I was the only family member living close by, so I received the initial call from the nursing home. Grandpa was failing rapidly. I should come. There was nothing to do but hold his hand. “I love you, Grandpa. Thank you for always being there for me.” And silently, I released him.
Memories...memories...six days a week, the farmer in the old blue shirt and bib overalls caring for those Hereford cattle he loved so much...on hot summer days lifting bales of hay from the wagon, plowing the soil, planting the corn and beans and harvesting them in the fall...always working from dawn to dusk. Survival demanded the work, work, work.
But on Sundays, after the morning chores were done, he put on his gray suit and hat. Grandma wore her wine-colored dress and the ivory beads, and they went to church. There was little other social life. Grandpa and Grandma were quiet, peaceful, unemotional people who every day did what they had to do. He was my grandpa -- he had been for 35 years. It was hard to picture him in any other role.
The nurse apologized for having to ask me so soon to please remove Grandpa’s things from the room. It would not take long. There wasn’t much. Then I found it in the top drawer of his nightstand. It looked like a very old handmade valentine. What must have been red paper at one time was a streaked faded pink. A piece of white paper had been glued to the center of the heart. On it, penned in Grandma’s handwriting, were these words:
TO LEE FROM HARRIET
With All My Love,
February 14, 1895
Are you alive? Real? Or are you the most beautiful dream that I have had in years? Are you an angel -- or a figment of my imagination? Someone I fabricated to fill the void? To soothe the pain? Where did you find the time to listen? How could you understand?
You made me laugh when my heart was crying. You took me dancing when I couldn’t take a step. You helped me set new goals when I was dying. You showed me dew drops and I had diamonds. You brought me wildflowers and I had orchids. You sang to me and angelic choirs burst forth in song. You held my hand and my whole being loved you. You gave me a ring and I belonged to you. I belonged to you and I have experienced all.
Tears streamed down my cheeks as I read the words. I pictured the old couple I had always known. It’s difficult to imagine your grandparents in any other role than that. What I read was so very beautiful and sacred. Grandpa had kept it all those years. Now it is framed on my dresser, a treasured part of family history.