Thursday, May 15, 2014

What Love Is

When I was 5 or 6, I went with my mother for a portrait sitting. A local artist at the rundown Pampa mall created a beautiful portrait in chalk. I don't really remember the actual sitting; I'm sure it felt like it took forever and a day. But I remember my father's reaction when he unwrapped it. It stole his breath, and it is one of the only moments in my childhood I can recall in which I saw my father cry. It is, to this day, his favorite gift.

I thought, "That is what love is." Attention to detail. The element of surprise.

When I was 7, my father bought our family a VCR. We thought it was our big gift until he told us to go outside. There, with snow falling gently, sat a brand new white station wagon with a big red bow. All for my mom. I did not think, "Wow. Who on Earth wants to be surprised with a station wagon?"

I thought, "That is what love is." Big moments. Red bows. Extravagance and newness.

As a child, I loved to watch my mother and father dance. They would twirl around the dance floor of the night club they managed while I roller-skated past them, calling for them to watch me. But when they danced they did not take their eyes from one another.

I thought, "That is what love is." Slow dances. George Jones. Letting the world melt away.

All my life, I would watch my dad come in from working out in the cold. He would take off his work gloves and put his cold hands on the back of my mom's neck to make her jump and squeal. She always knew he would, and she never tried to avoid it. And then, he would stand behind her at the kitchen sink and kiss her.

I thought, "That is what love is." Shared jokes. Cold hands. Warm kisses.

My entire life, my dad would tell jokes. Some were long and complicated. Others were short and corny. A few were downright filthy. But they were all followed with a sharp, surprised laugh. And when it was really good... a short snort. When my mother laughs, her whole face laughs. When my father smiles, his eyes dance. No one can make my mother laugh like my father. And nothing makes him smile like her laugh.

I thought, "That is what love is." More smiles and laughter than shouts and tears.

Sometimes there were shouts and tears and stony silence. But there were apologies and warm kisses and letting go, too.

I thought, "That is what love is." Forgiving. Second chances. Moving on. Making it work.

And now, six days a week, my mother gets into her battered old Buick and drives 60 miles, round trip, to see my father. There are days full of domino games in which she always shuffles and sometimes plays for both him and herself. The only day she misses are Thursday card games with her friends. My dad teases her by calling it her "work day". Thursdays are hardest for him, but he never asks her to miss it. There are no more giant red bows or slow dances or hands freezing from the cold. There are tears some days, but there are also smiles. There are kisses hello but there are now always kisses goodbye. There has been health; there has been sickness. There are unanswered questions and there are unsure futures. There are hardships and heartache, but there is sacrifice and strength as well.

And sometimes, even now -- even through everything -- when they hold hands and look at one another, I think, "No. I was wrong. This is what love is."

Forty-one years worth.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad.

1 comment: