I have always had what you might call the absent-minded professor syndrome. Combine that with being pretty pampered growing up and you end up with a very smart ding dong. I think what most impressed me about Butch when we were first dating was that he could fix anything and make something out of nothing. Those go especially well together in that he could fix almost anything I could break. I was married to MacGyver!!
Our first dinner guests were my cousin Carolyn and her husband, Gary. They popped in (from two hours away) for a visit three weeks after we were married and took up residence in Texas. This was nothing less than a miracle. With more than a week left in the month and virtually no income other than Butch’s monthly check from the Army, we had a dime, a few redeemable soda bottles, and practically no food in the refrigerator. They took us to the grocery store and saved us from a very long week of rice and pancakes. I did have a frozen casserole. This was the second half of a meal I prepared the first week in Texas. I only knew how to cook for my family of seven, so we always had extra. Since my brothers devoured the food, I had never seen a frozen casserole, much less cooked one. I simply put it in the oven for the time indicated in the original recipe with no adjustment for its being frozen. In the meantime, I attempted to make Italian salad dressing from an envelope. We did not have oil to mix with the vinegar. No problem. I cleverly melted some Crisco and combined it according to the recipe on the envelope. As you have already guessed, when the Crisco hit the cold lettuce, it solidified. Not yummy. After dinner, when we were alone, Butch told me that was the last time he would cover for me and eat frozen food for dinner so I better learn some new stuff. This was in the dark ages before there were microwave ovens. He had politely served the hot part of the casserole to our guests, served the warm part to me, and quietly eaten the semi-frozen part himself. On our 30th wedding anniversary we were talking about what had changed over the years. I asked him what had improved the most. He said it was my cooking. Incensed, I asked him what I made in the beginning that was so much better. He said, “Dinner.” I think that was as much my learning to cook like his mom as it was learning to cook for less than seven people and how to deliver warm food. With rare exception, after each of my ding dong moments over the years I looked into his face and saw genuine love and enjoyment. While he believed me to be very smart, he was also amazed by the ways that my brain could wander off and end up in the strangest places. Even when I managed to set the water bed on fire!!
I have heard it said that the greatest need of any person is to be fully known and yet fully loved. My father was very grouchy. Yet my stepmother loved him anyway. You could not spend any time at all with them without hearing her say, “Now Don…..” My Aunt Juanell died just last month. The woman in that hospital bed looked nothing like the beautiful woman I knew as a small child and who loved me like her own. Yet my uncle, leaning near her to the very end, still looked at her as if she was the most beautiful and precious woman in the world. I remember Butch’s mom keeping vigil in the hospital in the last few days before his dad died of lung cancer. I watched her rubbing his thumb by the hour. When she saw I was watching her, she said, “It’s just occurring to me that very soon, I will never see this thumb again.” As Butch lay dying at Kaiser and I stood next to his bed with my hand on his cheek, the nurse asked me if I wouldn’t rather sit down. I told her I was memorizing him. It occurred to me that very soon, I too would never touch that cheek again. I couldn’t let go and sit down.
One of the hardest parts of becoming us without them is the belief that no one will ever know us like that. The history is long and intricate. The shared experiences run deep and wide. How can that be recreated? Surely no one will ever look at us with such love again. During the first year, it is hard to remember life before them and impossible to imagine life without them. In the second year, we realize that an entire year has gone by without them and there will likely be many more. Unbelievably, we have survived. There are still days when we wonder if it is worth the energy it takes to get up and face another day without them. It all seems hard and sometimes too hard. But life does not wait for us to volunteer to move forward; it just drags us along. A new version of us is emerging, possibly wiser, probably stronger, and certainly more resilient. We have accomplished things we would never have tried when they were alive. We are no longer stuck in the familiarity of our comfort zone because there is no comfort zone. It’s all new. Like it or not, we have been launched.
Slowly we remember that they were not actually the source of our value and worth. We are a reflection of God, not of them. We need only look into God’s eyes to find our true identity. Even now, my world is filled with people who do look into my eyes to see how I am doing. They show me in many ways that I am seen and loved and enjoyed. And because some of them have known me for a very long time, I am, in many ways, still fully known and yet fully loved.
And some of them know all about the water bed fire……………..