My dear, sweetest daughter,
I see the day, coming like a freight train, when you will morph from geeky adolescence into a girl who cares about Valentine’s Day in an entirely new way. In a blink there you’ll be, sorting through matters of the heart and deciding on your own who is and isn’t worthy of your affection. How will you know?
When I was your age my good friend’s family had a maid named Fanny. I know you’re shocked that I’ve written “maid” and not “housekeeper,” but it was Memphis in the 1970s and she would have introduced herself as their maid, not their housekeeper. As I’ve told you many times, we can’t change what happened before only what happens next. Anyway, Fanny loved to watch her stories (soap operas) while she ironed. After school or in summers my friend and I would watch them with her, swept up in the romance and intrigue. “Men,” Fanny would sputter, as the story portrayed some two-timing ne’er-do-well. “They’re hardly worth the trouble.”
One day, during a particularly dramatic story, Fanny turned to us point-blank and offered this: “When you get married, just make sure that he loves you a little bit more than you love him, because, child, your love will grow.”
At the time this seemed sound advice, sound if not exciting. But even armed with the best advice, a girl’s gotta make her own mistakes and nurture her own wisdom. So I filed that advice away and shoved blindly ahead.
The boys I chased and who chased me in the years between hearing Fanny’s advice and marrying Dad, well, I’ll tell you that they covered a broad spectrum of ages, interests and appearances, and I’ll leave it at that. A few of them met Fanny’s criteria, but most of them did not. The few who did were sweet but boring, and I doubt even Fanny would have voted on their behalf.
Then I met your father, who was (and still is) anything but boring. He was, as you know, the best man in your aunt Margaret’s wedding, and I was the maid of honor. At the end of the wedding ceremony, your father wanted me to skip with him, arm in arm, down the aisle and out the big, formal oak doors. I chided him for being inappropriate; he teased me for being prissy. As I write this, 18 years later, I am still routinely chiding him for being inappropriate, and he is still routinely teasing me for being prissy.
What I liked first about your father, to be perfectly honest, was that he was handsome. What I liked second, and within seconds of meeting him, was that he didn’t take himself or life too seriously.
He was the guy who would lose at pool on purpose to keep from rankling a hyper-competitive opponent (my brother-in-law).
He was the guy who sent a string of postcards from Ireland, each with a cryptic clue (lines from Van Morrison songs) to help me guess when he was coming back to the States.
He was the guy who rescued Ella-dog from under the ice ledge in the Snake River, who tried in vain 18 times to teach me to ski, and who made me his special enchiladas the night before my father died.
He was the guy who decided, after several years of long distance dating, to come to Memphis and “see what’s going on” even though hot, humid, roach-infested, mountainless, Southern Mafia-filled Memphis had precisely one thing to offer him: me.
I’ve been wondering for a few years now how to sum up what was different about your dad from the other contenders, what special quality in him told me he was the one. And while I do think that he might once have loved me a little bit more than I loved him, I know now that love and marriage are not contests. There’s no one winner, no player with the upper hand. It just doesn’t work that way.
Love is complicated and messy. It rarely listens to advice. It is vast and overwhelming. It does not lend itself to simple truths or one-line quips. But I promise you this: you’ll know it when you see it.
And if sometimes it seems unclear, here’s one pithy piece of advice from your mother, my addition to Fanny’s guidance that you may file away and use at your choosing:
Lovers will buy you sex toys, boyfriends will buy you lingerie, but a husband will buy you tampons. And if he’s super special he’ll draw funny pictures on the outside of the box.
May you always cherish yourself and be cherished in return, my girl.
This post was written in response to the WP Weekly Writing Challenge: My Funny Valentine. To learn more about blogging with WordPress visit wordpress.com.