My Romantic Grandmothers

I know we are well past Valentine’s Day weekend, but I have carried my grandmother Rosa’s love story in my back pocket since I began collecting stories to tell. I consider that I’m either late for this year or early for the next, but some love stories never get old, and this may be the year Rosa’s finally gets on the page.

The truth is that when Valentine’s Day comes around, what I remember about Rosa, causes me to speculate about love and the hype associated with happily ever after. What is it about a connection between two people that goes beyond the “I do” and society’s expectations? What keeps some people together for decades while others give up after the first round of conflict? I’ve put down some thoughts, actually lots of thoughts, which I will share over the coming days.

The Hype

Each year, countless individuals put LOVE at the center of their vision boards or at the top of their list of New Year’s resolutions. No matter what age group or whether looking for a new or improved relationship, we find hearts filled with hopes and dreams of catching that elusive mythical butterfly of love.

In the same way that marketing and merchandizing stir up dreams of the proverbial romantic love, social media keeps pace with the trend. The newsfeeds are flooded with memes, poems, and words of wisdom involving love and relationships to address all expectations or interpretations of love.  

The Help

After decades of trial and error, I’ll share some reflections based solely on my personal observations or experience. 

I remember that before there was social media and its memes, I would take the personality quizzes in my teen magazines to find the characteristics to look for in my perfect match, my soulmate.  Then, I would turn to the back pages to find my horoscope to see if a tall, dark, and handsome stranger would cross my path that month.

Thankfully, along with the fantasy, there are genuinely informative and helpful articles.  Sometimes the headings tend to be sensationalized to intrigue the reader, but generally, one can find a helpful nugget or two. Some common themes that have crossed my desktop are: The Egomaniac Partner; How to Recognize a Toxic Person; What to do if your Love Language doesn’t Translate; Don’t be a Doormat; Self-love is the best love, and variations of these.  These are not actual titles but if you are interested in these topics, use your search engine to find information and expert opinion.

The Grandmother Stories –

This finally brings me to my grandmother’s story.  In 1893, Rosa was a young girl of fourteen when she married Carlos, who was four years older. He bought her a house on the edge of town, and together they had thirteen children, seven of which made it to adulthood as caring and loving individuals. My grandfather Carlos was a hardworking, honest man of his time. To his grandchildren,  he was loving, and we remember him as an old bulldog with a bark worse than his bite. There was no question, though, that he was the law and the justice of his little personal fiefdom. I’m told that in his youth, his personality and good looks gave him certain liberties with the women in town. By the social standards of her time, my grandmother had to learn to accept it. She didn’t like it, but she was a woman that stood by her man, faithful no matter what.  

I remember once, when her sister Lola was visiting for a few days, she teased my grandmother about this. Lola told us about a certain younger woman from down the street who, now in her seventies, still made sure she had bright red lipstick on when she walked by my grandparents’ house on her way to town. I was not accustomed to seeing my sweet grandmother with ruffled feathers, but that day, between gritted teeth, she said to her sister, “Oh hush! That old fool looks ridiculous wearing such vulgar lipstick at her age.” I had to laugh because I couldn’t believe that she apparently still had issues about an affair my grandfather had after all these years. What was that all about?  Was that Love? Was she still insecure about her marriage after almost seventy years?  Different times, different culture- maybe? 

Several years later, a couple months after my grandfather died, a few of us went over to check-in and visit with Rosa. Truthfully, I don’t remember all the conversations that day. We were all bustling around cooking, cleaning, and trying to keep her spirits up. Still, I remember that she broke my heart when she quietly interrupted to tell us, “I don’t think I will make it to Valentine’s Day this year. I have celebrated Valentine’s Day with Carlos since before I was fourteen.  I don’t think I can do it alone this year.”

Days later, I got a call that my grandmother was in ICU at the hospital where I worked. She was with a pulmonary embolism and not doing well. I went up to see her, kissed her forehead, and held her hand. Her eyes fluttered, and she was gone. It was Valentine’s Day. She was determined to spend it with Carlos for all eternity.  

My paternal grandmother, Euphemia, has a different story. Whenever I think of Rosa, I naturally think of her.  One day with a house full of people, she sought me out, and silently sat by my side while I watched my little girls feed and chase the chickens in her yard. After a bit, she whispered, “Does Eddie ever visit you?” Eddie, my husband, passed at a young age.  A muted anguish in her tone alarmed me.

Based on family stories, I understand that Eufemia’s was an arranged marriage. She was well into her 20s – almost a spinster by the social norms of her culture. Perhaps, some say she was firmly encouraged by her parents to marry her cousin’s cousin, my grandfather, Saturno. He was ten years her senior. They had seven children.

In response to her question, I told her that I vividly dreamed of him a couple of times during the first year.  She put her head down as her dark eyes glistened with tears and said, “Saturno, never visited me.  I guess he never really loved me.”  

 They had been married fifty years at the time of his death at seventy-two.  At the time of our conversation, she had survived him by about thirty years. Sadly, she waited for him to show his love – from beyond the grave. Was this Love? I can’t imagine what it would be like living all those years, wondering if your husband loved you. We never spoke of it again. She passed many years later at the age of one hundred and five. I always wonder if they met again in another life.

It is Better to Have Loved

I am a firm believer in the premise of the famous quote from Alfred Lord Tennyson, “’tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.”  It took me years to find a balance after my life and dreams were turned upside down by my first husband’s death.  However, I have been fortunate to have experienced unconditional love and support from family and friends, some of whom have already passed.  I have been widowed, divorced, betrayed by close friends and lovers – and still, I believe.

What do I believe about love?  It is magical!  You can’t package it, and you really can’t fake it.  But it’s not the same for everyone. It’s that feeling of warm sunshine on your face, but it also warms your heart when you are with a loved one.  It feels like tickles and giggles and laughter till your sides ache. It’s feeling safe in someone’s arms, like when a mother cradles a baby. It’s a child feeding or bathing an elderly parent. It’s a partner shoveling the driveway so that you can get to work. It’s a friend bringing you chicken soup when you are under the weather. It’s a pooch or a kitty following you around until it can cuddle and comfort you when you’ve had a hard day. I can go on.  I think it’s wonderful, painful, risky, and scary but worth it.  Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments. 

Forms of Love

Elusive Butterfly of Love – Bob Lind 1966

Quote from Alfred Lord Tennyson (Brainyquote.com)

Photo- Love Year-Round Yoga Digest

Laughing on the Inside

You grow up the day you have the first real laugh at yourself. Ethel Barrymore from AZ quotes

The other morning I had one of those episodes where I had to laugh at myself or in spite of myself. I find I do it quite often these days; I believe it’s one of the perks brought on by aging and wisdom of our years.
I started my morning with my mind set on a plan for a project in the yard. I’m house sitting while taking care of my daughter’s eighty five pound furbaby. She and her husband have their hands full with careers and a toddler size human baby, so I decided to make use of idle time and clean up the yard a bit before they got home. Nothing major, I’m not a gardener. I had a small flower garden once which was mostly landscaped already when I bought the house. With minimal fuss, that garden managed to come back and thrive every year from spring through fall. These days I’m working on trying to get a potted orchid to flower again.

person holding green leafed plant
Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com

I was up and dressed bright and early with gardening shorts, t-shirt and safari hat. I wanted to get it done before the temperature became unbearable but I couldn’t find my daughter’s gardening gloves. I have allergies and an intense dislike for creepy crawly things, so I wasn’t going out there without gloves. What a dilemma! I had to run to the store to pick up a pair of gloves, but I was dressed for tropical weather gardening, not shopping.
To understand my problem, we’d have to go back to my family of origin where the mantra was “we may be poor, but we are proud!” Mom always made sure our clothes were clean, ironed with starch and our shoes polished. She learned from her mother.
My grandmother was an adorable, plump little woman. Over the years I’ve mentioned a few times that someday I wanted to be a cute, little old lady like her. (I’m practically there). She wore her thinning white hair in a small bun at the nape of her neck. Her back slightly curved from years as a seamstress. In her late 70s, her alabaster skin was without blemish and smooth, and her eyes were a turquoise green like the tranquil waters of the Caribbean Basin. It was just recently that my aunt had convinced her that she didn’t need to iron my grandfather’s boxers or her bed sheets because of the new permanent press fabrics. She still starched and pressed her house dresses and my grandfather’s white cotton shirts and khakis.
One summer when I was visiting my grandmother, she asked me if I wanted to go shopping in town with her. She was walking to town and wanted some company. We were already in town, but she meant about 20 minutes to the stores on the main street, more if she saw friends along the way. I dressed quickly and waited for my grandmother on the porch.

My grandmother, Mrs. Plumeria Bridge put one foot out on the porch, looked at me and stopped in her tracks. She looked up and down at me, and I noticed the tranquil waters in her eyes were starting to churn like angry waves before a storm. “Go in and change. I’m not taking you with me like that.” Period and end of the story were implied in her tone. Of course, I was young, and I needed to ask why: “What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?” At the time, I thought it was cool for a girl from the big city to wear overalls with a T-shirt and sneakers. My question triggered a lecture on the proper attire of lovely young ladies going into town. She didn’t want to hear what I did back home, so I went in and changed to a sundress, ladylike sandals and wore my long dark hair in a braid.
Fast forward to 2018, and I’m standing at the doorway with my car keys in hand, ready to go to the Town Center in workout shorts, a sleeveless t-shirt, sneakers without socks and my wild hair particularly unruly this morning. I was just going to run in and out but what if I saw someone I knew? Well, I don’t know many people in this town, I thought as I encouraged myself. Besides Hollywood A-listers do it all the time, I just won’t take off my sunglasses! That’s when it happened; I laughed at myself for giving so much thought to explain my options as if to my grandmother.
As it turned out, once I was at the Town Center, I remembered a couple of other things I needed and made another stop. I was not just in and out at either store. I chatted with the clerks and a woman behind me in line. No one asked me why I was wearing comfortable workout shorts and sneakers without socks to the trendy Town Center.
At another point in my life, I probably wouldn’t have gone out, or if I had to, I would have changed to something more “presentable.” I realize though that if anyone I know passes judgment about me because of the clothes I wear, then they don’t value me for the person I am. I am beyond the point where I feel the need to prove my worth. I am what I am, and it is what it is.
Since it’s my nature to ponder, I reflected on how often we judge others by their appearance. I often say that it seems like the experiences from our school years play out throughout our lives. We see the same behaviors at work or in social groups. Only the names and faces change. Naturally, whenever this topic crosses my mind, I am reminded of a young girl, a classmate from my middle and high school years, Grace Fore. I was an average kid. I managed to stay under the radar and out of trouble. I wasn’t popular but had friends from different groups that I had met through various activities like art electives, tutoring, orchestra, boosters, yearbook, and church.

woman looking at camera
Grace Fore was a loner. I didn’t know anything about her home life, but I knew she played the viola beautifully with such sentimentality. I remember that it was apparent that she was trying to fix her appearance. Kids teased her when she tried a new hairstyle and her hair still looked disheveled or when she wore a misshapen dress that she made herself in class. They called her Grace Forlorn. I didn’t verbally defend her, I usually just moved my friends along before it got worse. I always wished I had been braver.
A few years ago as the world turns, I received a Facebook friend request from Grace Fore with a simple question “Do you remember me?” “Of course,” I answered, “you played the viola beautifully. Do you still play?” She wrote to me about the difficult life she had growing up and how it turned out not much better as an adult. And then she broke my heart when she said: “but you were always nice to me, and it meant so much.” I really didn’t much. I was taught and always believed in the message:
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” Wendy Mass, The Candymakers from Goodreads.
If she hadn’t reached out, I would have never known that one small kindness would mean so much after all these years. She unfriended me shortly after over differences in political ideology, but I’m glad we connected. It validated my core beliefs.
After driving home in this meditative state, I needed a drink before I tackled the yard. It was the middle of the day in Florida with temperatures in the triple digits. I poured a tall glass of iced tea, put my feet up and decided I would start fresh tomorrow. I shook my head, I snickered to myself.