When I was in the States this past holiday season, I moved into my condo. As you are opening boxes of things you haven’t seen in 4 years, some even longer as you had packed them up when your mom died nearly 20 years prior, you get caught up in memories. I opened a box and I found some papers clipped together with a magazine page from the June 2000 Ladies Home Journal. It was an essay contest called “Our Life Stories”.
Attached to the clipping was a cover letter and my essay, which I never submitted. As today is the 20th anniversary of her death and, like then, a leap year, I have decided to post it on my blog. It is not a story of travel, but it does tell a story that has inspired the journey of my life. I have changed very little from the original essay…here’s my story…
Every woman, indeed, has a great story to tell and mine begins with a girl in the flower of her youth, my mother – Jeannine Marvin. 20 years ago, I said, farewell to her for the last time. Upon her passage, the past blossomed before me. I found letters…these encapsulating jewels of cherished joys, startling discoveries and romantic moments. These letters reveal a girl and a boy eternally in love.
The greatest and saddest moments often occur simultaneously…without warning…without ceremony. Like the whiplash effect of a car accident, good precedes bad just as light ends darkness. On Monday, February 28, 2000, at age 60, I lost my mother to primary sclerosing cholangitis while waiting for a liver transplant. PSC is a rare liver condition which also claimed the life of Walter Peyton. My mother never drank, smoked and rarely ate red meat. Recently, it is believed the underlying cause of the disease is linked to autoimmunity. For nine valiant years, she fought the disease, seemingly – at times to defeat this ailment by unyielding faith and perseverance. Her will to live inspired me. Her love of life humbled me. In her struggle, I saw the girl my father must have seen long ago when the flowers of her youth had begun to bloom.
Her passage devastated me. Her reunion with my father – Dale, whom I’d lost on July 9, 1997, however, enchanted me. True love endures.
Destined lovers. If two people were ever fated to spend their lives together, it was my mother and father. They met in storybook fashion. He was the handsome soldier stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, and she was the naïve, captivating beauty working in a dry-cleaning business, Marvin’s Cleaners, in Warren, Ohio, when the owner mentions she should meet his son when he returns home. My mother wasn’t interested in meeting some soldier stationed some great distance away. Her dance card was already full of local fellas. Why meet another fella?
Fate intervened. My mother’s insistence melted. They met and eventually married on October 15, 1960. Happily ever after didn’t quite follow that day, but the Cuban Missile Crisis did. My dad was recalled to active duty. Great and sad moments simultaneously occurred.
Fort Meade, in the state of Maryland, courtesy of Uncle Sam became my dad’s new home. My mother would join him some months later and they set up house in Glen Burnie, Maryland. Life was again perfect. They had each other. Uncommon love nestled them into the grandeur of life. Their perfect love endured, but such loves are often tested.
On January 13, 1962, a knock on the door beckoned the horrific. A man in uniform greeted my mother telling her Dale had been in a serious jeep accident. While on maneuvers, he was in the back, the jeep driver fell asleep. They went over an embankment; the radio equipment went into his head. With 36 facial fractures among his injuries, they didn’t expect him to survive. This tragic news was made all the more catastrophic by an unspoken pregnancy. My mother had to face the possibility of losing her husband and raising a child alone. She stayed by his bedside, unable and unwilling to leave. She willed my dad to come out of his coma, whispering of a life growing inside her. Their love endured. He awakened. 2 days after I was born on August 11, 1962, he received a medical discharge from the US Army and they returned to life in Warren, Ohio.
My brother and I lived a dream in our youth. Our home reflected my parents’ love. It was a place of congregation, where neighborhood kids met, and parents socialized. Our vacations were picturesque…snapshots of wood-grained station wagons driving down lush countrysides. My brother and I played little league. We raced in soapbox derbies. Laughter filled our home and lives.
Fast forward to 1996. My dad was diagnosed with bone cancer. A year later he died. Jeannine endured long nights. She had been a comfort to my dad, then she comforted my brother and me. She prevailed, despite having been previously diagnosed with the rare liver disease, primary sclerosing cholangitis. She prevailed and comforted until Christmas 1999.
My mother and I had an extraordinary Christmas Day. She awakened and told me of a dream where my father wanted to know if she was happy? If we were happy? Christmas was grand. The next day she started feeling ill. It is my belief, my father spoke to her heart in that dream, that he reassured her of his love and devotion, and it was alright to yield. Her struggle against the vicious attacks of sclerosing cholangitis had been long and trying. I believe my dad told my mom; it was time.
Her liver disease raged. In a days’ time, upon her insistence, I was in Florida and she ended up being rushed to the hospital. She spent the next two months in and out of the Cleveland Clinic. The wait for a liver transplant was now a nervous race against time. It was a race destined for loss.
About a week after her death, I was going through her things. I found two small cedar boxes, which contained letters my dad had written to her, while he was in the army and her letters to him which he had also saved. These precious professions of love were the most beautiful letters I had ever read. My brother and I were so completely moved by the innocence of their love. We read them with a voracious curiosity, devouring and delighting with each revelation.
In this time of sorrow, we had found joy. I did not then need to say farewell to my mother, nor did I say goodbye to my dad, as their love eternally lives in these nearly 100 letters and in their love of life which I now seek in my journeys.
Today, as I am travelling the world fulfilling my dreams and my brother is fulfilling his by developing our hometown and having restored a magnificent historical theatre, I know they are looking down and guiding our way with pride and joy.