I was never able to have a sit down conversation with my grandfather Buzz. That is what people used to call him. It was a name he inherited in the military. I should probably find out why.
I regret not being able to ask him about being raised by his grandmother in Nebraska. I wish I could have heard him tell about the day he tracked down the little brother he had only heard stories about at a naval base in California. I wish I could have questioned him about my Nana’s driving and how he allowed her to travel nearly coast to coast without a license and a baby in the backseat.
Buzz died when I was two weeks old. I had red hair then, an underdeveloped sense of sass, and a penchant for sleeping most of the day. While none of these things are true now, I am happy he least he got to meet me. I am happy he at least knew I existed.
Though, I would have liked to hear him play the piano. Buzz taught himself how and could play by ear. My dad says he connected with musicians in underground jazz clubs in Boston and would play into the early morning hours. Hundreds of mourners attended his funeral. My dad and his brother made sure someone rocked out on the baby grand during the church service.
A few years after Buzz died my grandmother reconnected with her high school sweetheart. He has been in my life since I was five, yet somehow I have never called him anything but Charles. I am wondering if some habits are too old to change?
When I was in Florida last month it was my first visit to my grandmother’s home without my parents. There I was able to witness my grandmother and Charles in their every day lives, when there wasn’t a holiday to get in the way of our conversation, a wedding to interfere with our wine. Most nights we just sat in their living room drinking and talking while waves crashed onto the beach below.
Charles is very hard of hearing. He and my grandmother communicate mostly through a type of sign language only they know. It took me three days to realize that they still flirt – after 20 years of marriage. Every time she leaves the house Charles stands on the balcony and blows her kisses. He makes her breakfast in bed every morning. He makes coffee that only she drinks. And he never complains about her cooking. I guess you could say it’s been a long honeymoon.
My other grandparents have a different relationship – but there is love there just the same. It’s just that they express it differently.
My mom’s parents have been married for more than 60 years. They nearly divorce after every Red Sox game. (I’m sure they’re fighting now since the Sox lost 4-3 to the Rays today, dropping two out of three games of the series.) They regularly accuse each other of cheating during card games. But every night they come back to the table for another round. And maybe that’s the point.
My Nana is feisty. No one tells her what to do and that’s probably why she is still alive. The doctors have no explanation for why she is as healthy as she is given the fact that she has almost zero healthy lung tissue. And a heart condition. I think she’s waiting to have the last word.
“I’m the type of person that if I don’t win, I get bitchy,” she said during my recent trip home. “So I get up and leave if we’re fighting so I don’t say something I can’t take back. I walk away and then we can start anew.”
Maybe that’s how you stay married after 60 years. Maybe that’s how you can look at your husband after seven decades and still say, “I have no regrets in my life.”
Editor’s note: These are photos from the Florida portion of the trip. Introducing Nana and Charles. http://www.flickr.com/photos/kmunsey/sets/72157615736341458/