Love surrounds us all, all the time – choose to receive and to radiate.
In December of 1990, a man moved to a country road in a tiny town where decades earlier my father had built a house on a hill (for sledding) with seven bedrooms (for eight children) and four bathrooms, because three of those children were girls. This man knew my father and mother and had spent a handful of fabulous evenings together, as clients and ad men are known to do.
My father was the client and this man was the terrifically talented creative director whose wordsmith skills had consumers the world over queuing up to hand over their cash for the ‘next big thing.’ They shared a sense of humor and a passion for placing the perfect word in the perfect place.
Then my father semi-retired and they lost touch.
And then my father died in 1989.
Just as the ad man’s world crumbled.
His divorce made mine look like a reconciliation. She hit Bloomindale’s and he hit his head against the wall. Their two children developed a bulletproof sense of humor to deflect the anger and resentment that flooded their world. Then he got ‘too old’ for flashy Madison Avenue and found himself unemployed. Tens of thousands of dollars were spent on what seemed like dozens of lawyers for his spouse, his own attorney fees, expenses, the house, the lifestyle.
Eventually, the courts had enough and a divorce was granted. Just in the nick of time for him to hit rock bottom. And then she started representing herself and went back for more. He had started his own agency, and while his personal life was pathetic, his professional mojo was on fire. He was making a lot of money, and she wanted it.
He fled from the big city to the tiny hamlet in central Jersey, purchasing a home surrounded by something he hadn’t paid attention to since he was in his early 20s: Earth. He came alone. Estranged from family, had just buried his mother and all of his friends were in the 212. The move to a rambling ranch snuggled under towering pines was the bright spot in a bleak landscape. He came with two goals: meet people and garden like his life depended on it. Because, it turned out, it did.
He was completely ungrounded, yet had the sense that it was the Earth that would tether him.
He had one other intuitive hunch – he must throw a party. As he crafted a guest list of neighbors who didn’t know him and weren’t all that interested in spontaneous socializing with strangers, it struck him that his client, my father, had lived in this tiny town. But he also knew he had died, so he didn’t expect my Mom to have remained in the big house on the hill. He flipped open the tiny town phone book.
There, still in my Dad’s name, was the listing for her number. She lived a half-mile up the road.
He called, she answered. I wasn’t there for the conversation, but let me tell you this: my Mom answered the phone as if you were going to tell her she won the lottery and then spoke to you as if you were the most important and beloved person in the world.
He invited her to the party and their lives changed forever.
But it took some time.
She was so Catholic that after my father died the nuns up the street tried to recruit her. She was adamant about being early to mass to squeeze in ten minutes of extra adoration. He was Jewish; Jesus was a word he spat when his cab was stuck in uptown traffic. He was the first person at the new theater opening or at the best table in the hottest restaurant in the most fabulous city in the world on a Saturday night at 8PM.
They were friendly with occasional phone calls and a dinner once in a while. Until she picked up on an alarming trend. The high from moving to a new town and the excitement of starting a new way of life disintegrated and left in its place a burning desire to pull down the garage door and start the car.
One night she said to him this: “I’ve known you to be many things Marty, but I’ve never known you to be a coward.”
He left her house and drove down the country lane to his own, parked the car in the driveway and went inside. There he said to himself: “At least let me live to see how this all ends.”
Even though today is the one-year anniversary of my Mom’s death, it hasn’t at all ended.
What transpired in the days since Marty moved down the street from Rosemary is a true love story of epic proportions, without the marriage and sex (not that us kids didn’t urge them to tie the knot). For just shy of 25 years they started their day with a phone call and ended it with dinner, followed by a phone call just before bed. Some afternoons they would get in the car and just drive, stopping at garage sales or little towns for lunch. She celebrated every Jewish holiday like a good shiksa and even got Marty to go to church, although the basement thrift shop was the real draw. She held his hand and heart as he dealt with a cancer trifecta, and held on valiantly while her own body was devastated by tumors so she could be there for one last birthday to sing to him.
This past weekend he celebrated the first birthday since her passing. His family threw him a surprise party. That family now includes eight additional children, their spouses and children and Aunt Awesome, my Mom’s beautiful sister. He spends his days fielding calls from us all, much as Mom did. Our email chains suggest that we have no obligations but to humor each other with prose until the late, late hours. This morning he went to mass to honor her and to brunch with his large family.
Twenty-five years ago a man moved to a town all alone, heartbroken, upended, under fire, in the midst of divorce. And one woman changed the direction of his life forever.
Remember her words as you embrace the unknowns in your life:
“I’ve known you to be many things, but I’ve never known you to be a coward.”
When courage greets the unknown magical events unfold to guide you on your journey.
Thank you, Mom, for teaching us about courage and trust and faith and family.