Real love stories are better

By DANA LIPSEY COLUMNIST,

If you read the date on this morning’s paper, you will know it is officially the day set aside for LOVE.

It is a day when refrigerated flowers bloom upon desk tops, strawberries skinny-dip in chocolate, and shiny-faced cards mushily roll rhyming sentiments from the hearts of red envelopes.  Restaurant workers dot their i’s and cross their t’s in reservation books, and Cupid flaps his wings in a flurry of perfume scented arrows. Valentine’s Day is a time when we give thanks to that significant other to whom we feel invisibly linked. We give something of ourselves to them, and in turn, we expect to receive something back. Sometimes we get this day right, other times, not so much.

My husband of 28 years has always been, for the most part, a really thoughtful gift giver. A few years ago though, he hit it out of the park. He put me in the car, bought me a chia latte, and then took me to a very old cemetery in the town where I grew-up.

Weird?

Probably.

It is especially weird to those people who are non-cemetery enthusiasts.

To them, I would imagine, it is kind of morbid.

To me, cemeteries are paths to lightly tread from one fascinating lifetime to another. They are intimate and quiet, and I could spend hours in these beautiful places.

This particular cemetery is in Greenville, and it is the resting place for the weary bones of both sets of my grandparents. The melancholic emotions I get standing near their graves are sometimes overwhelming.

So why did my husband pick such a place to take me on a day designed for romance, and why did it mean so much to me?

Because, as I looked around, there were love stories everywhere! You could feel them. You could almost hear them crying out from stones, saying, "I was here, I existed, I loved!"

I heard this as I crouched down to touch the names of my father's parents. The love they felt for each other was written there.

My paternal grandparents were married for over 65 years. They never had much money.  He was a share-cropper during the biggest part of my father's childhood. 

They lived from tenant house to tenant house, newspapers covering the walls for warmth.  In the winter, each morning, my "Papaw" would spring from the bed in his long-johns to start the wood stove for my "Mamaw.” He would then turn on his heels and jump back under the covers next to her, his teeth chattering so loudly that my daddy can remember the sound.

Together they raised six children, two served in WWII.  My Papaw liked to play cards, my Mamaw made lumpy mashed potatoes.

He chewed tobacco, she dipped snuff, and for as long as I knew them they shared a coffee can to spit in. They were ever in love and I knew it.

While visiting their house once, my father tapped on their bedroom door early one morning. He peeked inside and saw them fast asleep, my papaw with his arm tucked around my mamaw and her head resting on his chest, they were in their eighties at the time. My daddy told us about it on the drive home. He was so moved that he wept.

As my Mamaw grew older, she had issues with her heart. Twice, while in a hospital, her heart stopped beating altogether. Twice, a medical staff was able to bring her back to life. Both times she said she could feel herself just floating away and she was at peace, but then she would remember my Papaw.

The first thing she said to her children each time she woke up from these experiences was, "I’m okay, I can't go yet. I have to take care of your father."

And, she did. 

Later, they would share a room in a nursing home in what would be their final months and the first time they would ever sleep in separate beds.

The last mental picture I have of them is her feeding him soup. She stuck the spoon in his mouth, he made a terrible face, blue eyes watering and shouted, "Damn baby, that soup is too hot!"

It was lovely.

My Papaw died a few weeks later on February 15. They had one last Valentine's Day together. True to her word, she took care of him. She died less than three weeks later.  It was, as many nurses said, like she was just ready to go.

I don't know what comes after this world.  I know the Sunday school answer. I know Christ. I know there is something, but I don't know the certainty of how things are set up.  I only know that while we are here we love. We love desperately, and casually.  We sometimes take love for granted, and make it complicated. We are sometimes too prideful in our love, we are hard-headed in our love, and we sometimes throw it away.  But, we keep on craving it as if it were maybe the whole reason we were created.

We might think love needs to be tied up in grandiose events. It doesn’t. Real love stories are found in things that are simple. Things like the lighting of wood stoves, and in lumpy mashed potatoes, and in the feeding of soup, and in a husband who would sacrifice his afternoon to take his odd wife to a cemetery and hold her hand while she walked among the dead.

I would like to believe that no matter what comes next, the One who created Love, the One who is called Love, will allow me to hold on to this man’s hand somehow, forever.

Happy Valentine's Day❤️

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