I love you! Write back soon, always and forever yours! Those words have been penned in books, composed in songs, and scribbled on thousands if not a million Hallmark cards to be shared by star crossed lovers the world over. Letters sent via the post office expressing your undying love to someone is not common place today in an age where cell phones, and the internet with its email, instant messaging, and video chat programs, rule. As I look at the image of my parents on their wedding day I am reminded of pleasant memories I had growing up, and of a long life together. My parents will soon celebrate sixty-seven years of marriage.
Their time collectively has had its ups and downs. They have endured the pain of loss, and marveled at the birth of children, grand children and great grand children. Together, they have proven to be a brilliant example or longevity for anyone who happens to know them. I never considered what forever really meant until recently. As I gaze up at the picture of my young parents on their wedding day, I am inspired to tell a story about how their love for one another has taught me to love and appreciate what forever means. It started with a faded blue box which allowed me to imagine the possibilities!
As a little girl, I might have been seven or eight; I can remember sneaking up stairs into my parent’s bedroom when no one was up stairs. I would quietly open the door to the bedroom closet, and then delight in the feeling of being someplace I knew I wasn’t supposed to be. When you’re seven everything just seems abnormally large, my parent’s closet was no exception. Once inside I would locate and slip on my mother’s pointy toed pumps. I can recall how beautiful I thought they were, she had a pair in every color and fabric, and a hand bag to match each. I knew she didn’t like anyone touching the pink suede ones, but I couldn’t help it. They were my favorite.
The next stop for me would be to open up her jewelry box. I would rummage around through each drawer, pin all of her cameos to my blouse, slide chunky jeweled rings over my little kid knuckles, and clip on her sparkly gold with dangly gem earrings. I would then peruse over her many necklaces. I loved her beads most of all. She had long strands and short; pearls, glass, jade, and stone. The cold and heavy stone beads always felt good against my skin. I laced my neck with around four or five thick strands of shiny pearls. My mother had a long mirror tucked inside the closet, and before I continued my search, I would gaze my reflection, imagining for the day I could do things like go dancing, fashioned in her swingy dresses and sparkly jewelry, pretty shoes, and a purses.
On the only shelf in her closet there was a faded blue shoe box that my mother had tucked behind some photo albums. Apparently, my mother thought she had hid this from my sisters and me, but curious little girls on a mission, can find anything if they want to know what is in it bad enough! It was a well known fact that my sisters had already been explorers of this box. And, on occasion I would see my mother pull the box down when she wanted to add a photo or two to her albums. I always had butterflies every time I thought about opening that box. My sisters said the box contained mushy love letters. Unbeknownst to my parents, these letters were very famous in my house. I had heard about these letters from my older sisters who often talked about having read them. They would even call my parents silly nicknames when they kissed in front of us. I never really understood, being the youngest of sisters, what all the fuss was about.
I do recall one night in particular. I must have been five or six. I was sitting on the floor with my mother. It was a Sunday night and I was going through our Sunday night ritual. She wrapped my hair up in sponge curlers, and I was sitting under the hood dryer. The box was on the floor next to me. My mother must have been adding more bits and pieces to it. I casually picked up a card that was slipped out of its envelope. The front of the card was floral, pink and yellow, with sparkles, and pretty. I opened the card and read, “H-O-N-E-Y B-E-A-R, Honey Bear. I could read and recognized the words honey and bear, but thought it odd that a card would be addressed that way. I put it back and never asked about it, I wasn’t supposed to be snooping in the box anyway.
My next encounter with the box was when I was a few short years of being ten and all grown up. At this point I could pretty well grasp the mushy content that my sisters had been talking about. I looked around the bedroom to find something to boost me up in order for me to take the box down. I lugged this heavy, dark wood and cream colored leather desk chair, the kind with couch pins fastened decoratively all over it, to just under the shelf where that box was. I wasn’t nearly tall enough to reach for anything without it coming down on my head. Remembering to remove my high heels I climbed on the chair and grabbed the worn blue shoe box from the shelf.
The box itself was a faded baby blue, with water spots on it. It was held together with rubber bands which snuggly fit around it keeping its lid and contents safely inside. After removing the rubber bands and opening the top, I could barely contain my curiosity; I was bursting at the seams with anticipation. In it there were small things like, thank you cards, ticket stubs from a movie or a coat check, torn bits of magazines with faces on them, there were pictures of my parents when they were young, and pictures of people who I assumed were family members. I tried very hard not to toss things aside. I kept every piece of paper and article in its exact place. I wanted to snoop, but I didn’t want anyone to know I was being so nosy. The best surprise of all was once I moved past those uninteresting items and then found what I had been so anxiously searching for.
Letters! Carefully bundled bunches of letters, tied together with a soft, faded, ribbon. I artfully slipped the ribbon from the collection, and set it aside. I can’t say why, but my heart beat quickly in my chest thinking about those letters. I am not sure why I felt funny about opening that box. I just wanted to know what my sisters knew. I could hardly help myself; there it was, in all of its glory, tempting me with its hidden secrets. As I delicately handled each parcel, I began to see a pattern. I could see by the exchange of addresses on the front of each envelope that these letters were actually interactions between my parents, correspondences between my father and mother, while my father was stationed far away with his military unit. When my sisters were much younger, my father was gone away from home for over a year at a time sometimes.
On the back of some envelopes were lip imprints made from bright red lipstick. Kiss marks, which in time, were smeared but still very visible. I would press my own lips against them thinking I could rub some off onto my lips. Some of the envelopes smelled faintly of my mother’s best perfume, Chanel No. 5. A few of the envelopes had smiling lady cartoons drawn on them. And, not one envelope was without X’s and O’s, indicating hugs and kisses, on the back of the envelope. These letters were either addressed to my mother from my father, or, addressed to my father from my mother using his official name.
I opened the flap of one envelope and pulled out the faded parchment. Each page looked as if it had been read, and reread many times. The opening line didn’t say, Dear Sir or Ma’am, or hello, how are you? These letters were addressed to someone named Honey Bear. Now that I was almost ten and much more mature, I could fully comprehend what the name Honey Bear meant. My cheeks suddenly felt hotter. I fully understood now that when my parents would smooch in the kitchen, or when they would ball room dance in our living room on Sunday afternoons, why my sisters would giggle and call out, “I love you forever, Honey Bear,” and “You’re my favorite, Honey Bucket!”
My parents would then smile, ignoring their taunts enjoying the moment, humming along with the big band tune from the record player, dancing all the while. My mother’s eyes looked dreamy, as she and my father sashayed forward and backward in quick, synchronized steps. Occasionally our father would dip our mother back, and knowingly, she would bend slightly in response. I was always envious at how good they danced together. I then understood that these letters were much more sophisticated than I could grasp, and I had no business trying to figure it out. I quickly and quietly put the letter back inside its envelope, bunched them all back together, and slid them once again into their secure package.
Now that I older and a wife and mother, when I recall those days it brings back a flood of happy memories. I like to imagine that those little treasures my mother kept in that box like the coat check ticket; was probably some fancy place my parents went dancing until dawn, perhaps the NCO club. And the ripped ticket stub just might have been for a grand prize drawing from a new year’s eve’s party, (I did see a party horn in that box). I still am not sure who those pictures in the box were of, perhaps a group of friends that got together one night out to listen to a live band or orchestra. I still think about those letters, and now I understand exactly what they meant to my mother and why she has kept them for so long, and also why she tucked them away. I am glad she didn’t mind that we peeked at a few. It was harmless, and gave us some good gossip to share with one another.
I know I am thankful that my parents knew what forever meant to them. And that they have tried to share that with their children. Forever is longevity, growing old with that other person in your life who just gets you, and you can’t imagine living one day without them. It is all about learning and growing together, making mistakes, and then figuring out how to recover from those mistakes. I get it now. I have my own collection of memories I store in a real and also a metaphorical box. It isn’t as pretty, or dramatic, and it is not tucked into a secret place. It is my own little piece of history, and maybe one day my children will want to investigate it. Glance over its pictures, letters, and memorabilia, and in doing so explore their own imagination.