As a grandchild I only saw their golden years. I didn’t see the formative years of a decades-long relationship between two very different and very opinionated people. I didn’t see the day-to-day struggle of raising three kids, one a quadriplegic, while maintaining the glossy life required of a Naval officer’s family in places like the Philippines and Thailand as the world rebuilt after WWII.
It was the Navy that brought them together in the first place.
When stationed in England during WWII, some of the men complained that the planes weren’t flying quite right (remember, Naval aviation was a new game at this time). So Grandpa took one up, and sure enough, something wasn’t right — the wings fell off.
A fisherman pulled him from the sea after the plane plummeted into the water.
Grandma, a Wave, was one of his nurses.
After the war, the Navy sent them different directions, but they found ways to see each other. One of grandpa’s favorite stories was about borrowing one of the base planes to fly to New Orleans to see grandma on weekends.
Ultimately, they married and spent more than half a century together, sharing heartbreaks and joys. They both led extraordinary lives outside of their marriage, but that’s not what they would have told you about when you asked them about accomplishments. They would have told you about family camping trips, pulled out the hefty photo albums showcasing their grandchildren, and shown you the commemorative plate to mark 50 years of marriage in its spot of honor on the mantel.
After dementia set in, we often wondered if grandma knew where she was. Grandpa insisted on keeping her home and hired help to make sure she had the care his own aging body couldn’t guarantee.
Are you happy, Ally, he would ask her.
Yes, she would say, turning her head to look at him from her recliner.
See, it doesn’t matter where she is as long as she’s happy, he would say.
I especially think about grandma and grandpa on Valentine’s Day.
When going through grandma’s jewelry after she died, I noticed she had an inordinate number of heart-shaped pieces.
Well, yeah, my mom said. Dad gave her something heart-shaped for Valentine’s Day every year.