There were letters, written from a father to a mother, professing his love, wanting her to return to New Orleans from California. A photograph, a mother on the beach in Santa Monica, a man’s arm draped over her shoulders. “He was just a friend,” she says. A secret marriage at age seventeen. A public marriage for their parents at age twenty-one. The California trip, lasting several months, between the two marriages.
There were friends, lasting a lifetime, who shared vacations, square danced, played bridge, who celebrated the holidays together, brought in each New Year with song, who seemed like aunts and uncles to each others’ children.
There were Thursday nights, men’s night out. Affairs, infidelities, more than the mother ever knew, and she knew of many—knew from accumulating evidence, from telling smells, from confessions from friends, from him, from sitting alone in the empty house.
There were three children, two sons and one daughter, who knew more than they should. After a mother’s plea, two sons and a father at Ruth’s Steak House: “Dad, you need to stop seeing her.” There was silence over a forgotten steak. There were more Thursday nights.
There were grandchildren, Santa hats, and turkeys at Thanksgiving. There was a leaning in when help was needed, a door always swinging open. There was the presence of laughter and joy. There were hugs and handshakes that signaled love. There was happiness.
There were perspectives, justifications, and regrets, shared between a mother and her children, between a father and his children. The children would talk, trying to make sense of it all. Questions remained unanswered, conflicting positions unresolved, feelings unsettled.
There were seventy-something years of marriage, depending upon which wedding is used for the counting. “Our final years were the best of all our years together,” she would say after he died. “He was so loving.” There was her death several years later. Two lives, reaching their end.
There is a son writing this, wondering if he should.