September 08, 2015
Love Him, Love Him
Eleven years ago — before my big sis Becca had two kids, back when I was single and in the Saturn Return — we took our annual springtime trip to Naples, Florida to hang with Nana and Grandpa. Becca and I WORSHIPED our Nana and Grandpa. Always had. We'd been doing the springtime Naples thing since eighth grade. It pretty went like this: bridge games at the beach, George Burns movies on TV, Ben and Jerry's, you get the pic. My grandparents met riding horses. She was nineteen. He was a St. Louis salesman. He fell in love with the gap between her tooth, how she hiked up her checkered trousers climbing the fence at the beach. The letters she wrote him, in 1943, when he was stationed in the Army, began "Dear Pussy Darling." They had four kids, eleven grandchildren. On their fiftieth anniversary, he filled the house with fifty red roses.
Over the years, I witnessed some pretty insane rage-filled fights between them (one in particular took place while I was in the backseat of their cigar-smoke-and-cologne congested Cadillac; he was driving and wasn't wearing glasses, she was in the passenger seat screaming: "Sol, Sol! That light was red!"), but in the end, love won. It always did. Even with all the history, all the hidden hurt. Their love was real. It was also slightly otherworldly. Anyway, on that Naples trip, Becca and I got to talking with Nana about her marriage to Grandpa. Becca had just gotten married herself — and was obsessed with the subject. So Nana got out pen and paper and jotted down some notes. We called them "Nana's Tips For A Successful Marriage." Here is what they were:
Love him, love him,
In an argument, don't dwell in personality. Stick to the issues.
Remember there are always other ways of looking at an issue.
Be flexible in your mindset. Rigidity brings misery.
Each of us brings baggage to a relationship.
Love and compassion smooth the road.
A fervent sex life.
Nine years later, after many heartbreaks, career disappointments, and all kinds of crazy, unplanned-life-stuff, I finally fell in love with a really good guy named Mike. I called Nana the morning he asked me to marry him; boarded a plane to Florida and took a cab straight to the hospital where she was recovering from pneumonia. Grandpa, wheelchair-bound with a broken hip, was back at the condo with a hired nurse whose job was to give him handfuls of pink pills six times a day. Nana only met Mike once, at Passover seder. She thought it was hilarious, that at age 37, and in a fully pressed suit, he spent all dinner under the table with his shoes off and my niece and nephews crawling all over him.
- Took this pic of the lovebirds making out in Michigan in 1998.
- Looking chic as ever in their mid-eighties.
One night, while Grandpa and I were sitting on the patio looking at the ocean, I asked him if he was scared of dying. He said he wasn’t. He told me that looking back on his life, everything he worried about never happened. I asked him if he prayed, and he told me he did. He said he prayed every day, for the health of his wife and the safety of his four children and for the eleven grandchildren and two great grandchildren, and then he told me he prayed for me and Mike to have a happy marriage. A long, long silence followed. Grandpa was wearing a Cubs hat, and his tan windbreaker, he had on Birkenstocks and white socks, and the sun was shining on his face and hands. After a while he said that he was planning on singing "What More I Can Not Wish You" from Guys And Dolls during the first dance at my wedding, just like he did for Becca. Then, while we were squinting into the sunset searching for dolphins, he muttered, under his breath, "if I live that long."
He didn't. That summer he died in Nana's arms and a few weeks later, she died too. I sewed a piece of her wedding dress into mine and walked down the aisle wearing it. We served a bagels and lox brunch in her honor. Becca read the tips out loud during the ceremony. –Molly Guy