Tag Archives: love

What is romance?

My father was a Depression era kid raised (primarily) by a single working mother. He was far from being  the “beach stud”. He was an asthmatic guy that weighed all of 109 pounds when he entered the Navy during WWII. The wartime action he saw did not transform him into a suave, medal-wearing extrovert. He played saxophone with some of the “Big Bands” and was still a scrawny, introverted, curious, wanderer when he returned from playing in the bars of Paris after the war. He came back to become a writer. He looked like a beatnik. That’s when he met my mother. It was in a bar. Both were on dates with other people. She caught his eye, and 6 weeks later, they were engaged. Wedding bells rang in less than a year.

Which brings me to something else my father was; my father was an incredible romantic. I always saw him as the larger-than-life, soap-opera, romance novel, big screen movie kind of romantic. (In fact, he once told me that, in the absence of his father, most of what he knew about romance he had learned from the movies.) I grew up watching the interactions with my mother, and I saw the romance daily. It was in the details– a bunch of violets when they came home from a date in San Francisco, a foot rub at the end of her long day tending 9 children, well guarded “date days”and late night swims in the pool, a bracelet filled with specially selected charms from travels around the world, the way he called her “Doll”, countless notes and trinkets that held meaning to just the two of them, their songs, the way he reached for her hand, private jokes and the way she laughed, a bowl of hotel soaps that held a lifetime of memories…. In the eyes of a little girl, he was short only a white stallion. Yep, their romance of almost 50 years was in the details.

On an anniversary one year, my dad gave my mom one of the most romantic gifts I had ever seen. He had a piece of heavy glass cut and beveled to fit the top of her make-up table. Under it, he placed a piece of heavy parchment type paper upon which he had carefully recorded their life together through cryptic words, selected locations and abbreviated comments. In closing, a simple “…” signified there were memories yet to be made together. He was a classic romantic.

A little more than 2 and a half decades ago, I met my own romantic man. I saw him, and he saw me, though neither of us let on. We came from different backgrounds and he was there to work at my parent’s house, not date their daughter. He had a deep tan, dark Italian eyes, strong muscles, and a smile that could light up a room, despite his shy nature. We flirted, parted, and were eventually pushed together by friends that saw the chemistry between us. Our first date turned into three days, and three days into a life together.

In my youth, I thought there was only one way to romance a woman–the way I had watched my father romance my mother. As a grown woman, I have learned that romance is different for each couple…

My father worked with words, my husband with his hands. New windows, a fence around my garden, a bed made for my daughter, well maintained cars and a cottage built by his hands all show me his love.

My father was a planner, my husband spontaneous. Secluded trails, greasy spoons, and unplanned Saturdays in bed remind me I am loved.

My father was demonstrative, my husband more reserved. Stolen glances, a gentle hand upon my leg, and a subtle brush against me in the kitchen assure me I am his, and he is mine.

Both men have (had) always protected and provided for the women they love, and both offer genuine romance from their hearts.

21 years ago, my husband and I married. Though no marriage is without bumps, there is no one else I would rather share this roller coaster with. After all these years, he still surprises me, encourages me, makes me blush, laugh, and my stomach flutter. But above all, he makes me feel loved through his own special form of romance.

For my husband, and with gratitude to my father for the idea, here is my own abbreviated, cryptic glimpse at romance.

A bunch of wildflowers picked in the foothills… pizza dinners on your late school nights… a massive earthquake… badminton games… B&B getaways… Bill of Fare… an old Chevy and “3 on the tree”… a cat hanging on a screen door… llama wrestling… a James Brown concert and angry horses… raccoons at Thanksgiving dinner… a small Christmas tree… the Napa Wine Train… a wedding eve haircut… the pizza parlor, a glass of wine, and a wedding dress… popping champagne watching the “moon rise”… a little blue Sunbeam… casting, not fishing… a volcano and the Banyan tree in Maui… driving through a redwood tree… tracking wild boars…  “All Dogs Go to Heaven”… Princeton-by-the-Sea and the Sandbar…”Paler Shade of White”… drizzly, grey days at the beach… dancing with Greek friends in Acapulco… “mi amico”…Venetian mask shops… finding you in Portofino… “Dr. Banana”…the Olympic arch in Olympia… grappa in Florence… crossing “dangerous” streets in Rome… a Greek fisherman that shared his catch on the beach… feta cheese and olives… the flowers in Capri… the dogs in Monte Carlo… fertility treatments, miscarriages, and two beautiful girls… an antique diamond ring… a little yellow farm-house with a magic tree slide and wonderful neighbors that helped make a house a home… a green frog Christmas ornament… a Steve Martin play in San Francisco… thrift stores, garage sales, and flea markets… watching the Vatican Mass on countless Christmas Eve’s… sleigh bells to spur imagination… a handmade and painted toddler bed… Grandpa’s clock in the wee hours…plane ride with animals on the tail… an Italian dessert made with peaches… a pensione in San Francisco’s little Italy… a hamster co-pilot… surgeries, hospital stays, and morphine induced jokes… a log cabin and swings that soar high… little antique shops… river rafting in Jamaica, swimming with stingrays and Xcaret… the bus system and cupcakes in Vancouver… Christmas mornings in the cottage… the Denver Art Museum… satellite spotting in the hot tub… invasive bunnies… running bear snacks… a glacier and a rain forest in Alaska… Pike’s Peak… “It’s a bear, it’s a bear, it’s a bear!”… a one man town… an old fort in Utah…Zion National Park… river rafting… snow in the Grand Canyon and wind in the Sand Dunes… archery competitions and cat posts… horses, rabbits, cats, lizards, snakes, rats, hamsters, frogs, newts, fish, and a dog… rogue pumpkin plants and feeder fish… camping trips… escargot, caviar, and “bobs”…  “The Lion King”, the opera, and Christmas-time plays at a small theater… cottage dates……….

Thank you, my love, for the details of my life. The best is yet to come….

(Photo credit: Maren Miller at www.marenmillerphotography.blogspot.com)

“I love you the purplest.”

My mom had amazingly sharp instincts. With a glance, she could read the mood of any one of her kids. There were times I was convinced she could even read my mind. She was especially astute at detecting stirring tensions between her children. Simply walking through a room, it seemed, she could mediate our sibling glares with a touch, a look, or a gentle word. With little effort, her  pre-emptive strikes often diffused brewing battles. I can only imagine what she might have taught the UN Council,  given the opportunity.

She was a wise woman, but there was one battle I think she never truly won. And, it certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying. According to my children, it is the “unwinnable” battle, and, when there is more than one child in the house, it is likely unavoidable.  A sibling is a child’s first  “opponent” in life, each vying  for a mother’s exclusive attention; “I want mom’s lap!”, “Mom, will you read ME this book?”, “Mom bought this for me, not you!”, “Mom…Mom….MOM!” As mothers, we stretch ourselves in attempt to meet the needs of each child, and still, we have only one lap, only two arms, only 24 hours in a day to fill each bucket. 

Regardless of a mother’s best efforts, sibling rivalries often sprout early and grow through the years, rapidly, it appears, during the teen years and times of  perceived disparities in discipline. As mothers, we are sucked into the turbulent vortex with an assault to our (sometimes fragile) maternal identities by those we love most, our children. In anger and/or disappointment, our little darlings lob the ultimate verbal bomb, “________ is your favorite. You love him/her more than me!” It finds our hearts with stealth accuracy. It is the nuclear weapon in a child’s arsenal. It is an indefensible accusation, akin to asking a husband,”When did you stop beating your wife?”And really, how does one argue the logic (or lack thereof) of a child when you are so tired you could sleep standing up? The war was lost before the battle began.

Truth is, when the child to mother ratio exceeds 1:1, problems are bound to arise. The power struggle for attention seems to take root upon the conception of baby number 2 and grows more antagonistic as a pregnant lap shrinks.  Though my mom tried, really tried, to give us each our own little sliver of herself, at 9:1 odds, she was plain outnumbered and, aside from cloning herself, didn’t stand a chance at winning the tender ego-driven “Who do you love more?” battle. But, she never stopped trying and she generously shared with me the wisdom of her experience.

With the arrival of my second, she saw the winds of change swirling around me. Shortly after I came home from the hospital she arrived with a box of gifts. Inside, cached among the little outfits and blankets, was a children’s book. “Not today, not tomorrow, but one day this will come up,” she assured me. (Little did I know just how right she would be.) As she held her newest granddaughter, and with my first-born tucked snuggly by my side, I flipped through the pages of I Love You the Purplest by Barbara M. Joosse.  

That day, I became privy to a mother’s secret; as mothers we don’t, and really can’t, possibly love our children “the same”; they are not the same people. This does not mean that we don’t love them equally, of course we do, or try to, but if we are to see them as individuals, we can’t possibly love them the same. 

In her book, Joosse’s story begins with two brothers hunting for fishing worms. One asks, “Mama, who has the most worms?” and the other asks, “Mama, who is the best rower?” The story continues as  “Mama” negotiates her way through the delicate maze of comparison questions during a day of fishing. All the while, “Mama” never chooses one as the best ______, giving both boys equal, but different praise; “Max, your can is full of the liveliest worms. And Julian, your can has the juiciest.” 

That evening, as “Mama” tucks her boys into bed, Julian whispers, “Who do you love the best?” “Mama” gently answers she loves Julian “the bluest,” the color of a dragonfly, the deepest part of a cave, the mist of a mountain, the hush of a whisper. To the same question, she tells Max she loves him “the reddest,” the color of the sky at dusk, the color of a campfire, a wide open hug, and the thunder of a shout. Together, the reader learns, she loves both her boys the “purplest.” Equal, but different, each bringing something unique and special to the mama’s heart.

For several years, my girls loved hearing this story, especially when read with their names inserted.  Truthfully though, like my mother, I doubt I will ever really win the “you love her more” battle.  My teens caution, “You can’t win because it’s like boxing a ghost when you’re fighting against feelings.” Nonetheless, I tell them everyday that I love them, hoping they see my love for them is equal, but unique, just as they are. Conceivably because they are teens, that message is often lost. Perhaps someday, when they have children of their own, they will come to understand their mama’s love, just as I did.