down deep under the pile. “Your father would never dig this deep in the chest,” she explained. “He always grabs the blanket on the top. Even if he did, he probably wouldn’t notice this secret compartment.” She reached into the corner and lifted up the bottom piece. “This chest used to belong to my mother. Her father made it for her when she was a little girl,” she continued. “This half of the chest has a false bottom. He told her that a girl would have secrets and that she should have a place to keep them.”
When she opened up the compartment I could see a stack of letters tied together with some green ribbon and a faded photograph, along with what appeared to be a diamond ring.
“What is all this, Mom?”
“That’s what I am about to tell you,” she said, taking the things and settling into her chair. “This is Anthony and me.”
Two teenage faces smiled out at me from the photograph. They were both dressed up for a special occasion. My mom, as always, looked beautiful. The young man standing next to her was drop-dead gorgeous.
“My, he was handsome, wasn’t he?” I said.
“Yes, he was. I could look at that face all day and never get bored. He was smart, too! We used to always argue about everything. He would take the opposite side of whatever I said. I think that he used to do it just for fun. Truth was, though, I enjoyed it, too.” My mom looked away, lost in a memory, but she was simply glowing at the thought of it. “Anyway, we met when we were very young. I was thirteen, he was fifteen. We fell hopelessly in love. My mom thought it was ‘puppy love.’ She thought it would pass. I’ve never really understood why people say that about teenagers in love. It seems to me like that is some of the strongest love you ever feel – that first time when you are young and it is so new and wonderful . . .It leaves a permanent imprint, that’s for sure.”
“So, what happened?
“Well, your grandma was content to just let things be. She figured if she didn’t pay too much attention to it, our romance would simply burn itself out. My father, on the other hand, hated him, and definitely did not want him hanging around his daughter. He made that clear in no uncertain terms. I don’t think he had anything against him personally, but he was Italian. That was enough.”
“Ah . . .” Now I understood. Even at the end of his life, my pure-blood Irish grandfather never had anything good to say about anyone or anything associated with Italy, except, possibly, the Pope. For him, he was willing to make an exception.
“Anyway, we didn’t care. My mom managed to keep your grandpa from going after him with his shotgun. Come to think of it, I don’t imagine that was an easy feat. And, we continued seeing each other every chance we could. When I turned seventeen, he asked me to marry him. He gave me this ring.” She held it up for me to see.
“It’s beautiful.” It was a small diamond but it still glimmered in the light.
“I was so happy! I threw my arms around him and said ‘Yes.’ I was so excited. I rushed home to tell my parents and show my mom the ring. I knew my father wasn’t going to be happy, but I figured he must have expected it. After all, we had been dating for two years. I was not ready for his reaction. He was so furious. You remember your grandfather’s temper, don’t you?”
“Oh yes, I remember it well.” In fact, it was legendary.
“He demanded that I break off our engagement. He told me that no daughter of his was going to marry a boy like that as long as he was living on this earth. I’m almost ashamed to admit this, but for a moment there, I actually hoped God would send a well-placed bolt of lightening and strike him down. He told me I was grounded permanently, that I was never to see Anthony again.”
“What did you do?”
“I didn’t know what to do. He was so angry. I knew no amount of begging and pleading on my part was going to change anything. My mom wasn’t as opposed, but she felt I was too young to be getting married. She had been married at sixteen and I think she always wished she had been a bit older, had a chance to experience more of the world. I think she wanted more for me. She tried to calm both me and Dad down, but it was no use.
“I snuck out after I knew my father was sleeping and went to find Anthony. We made plans to elope. His friend knew a Justice of the Peace in the next town who wasn’t too particular about birth certificates, as I would need to fudge my age a bit. I felt horrible about not getting married in a Church wedding, but I felt like I had no choice. I knew my father wasn’t going to change his mind. I hoped that God would understand. We made plans to get married the following weekend. We were supposed to meet at the park late at night. I only packed a couple changes of clothes to bring with me – I had to be able to climb out the window, after all. I knew we would be starting life with nothing, but I didn’t care. I loved him. I wanted to be with him. That was enough. When I got to the park, though, Anthony wasn’t there. He had sent his best friend Patrick to meet me instead.”
“Not Dad?” I asked, not believing my ears.
“Yes, the one and the same. I didn’t know him all that well then, though. We had only met a few times. He had a letter for me from Anthony.”
“What did it say?”
“I have it right here.” She took the top letter from under the green ribbon, unfolded the well-worn sheet of paper and began to read.
My darling Colleen,
I’m so sorry I couldn’t tell you this in person, but I know if I saw you, I would never have the strength to leave. You know I love you. I love you more than I ever have, or ever will, love anyone on this earth, but that is why I must go. I can’t take you away from your family, your friends, everything you know and love. I know that you love me and are willing to give it all up. That means more to me than you’ll ever know. That thought alone will keep me warm for 10,000 nights. But I know that in time you would resent me for it. When we had children and you couldn’t bring them to your parents, or when your parents were dying and you couldn’t visit – the day would come when you would hate me for it, and I cannot bear the thought of that. Your father is a proud, stubborn man. He won’t change his mind. You and I both know that. I know you will be angry at me for this. I don’t blame you, but I am doing what I must do, for both our sakes. Please don’t try to find me. I will always remember you, always dream of you, always love you. I hope someday that you will forgive me and think of me with the same fondness.
Tears were in my mother’s eyes. Mine, too. “That’s beautiful, Mom.”
“Yes. I’ve read this letter so many times. I know it by heart. It’s so silly that I still cry after all these years.”
“What did you do after you got it?”
“Your father walked me home. We walked in silence. I don’t think he had any idea what to say to me. I climbed back up to my window, unpacked my things, put the letter and my engagement ring in this chest, and cried myself to sleep. The next day, I acted like everything was fine, and I never mentioned Anthony’s name again in my house. My father just thought I was finally being an obedient daughter. My mother was a bit more suspicious, I think, but I never said anything to her, either.”
“Didn’t you try to find him?”
“Yes, I did, but he hadn’t told Patrick or his parents where he was going. His parents were as upset as I was, although they didn’t know I was the reason he had left. He had written them a letter saying he needed to find himself. I thought of him everyday, though, and cried myself to sleep every night for months. I’m ashamed to admit this, but on most days, I still think of him. Part of me will always belong to him,” she admitted. “Several years later, I read in the paper that he had been killed in Vietnam. They shipped his body home. They found this photo of the two of us in his pocket. Your father and I went to his funeral.”
“Oh, Mom, I’m so sorry.”
“We lost too many young men to that war,” she stated firmly, then continued with her story. “But, back here at home, Patrick kind of took it as his responsibility to look after me. I don’t know whether Anthony asked him to or not, but as he had lost his best friend and I had lost my boyfriend, we both were rather lonely and began to spend quite a bit of time together. He was a good, solid man, and not too hard on the eyes, either,” she added with a smile. “We needed each other. The rest, as they say, is history.”
“Wow. I can’t believe this. All those years when you said that the two of you met through a mutual friend, this is not what I had in mind.”
“I know. You won’t tell your father I told you?”
“No, I promise. Your secret is safe with me. You won’t tell him about Alan?”
“No. It would only raise his blood pressure. Do you know why I told you about Anthony?”
“No, why did you? Why now?”
“Because I wanted you to know that I know what it is to be hurt by someone you love. We all get hurt by love at some point in our lives, often more than once.” She took my face in her hands, and looked steadfastly into my eyes and spoke with great determination. “Like I told you, I don’t want to see you get hurt again, because I know getting your heart broken hurts like hell, but falling in love is still worth it.” She paused, still looking me in the eye. “It is a great risk to love, but it is a greater risk not to.
“Oh my goodness, look at the time. I need to get ready for our guests.” She hurriedly put away the letters and her ring, piled the blankets back on top and closed the chest. I would never look at that chest in the same way! “Would you mind setting the table, and checking on the vegetables while I go get dressed?”
“Sure thing, Mom.” I went to go get the good china out of the cabinet and our thanksgiving tablecloth out of the dining room hutch. I was still a little stunned by what my mother had shared with me. I can’t believe I never knew about such an important part of my mother’s past. She almost married someone else? If that had happened, I wouldn’t be here at all. My parents went together so well. I mean, I guess I knew that they must have dated other people, but I had never given it much thought. They had always seemed made for each other. Wow! It had been a lot to take in for one morning. And I had thought I was the one with the secrets!