Sunday, February 14, 2016

Valentine’s Day

To celebrate Valentine’s Day, this afternoon I am inviting five ladies, all of whom are my neighbors on the second floor of this retirement community, to a tea party.  None of them has a sweetheart to give them a Valentine.  Four of them are widowed.  Sharon’s husband has advanced dementia and does not remember which month or year this is, much less that he should give at least a card to his devoted wife, who cares for him – still loves him and takes care of him – on Valentine’s Day.

How will we celebrate?  I will get out my English tea set and serve cucumber sandwiches and Valentine cupcakes.  And I will encourage them to remember happy Valentine’s Days.

I remember being treated on February 14 by a couple of men, neither of whom was my husband at the time..  Manny, the penny-pinching Pueblo Indian, took me to dinner (for once at an expensive hotel dining room) and gave me a small card.  (He never gave me anything expensive).  But above his signature he wrote, “I love you.”  That was as dear as a costly turquoise necklace.  He stood beside me at a special event at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center when I bought my own squash blossom necklace. 

Manny was devoted to me in his own way.  But I never would have married him, for several reasons, none of which had anything to do with his being an Indian.

He was charming, but in a child-like way.  He could barely read, puzzling over every long word, like a first grader.  At the senior center we enjoyed dancing to the music of the combo who played a variety of tunes.  Manny’s favorite was the rhythm of  “Kansas City” And he took me to feast days at all the pueblos, where I was fascinated by the buffalo and corn dances, ceremonies that the Pueblos have performed for a thousand years.

Manny was tight-fisted.  I had to teach him that a quarter was not enough tip to give to the waitress who served us at Denny’s.  He was also vain.  A tailor working for Albuquerque’s best men’s store, he was always impeccably dressed in handsome, expensive suits. 

Manny called me “sweetheart.”  That thrilled me until I realized he was deaf and could not figure out how to pronounce my name.  He called me every night at 10:00 p.m. and talked about the scores made by the local baseball team and by the University of New Mexico basketball. But when I tried to tell him something, he did not understand.  He refused to admit that he had trouble hearing.  I was not going to marry him.    

I went back to Chicago to sue Wally, another tight-wad, the father of my children and my husband for twenty-seven years.  While waiting for the judge to award me more money for support, I lived with my daughter Martha and her husband Don through postponements time after time for two years.  They resented having me in the house when they were newlyweds.  We were all miserable.

One night, when I had $1.50 in my purse, my friend Nancy urged me to meet her at a Parents Without Partners mid-week break at a bar in Downers Grove.  Nancy did not show up, but a short little man with gray hair asked me to dance.  That’s how I met John Durkalski. 

John and I began dating in the fall of 1987.  I was 58; he was 69.  On February 14 John gave me an enormous heart-shaped box of chocolates. Martha was impressed.  She said, “Don never gave me anything like that.”

I knew John was special.  But it took many months for me to realize that this was the man I wanted to marry.  Wonder of wonders, he also wanted to marry crazy, penniless me!  Every day of our marriage was a delight to both of us.  We traveled all over the U.S. and went to Europe twice in the four years before he tragically died.  A glorious memory to talk about at our tea party.

Now I am alone without a single man (double meaning) in my life.  What do I have instead?  The women I’ve met here at the Churchill care for and support each other.  People smile and make me feel better every time I meet them as I push my walker down the hall to the dining room.

Life is good.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

No comments: