Tuesday, January 26, 2010
SECURITY IN A BOOK OF POETRY; or, How Does One Show Love?
My parents’ marriage was often rocky, sometimes violent. And yet, just the other day, as I paged through the photo albums my mom had saved, I once again came across her collection of Valentine cards. Each card--some from her, some from him--is glued onto pages that even after all this time, adhere well to paper made brittle by years of attic storage. When I was a little girl I loved sitting with Mom on our scratchy old nylon sofa. With one arm around me and the other balancing the album across our laps, she would tell me stories about how she'd walk to the local five and dime to select just the right card to send to her new husband in--ah, but here’s the rub. She didn’t know where he was. World War II censors did their job well; correspondence was often riddled with scissored holes where any hint of a soldier’s whereabouts might tip the scales if the information were to get into enemy hands.
Now I touch the bit of lace on the hat of one of the cards, a silk necktie on another. I trace my fingers over declarations of love, some pre-printed, others hand written. Most poignant, knowing their relationship through my adult eyes, are the statements from my mom--comments like “I know I don’t let you see into my heart very often, but an abiding love....” She never talked like this and I ponder the forces that moved her to put these thoughts on paper. And I start to wonder: Just how does one show love? Through words? Through actions? My dad was sometimes violent but he had a tender, caring side that showed up far more often than his outbursts of anger. Every Christmas, birthday, and Valentine’s day he always presented her with her favorite chocolate covered cherries from Fannie Farmer, even though he had to go well out of his way to obtain them. She always got the first potato pancake and the filet in the steak (and this from a meat loving man). He gave her his pay check. But the demonstration of his love that intrigues me still is in the way he let her know where he was stationed. Mom had to be worried. A young Minnesota bride, married in California during WWII and immediately separated from her new husband who was sent to...where? Why couldn’t she know? He sent lots of “I’m OK” letters, but often she told me how much she wished she knew just where he was. Was he really OK? Or was he comforting her with a lie? I think about this man’s clever imagination. He knows his new bride is worried and he knows he must find a way to reassure her. He finds his solution in a collection of poems by Robert Service. "Dear Helen," he writes. "I'm sending you a book of poetry. My favorite poem is on page 72, especially the third verse”. And from that censor-free clue, she knows in a heartbeat...now a calm one...that he’s stationed in Nome, Alaska.
I still believe that while there are lots of ways to show love, giving the loved one a sense of security is at the top of my list.