Yesterday was Valentine’s Day here in the States so it seems fitting my thoughts turned to love. The Universe came through in spades, as it always does. I was searching for some old photos of my sons to put in frames, which meant digging through boxes of memorabilia. And this little gem showed up.
Stick with me, folks. I realize your interest in my memories will be limited. But I’ll soon get to the part universal to us all.
I smiled when I pulled it out of the box—a small ink sketch from my father. Hi there, Dad. How nice of you to “visit” on Valentine’s Day. My dad was a sucker for sentiment, you see. From flowers for no reason to heartfelt cards—always with a personal message—he took the cake. So when I unearthed this gem—a sketch it looks like he did while waiting for my mother to appear for cocktails before dinner—it made me smile. I don’t know why they took this trip, just that I didn’t go. I was young and stayed home with my sisters. I have to believe this may have been part of a midlife marital rejuvenation, a romantic trip to New Orleans to complement the disco dancing lessons they had been taking together. Hey, it was the 1970s. The Bee Gees were in full force, people.
It’s so like my father to note where they were—the 41st floor of the Marriott Hotel in a lounge called “Top of the Mart.” It looks like Mom and Dad visited when this place was still hip and happenin’—decades before Katrina decimated it. I’m so glad Dad memorialized the view. So like him not only to note the date and time, but also that it was dusk and “overlooking the Mississippi River.” The Huey Long Bridge looks prettier in this sketch than it ever has in reality. He romanticized it a bit, as he did most things. And it’s soooo like him to draw on whatever he had handy—this time, a table card from a riverboat they’d probably been on earlier in the day. Look at those 1970s prices.
He gave this little gift to my mom. It’s nice to know I had a father who—when given a few free minutes—decided to let his muses speak to him. And then gave my mother a memento to remember not only the trip but also what I hope was a really lovely evening for them.
This Valentine’s Day, a couple of friends were discussing how far they’d come since their divorces. Both are with men that they think will last a lifetime. Second chances are all the more precious, right? Funny—when I talk about how far I’ve come, it’s usually around learning to budget better and be a one-woman show in this thing we call life. The lifetime guy sounds really nice and sometimes I can imagine elements of him. No complete picture, though. I guess that’s ok. He may be as much wishful thinking as he is a truly scary concept for me. Oh, to be vulnerable again. Guess I’ll live on into that one.
But if I have to envision myself with someone, as we tend to do when unattached, I’d like to think it’s a man who has a romantic streak. A man who gives me little sentimental gifts. A man as unabashedly demonstrative of his love as my dad was. I’ve written before of holding out for a love like that.
So many married friends don’t celebrate what they call “the Hallmark holidays.” I get it. Commercialism doesn’t tend to do much for a woman’s libido. But a true gift—one created just because someone was thinking of you, doing something for you, giving of himself—man, that matters to me. I’m not cynical enough to give up on the concept. Maybe that’s why I surprised my friends when I dated Southern men as a modern woman. I like opened doors. I like expressions of affection. I like to be told when someone notices I look nice. I like surprises. Southern gentlemen have been well-trained in all of the above.
Bottom line: It’s my firm opinion we need more people who recognize the magic in life—and create it where it may not exist. People like my dad. I learned from a master.
My parents’ marriage was far from perfect. I often thought maybe my mother should have married the newspaper editor she talked about having dated when young. And maybe my father should have dated someone who celebrated his affections more. But they made it work, in the long run, with love.
For my friends who celebrate how far they’ve come in love—whether on a first chance, second chance, what-have-you—I’m happy. Honestly, I see few stellar long-term relationships. And the older I get, the more I realize love may come best in vignettes. Short scenes, played out over a long life, but enough of them strung together to make a difference. People who master those tend, I think, to master long-term love. And it doesn’t have to be all wine and roses. My friend’s face when she sees her husband outside shoveling the driveway is a beautiful testament to love. And the way he looks when he brings her coffee in the morning—well, it’s really sweet. He takes in the soft creases around her eyes, her bleary-eyed look, her less-than-sunny disposition—and he loves. He just loves. He doesn’t judge or linger on the external. You can tell he has bought into the whole package. I know many of you will say, “But of course. Isn’t that what a marriage or long-term relationship is?” Yes. But I can’t tell you how many I see that aren’t that. They’re facsimiles on the outside but they’ve lost their internal stuffing.
So maybe I will have love in vignettes in a for-the-rest-of-my-life love. Or maybe I will have vignettes strung together over a lifetime from multiple loves. I had kind of hoped for the former. If I allow myself to indulge in what I know my father would say, it would be this: “Peanut, love can come along at any time and in the most unexpected places. Just make sure it’s a mighty one before you leap. Nothing else is worth it.”
If you’re in my shoes—in a similar unattached situation–he’d say the same to you. He’d probably omit the “Peanut” part. But he’d mean it just the same.
And he’d say it with such conviction that, despite yourself, you’d believe him. See? Magic.