We are gliding back and forth on the porch swing when the air becomes thick with memories–makes me catch my breath.
It is the spring of 1998 and I can hear the faint laughter of baby voices float around the house. My sister is in the backyard with our children, teaching sky-dreams; pushing them on long swings until feet reach for heavens and forget what it means to be earth-bound.
Blue sky laughs down and breeze chases cool night to come. But something on the wind stirs awareness of his journey. And in the midst of this perfect moment, my grandpa starts to cry.
He would live to see one hundred and one springs but at the time of this porch-sitting he is in his ninety-ninth. He holds my hand, leans against my shoulder. My clay-body–the DNA deep within–remembers his and we feel the connection wrought of being formed from the same dirt.
I lean closer, squeeze this hand that farmed this land…this once strong hand now withered …this hand that held my father when he was a babe. I kiss this gnarled hand with onion skin, translucent under my freckled one. I hold this hand to my cheek and wait.
Sometimes I feel so lonely, he says.
He has few tears, as if this wrinkled body cannot spare them–as if they have been all used up. The ones spared flow over the landscape of his face, creating rivers in the valleys of his skin, cascading down cheek canyons.
He misses my grandmother.
I was five when she died at the ripe age of 76–the victim of cancer. I barely remember the stern-faced woman whose dining table stretched for miles and miles. My grandfather would live another 25 years without his bride. They had been married for 53 years at the time of her death–had worked side by side on the farm that entire time, raised nine children, waited for one son to return from war.
I thought about remarrying, grandpa says. He sounds surprised at the thought even now. There was a woman, he says. He tells me about a widow he met out west when visiting his brother. She really wanted to marry me, he says. He smiles a little as he remembers the wild days of his late seventies and early eighties.
Then his voice chokes up again.
I never wanted anybody but my old woman, he says.
My father is the youngest of my grandfather’s nine children. He came along later–was mothered by five older sisters.
Grandpa has been old my entire life.
But on this day–this day of porch-sitting–he becomes spring to me. I see the young groom he once was; alight with the glow of love. I see what true love endures.
And it amazes me.
I marvel at a love that lasts 78 years–25 of which are spent alone. I wonder about a love that hard living did not extinguish…that death cannot quench.
My own parents divorced when I was twelve. At the time of the porch-sitting, I have been married for five scant years.
This transcendent love is beyond my experience–I have nothing to which to compare it. In my life, love doesn’t last like that.
Could it be possible? Is there a chance? Could I have a love like that?
I look at the frail hand in mine and I have no words for my grandfather. I wrap my arms around him and feel his still large frame–bones wrapped with loose skin. He is old once again, diminished.
But his heart remains young and strong.
On that day of porch-sitting, my grandfather gave me a gift that I have never released.
He gave me the gift of hope.
He gave me the hope that all the dysfunction that has touched my life does not have to define what love is for me. That I can have a marriage that not only lasts, but is rich with desire and dream-living.
These years later, I still remember his hand in mine. That same blood runs through my veins.
And I love. Oh, how I love.
Time only deepens the glow of my love story. The years have given a rich patina–a sheen brought by pounding rains and the glare of hot sun.
It is so beautiful.
Just like grandpa’s love-tears.