Love isn’t merely a folly for the youngPublished 7:46am Sunday, February 12, 2012
Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster
It was a love story I didn’t know well.
My mother gave me a large manila envelope the last time I was home. It was full of my uncle Gordon’s writing. As far as I knew, Gordon didn’t write, so what was this I was being asked to read?
As I pulled out the paper-clipped packets, I realized that what I had before me in pieces of poems, memoirs and letters to his children was a romance, a love that started in the early days of World War II and ended nearly 68 years later in grief without regret.
Uncle Gordon was 87 years old when my aunt Pat died after a long, debilitating illness. Days after she passed, he began to write for the first time in his life. He poured out his feelings in poetry and prose. I had no idea they were still so much in love or that he could express that love in words so tender.
I hate to admit it, but I used to think romantic love and creativity were playgrounds for the young. Then Gordon, closing in on 90, taught me that we don’t abandon those playgrounds just because we get older. We still play even when the swings don’t fly as high or the merry-go-rounds spin as fast.
When Gordon met Pat, she was sweeping the back porch of her parents’ house wearing a kerchief around her head. After a short conversation he asked if he could see her again. Her reply was, “Isn’t this a bit fast, Bub?”
Fast, yes, but lasting. They lived through a war, had four children, traveled the world and sailed the seas. It wasn’t unusual to see Aunt Pat hanging from the masthead of their boat fixing a broken halyard or diving into the water to free a tangled propeller. They were adventure seekers, with a boundless curiosity for the world.
“‘Why don’t we?’ is the motto of the gal I married,” Gordon writes. “You with the exuberance and love of life/led me on many adventures that would not have been/had I not chosen you to be my wife.”
Toward the end of her life, when Pat’s pain was so agonizing they could no longer sail and travel, when getting up from a chair to cross the room was a journey in itself, Gordon writes that, “Even in those painful days she asked, ‘Why not another trip to Paris?’ Her ‘why nots’ never ceased although I knew they were now wishes.”
My uncle’s poems read like love letters. He writes as if Pat is still with him. In many ways she is. “I have placed your picture everywhere/at least I know I have you there,” he writes in one verse and in another, “I hope the angels took you to a place/Where you can still remember my face.”
Perhaps the most poignant are his memories of their last days together. “As you nodded next to me in your favorite chair/We reached our hands across to become a pair./What were your thoughts as you glanced my way?/Were there things you wanted to say?”
I admire my uncle Gordon so much. He still rides his bike daily, even though my aunt is no longer beside him encouraging him to “get your heart pumping!”
He drives across the country to see his children, the seat next to him empty, listening to the classical music that was Pat’s favorite. He’s still the big brother my mother looks up to. He’s the warm uncle I love and never knew well enough. He remains a devoted husband, and now he’s a fine writer as well.
The last time I saw him my mother was hugging him and smoothing his jacket over his shoulders saying, “I wish you weren’t traveling alone, Gordon. I wish you had someone with you.”
“I do, honey,” he said. “Pat’s with me.”
There is a line from one of his poems that I hope always stays with me, “Take these moments to be treasured/for their significance cannot be measured.” How comforting it would be to know you spent a lifetime treasuring the moments and recognizing their significance, so that when they came to an end there were no regrets.
Happy Valentine’s Day to lovers near and absent, passions young and old.
Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at email@example.com, and her blog is Radishes at Dawn at alexandrakloster.com.