"Grandma," I heard my young granddaughter calling.
"Yes, dear. I'm here in the family room," I replied.
I heard the sound of feet rushing down the stairs and towards my temporary refuge from the hustle and bustle of life, followed by Sarah arriving breathlessly in the room, as only a 10-year-old can.
As she plopped herself down on the old brown overstuffed couch next to me, I looked at her, with her golden blond hair, and her sky-blue eyes, and was reminded so very much of my mother, after whom Sarah was named.
"Sarah, you look so much like the photos of my mother when she was young!" I said by way of explanation to her.
Her eyes rolled around their sockets, and she rocked her head, making fun of me and laughing.
"Grandma, you tell me that ALL the time."
I had to laugh a little too. She was right about that, I did say it quite often.
"Just because I say it often doesn't mean it is any less true," I insisted, smiling, "So there!"
It was obvious that Sarah was not just 'passing through' on her way out to play, so I set aside the book I was reading, and got up, walked across the room to the television and turned it off. I hadn't really been watching; it was just President Kennedy giving a speech at some university or another. The television was nothing more than noise in the background to me when I was deeply engrossed in a book, although the whole concept of seeing someone speaking thousands of miles away, in color, in our own living room was still amazing to these old eyes.
When I sat back down again, Sarah tucked herself under my arm, snuggling up to me. I welcomed her affections, and knew I should take full advantage of them now, because in a year or two she probably would regard herself as 'too grown up' to be caught being overtly loving towards her Grandmother.
"Tell me the story," she demanded.
"Heavens, child, haven't you heard it enough times?"
She shook her head, now with a completely serious look on her face.
I smiled down at her, and truthfully, I couldn't blame her for wanting to hear 'the story' again. It was one of my most treasured memories of my life as well.
As I closed my eyes, my mind was going back in time, back to the year 1910, back to the farm where my parents, my three younger brothers and I lived.
I could almost smell the pungent, earthy smell that rose from the ground after a rain shower on the freshly turned fields that my father still plowed with his team of Belgian horses. The smells of my mother baking bread for the family. See the pristine blue skies above vast fields of golden ripe wheat, dotted here and there with white clouds.
As I recall it turned out to be a day shortly before my sixteenth birthday and only days before my parent's eighteenth wedding anniversary.
That period in a young woman's life is so fragile and so fleeting. A time when she is no longer a child, but not completely a woman. She develops physically, and is beginning to feel the needs of adulthood, yet, at least in my case, is still happiest and most comfortable in the warm bosom of her family where she is protected and cared for. She looks out at the world, and is both attracted and repelled by what she sees.
For me, my choice in books illustrated the point. I had begun reading books like "Jane Eyre", "Wuthering Heights", and "Ivanhoe", but I had also just finished "The Emerald City of Oz", which was the sixth book in the Oz series by Mr. Frank Baum.
My fantasy life was divided between Dorothy and the creatures of Oz, and increasingly with thoughts of dark, romantic and mysterious men like Heathcliff, or Mr. Darcy.
In other words, thoughts of romance and love, and of a future that in an abstract way involved men, were becoming central to my imagination.
That Saturday morning, I was looking for my mother, but as I roamed from room to room, she wasn't there. In the front room, I found my brother, Daniel, who was thirteen at the time, looking out the window at the road that crossed in front of our farm.
"Have you seen mother?" I asked, almost sure that I wouldn't get any useful information from him. My brother, when he was at home at all, and not out with his friends from the adjoining farms, almost always had his nose in a 'Tom Swift' boy's novel or a Zane Gray western. I think it was 'Tom Swift and his Submarine Boat' that I'd seen him reading most recently.
"Nope," he answered succinctly, "but Doc Haldermann just drove by in his new automobile. It's a Ford." He made a dismissive sound. My brother was very opinionated about motor cars, and thought that Buicks were vastly superior to Fords.
After confirming to myself that mother wasn't hiding somewhere in the house, I went out to the barn. It only took a minute to conclude that she wasn't there either. There was really only one other place that she would possibly be.
Our farm was 160 acres, made up of two adjacent 80 acre parcels, one parcel from each of my grandparents. It was their wedding gifts to my mother and father. Of the acreage, 120 acres were flat and tillable; there was about twenty acres of timber that could be harvested for lumber, and the remaining twenty acres had large rock outcroppings and a pond. That was the most beautiful part of our farm because it was left wild. It was slightly higher than the surrounding land, and was isolated enough that you could feel like you were completely alone there.
As I expected, my mother was sitting on top of one of the rocks that stood above the pond, something she would do when she wanted to be alone to think.
I wasn't sure if I ought to interrupt her reverie, so I hung back a little, in the shade of the green canopy of the trees that sheltered the path up to the rock bench.
"Come on up, Lizzie," my mother said, without even turning around. "Come and sit with me." I guess I hadn't walked as quietly as I thought!
Without further ado, I came up the remaining steps, and sat beside my mother on the rock, and the two of us sat there, silent, appreciating the warmth and beauty of the mid-morning view.
We could look down at the pond and see where bugs landing on the water attracted the hungry attention of fish in the pond, followed by the slight 'plop' sound as the fish rose from below to feast, leaving nothing more than an ever expanding circular pattern on the smooth surface of the water.
After a time, I looked at my mother, who even in her mid-thirties remained a comely woman.
I returned to the present, long enough to look at my granddaughter again, "like you, my Sarah, with golden hair and the bluest of blue eyes."
Mother seemed to me to have a sadness, a weight on her, when she looked back at me. But, she put that aside, and smiled at me.
"Well, Lizzie, I know you didn't come all the way out here just to sit and look at the pond with me," she smiled again, and put her arm around my shoulder, bringing me closer to her. "Do we need to have a mother/daughter conversation today?"
I just nodded my head in the affirmative. But I didn't really know how to bring the subject up so I just started.
"Mother, I've been wondering about ... I've been reading these books on, well, you know — love and romance, and people falling in love and getting married. Anyway, I wanted to know what you thought about it. And it made me wonder how you and father fell in love and got married."
My mother sighed and took her time before she replied.
"It's funny that you should ask, Lizzie, because I was mulling over questions of my own on that subject before you came up to me."
The frown that had been part of her general demeanor when I first arrived, briefly reappeared on her face.
"Perhaps I should tell you about your father and I, first, before I share what I perceive to be the truth about romance and love," she started.
"Because our parents lived on farms that abutted one another, your father and I have known of each other as long as we've lived. Since I'm five years younger than David — your father — most of the time when we were growing up, we had little to do with each other. He spent his time with the boys his age, while I spent my time with other young girls. But, I have a secret to tell you: even when I was small, I was smitten by David. It was so obvious to my sisters, that they teased me unmercifully about it.
"Nevertheless, I thought that he was very handsome, and he was well-formed, tall with broad shoulders. As he grew, I watched the muscles in his arms become like a mans. When he started to grow a sparse beard, the girls his own age thought it quite amusing. I wasn't amused. I thought it was very manly.
"I always convinced myself that he treated me in a special way, although I understand now that he was just being kind and polite to me, as he was towards all of the smaller children. I would dress for church in a way that I imagined would meet David's approval, that would catch his eye.
"When I overheard some older girls saying that men were attracted by women who were shy and demure, for awhile I would lower my eyes and not say a word when he was close by," Mother laughed at that. "I was about nine-years-old at the time. It was completely silly of me, because the reality was, David was hardly aware that I existed. I was just another of the children in the neighborhood, not one of his contemporaries.
"David had been a quiet boy, and he became a quiet man. Each year as I grew older I fretted day-in-and-day-out that one day he would marry some other girl from the town, and I would be alone. In my fantasies, I would bravely remain a spinster the rest of my life, spurning suitors, breaking the hearts of men who wanted me, but couldn't have me. But their efforts would be for naught, for David possessed my heart.
Mother looked very serious now, and paused again before she spoke.
"What really happened was different than anything I would have imagined.
"For whatever reason, David wasn't interested in the young women who had populated his circle of friends. Perhaps because they had all known each other for so long, he perceived their flaws and was too familiar with them to find them attractive. For some time it was thought around the township that David at twenty-one would never marry; that he would remain on the farm, working with his father and the hired help, but without a wife or family."
Then a grimace of pain passed over Mother's visage.
"One day, when I was a little older than you are now, on a Sunday afternoon after church, my parents told me to stay in my church clothes because I would not be playing that day. I had no idea what was happening, and no one explained it to me then. I stayed in the house until I was called from my room, and my mother brought me into the parlor. When I entered the room, David, still dressed in his Sunday best, and his parents were already seated, and mother was about to serve tea.
"Our parents were already engaged in a discussion, that mystified me for a time. There was talk of each family contributing land, of constructing houses and barns, and of acquiring horses.
"David's father was praising his abilities as a farmer — he understood the crops, he was strong and able to plow and till, to plant and harvest. My parents made me blush as they spoke of my skills in cooking, sewing, baking, cleaning and washing. I was hard working, they said. They almost brought me to tears when they described my hips as wide and ready for bearing children. It was as if they were describing a brood mare or a prize cow!
"It suddenly dawned on me, that this discussion was about David and I marrying!
"I was quite shocked, and looked at David, who hadn't said a word. I was trying to keep from crying. David said nothing to me, but was looking at me as I was being 'sold' by my parents to be a farmers wife.
When they had talked about it enough, David's father looked at him and asked, 'David, is Sarah an acceptable bride?' to which David, speaking for the first time, said, 'Yes, father.' Then my father looked at me and asked, 'Sarah, do you have any objections to marrying David?', to which I said, 'No.' And that was that. Two weeks later, on the Sunday after church service, David and I were wed."
There was another extended pause, as my mother and I sat together that day.
"Now I don't want you thinking that what I'm saying is anything against your father. He is, and has always been, a good, solid, moral man. He has always been there to protect and defend us; he has been a good provider and we have never suffered want. We are lucky to have him as the head of our household. He has been a good, kind husband to me.
"But we are farmers, and I guess that is another way of saying, we are practical and realistic people. Maybe things are different for rich folk, or members of the aristocracy, as they always are in those novels you've been reading.
"I read all of the books that you like so much when I was your age, and filled my head with notions of romantic love and passion. I expected to have a white knight come, sweep me off my feet and carry me away. I would be awakened with the kiss of true love by my handsome prince, who would put me on a pedestal and love me from afar with a pure heart.
"In the real world, all of those romantic notions are just that: notions, dreams, the wishes of silly young girls. In the real world, they are so much falderal, ideas of some ideal 'love' that, if you believe in them, will only serve to confuse and disappoint you through your life."
In the pause that followed, the silence was deafening.
"You know that tomorrow, your father and I will have been married for eighteen years," she quietly said.
I snuck a peek at my mother after she'd said her piece, only to see tears rolling down the side of her face. With the back of her hand, she brushed them away, still looking out at the pond below us.
"Well, Lizzie," she said as she began to stand, "I've got to get back to work. Can't spend all day thinking on things we can't do anything about."
She took my hand, and we walked back down the path and back to the house.
At this point, as I always did when telling 'the story', I stopped and looked at Sarah.
"That's probably enough for today, isn't it?" I asked.
Sarah shook her head violently back and forth.
"No, you need to tell it all the way to the end," she firmly declared, knowing that I didn't really intend to stop.
I nodded my agreement.
"Alright, since you insist," I replied.
My mother had given me a great deal to think about. I was actually shocked and upset. My parents, I realized, didn't have the kind of perfect relationship that I always taken for granted. I wondered if there was something — one of those 'grown-up' things — wrong, that I was just becoming old enough to understand.
But I couldn't quite see it. So I decided to speak to my father as well.
On Saturday afternoons, instead of working in the fields, my father worked making repairs on the house or equipment, and on preparations for the following week. We all gathered for lunch that Saturday, and when he returned to the barn, I followed him. He had gone into the tack room, where he was repairing some piece of leather harness or another. But when he saw me enter, he set it aside.
"You're joining me in the barn? To what do I owe this singular honor," he asked, teasing me as he was wont to do.
He was a fine figure of a man, as my mother described him — tall, with wide shoulders, but lean of body. He had arms that were muscled like a blacksmith's, and a well trimmed beard. In that, he was a little behind the times, as beards had been going out of style for several years, but my father was no follower of fashion. His overalls were held up by their straps over an off-white long-sleeved shirt made of muslin.
He was sitting at his workbench, with his sleeves rolled up to his elbows. And though he teased me as he greeted me, his piercing eyes were telling me he wasn't fooled, that he knew that I had come on a mission. He waited for me to speak.
"Father, I know that this may seem like a strange question to pose to you, but I was wondering if you ever thought about love and romance and those sorts of things?"
He smiled at me.
"Love and romance?" he ran his fingers back through his hair, "You're doing some pretty serious thinking. Is there something I should know about? Or maybe, I should ask, someone I should know about?"
"Oh, Pa. No, there isn't anyone specific. I'm too young to be thinking like that, anyway!"
He laughed out loud.
"Lizzie, darling — your ma was only a little older than you when we were married. I grant you that was awhile ago, and it was a different time. It will be eighteen years ago, tomorrow, that your ma and I were wed."
"I know," I told him, very seriously, "but that was a long time ago, and things are changing now. At school, one of the teachers said that today women aren't getting married as young anymore, sometimes not until they are even twenty-years-old!"
My father nodded sagely, no doubt smiling to himself when I said that eighteen years was a long time.
"Perhaps you ought to talk to your mother about 'romance', because that is a concept which is more familiar to women than men. I think much of a woman's notions of 'romance' come from reading books and listening to other women talk about it.
"For men, 'romance' seems to be less important. I'm not sure we understand it much."
He seemed to expect that this might be a long discussion, so Father stood up from his wooden seat at the workbench, and cleared off an area on one of the tack boxes. He threw a clean horse blanket atop the box and sat down, tapping his hand on the space next to him, indicating that I ought to sit there with him.
As I sat down next to him, it was if my senses had suddenly become sharper than ever before. I remember the warmth of the day, the sun filtering into the barn through the spaces between the boards, the motes of dust that could be seen where the beams of light came through, and the flies, flying silently in circles in the still afternoon air.
I waited expectantly, looking up at Father's profile that day, while he, that man of few words, contemplated how to answer my question.
"Lizzie," he began, "I have at times pondered about 'love'." He smiled and then looked in my direction. "A man has plenty of time to think while he is working the fields, when his attention isn't completely taken up by the task at hand.
"I've often wondered if we even think of 'love' correctly. The Greeks had four words for love — Eros, their term for 'physical love', Philia — what they called 'brotherly' or 'friend-like' love, Agape — the word for 'divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, thoughtful love', and 'Storge' which was more like 'affection' between family members. That, you probably know, as Preacher sometimes speaks of this, when he is discussing love at church. I only bring these up to point out that a lot of people, for a long time, have understood that 'love' is a complex matter.
"But I think even four words is short-changing the concept of love.
"Love doesn't seem to me to be a simple, single emotion. You can say that someone is 'happy' or 'sad', or 'angry' and those are rather short-lived expressions of a single feeling. And it doesn't take a person hardly any time to go from one of those states to another. Lord knows that folks can be 'happy' one minute, and some little thing happens, and they can be 'angry' the next. Just think about your brothers when they come in from playing baseball, and find out that we are having spinach with dinner!" Father rolled his eyes as he mentioned that.
I had to laugh — the boys weren't so much 'angry' as 'horrified' by Mother's spinach.
Father continued, "I've always thought of 'love' as being sort of like a house — or better, think of it like that Greek temple, oh you know..."
"The Parthenon?" I piped in.
"Yes, that's it, the Parthenon. So you have this big Temple that we'll call 'love', which is unified under a heavy roof. But to keep the roof up and solid, you need all of those columns that go around the entire outside of the temple. And in the kind of love that a marriage should be, those columns are made up of attitudes, feelings, values, of responsibilities, of mutual obligations to each other, respect for each other — a lot of different things.
"And understand something: the Temple of Love isn't built quickly or easily, and what it's made of changes over time."
I'm sure that I looked confused at what Father had just said. So he tried to clarify himself.