Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate love — or at least the idea of how love could be. We see plenty of examples of young romance on television and in movies. But I wish there were more portrayals of couples still hot for each other after years together. Those are the couples who have figured out what true love really is and remind us that sometimes the secret is more simple than you would think.My parents were married for 50 years until my father passed away from cancer in 2001. Their unique and touching romantic gestures towards each other began when they were newlyweds and had no money. On their first anniversary she arrived home from her teaching job and checked the mailbox first like she did every day.
Inside was a letter informing her that her gift was upstairs waiting for her. When she got to her bedroom, there was my dad waiting for her wearing a bow. My mom is in her ‘80s and this story still makes her smile and blush when she tells it.
As a child, I would be excited every Valentine’s Day when my father would arrive home from work with a box of candy for me and my sister. But the biggest box of candy was for my mom. He always let her know that she was the most important Valentine in his life.
On Christmas, as the youngest, my job was to separate the gifts into separate piles for everyone. Every year, without fail, the tallest pile would be beside my mother, mostly gifts from my father.
As my parents reached their senior years, their lives changed. The kids left home, they retired and the counters in their kitchen became more cluttered with medicine bottles instead of bills and grocery lists. This was the time in their marriage that taught me the most.
I learned that romantic love is not dependent on youth and health. I could still see their flirty glances through the bifocal lenses the wore and caught their wrinkled grins to each other when they thought no one was paying attention. They had weathered all that life had to offer and had stuck it out, proud of their accomplishment as they faced the coming end to their bond on Earth.
In the year that my father struggled with cancer and eventually was unable to leave the house, he still found special ways to let my mom know that she was his girl. That Valentine’s Day and on my mom’s birthday, he couldn’t leave the house to shop for her like he was used to. But he also didn’t want to leave it to anyone else to show his love. So, he gave her what he could: letters from him.
Each day, he wrote Mom a letter to tell her what she meant to him and to this life. He let her know in the only way he could how much he appreciated her as a wife and a mother to his babies.
Some of those letters contained things that she will never share with another soul. And every now and then, she still pulls them out when she wants to feel close to him.
My dad even found a way to be romantic after he died. In his later years, he had learned how to make mix tapes and would create a new one for Mom each year on their anniversary.
As his health was failing, he didn’t want to miss out on the tradition if he wasn’t here. So he made the tape early. When he died a few weeks before their 51st anniversary, my brother gave my mom the tape that he had left for her.
Our society focuses so much attention on the beginning of a love affair, but that’s not the accomplishment we should celebrate. In a marathon the beginning of the race is the easy part. The final moments of the race are what determines who goes home with the trophy. We celebrate the strength and dogged conviction that it took to reach the finish line.
That is what we envy in sports. We should do the same with couples.
Article originally published in Georgia Voice.