Emory Ralph willson
Years ago, I sat cross-legged on the wooden floor of my grandparents’ muggy screened-in porch. My grandmother sat in a chair – the vinyl kind with the stuffing poking through that scratchy rip in the seat. She was hunched over, pawing through old photos and scraps tucked away in a drawer. Telling me stories of people I had never met, her eyes damp from distance and time and quieter memories.
Just before she closed the drawer, she handed me a yellowed paper with scrawling handwriting on it. Across the top it said, Without You and below it were the words Just for Lois Ann Welch. “It’s a poem Grandpa gave me,” she said. As I read the poem out loud, there was pride in her subtle smile and I could see her mind drift off to a flashback scene. Just like in the movies, where everything is black and white. She was wearing red lipstick and her favorite dancing dress. I think I even saw her toes tap to the big band music playing in her head.
There would be nothing left for me
If ever you were gone
For I would never have the strength
Or courage to go on
I could not see the morning sun
In all its golden light
And I could not appreciate
The stars around the night
But I would walk along the path
Where loneliness and tears
Are all that linger in the wake
Of joyful yester years
Whatever would be left of life
Would only be in vain
If you were just a vision to
Remember in the rain
You mean so much of life to me
That neither night nor day
Would have a single meaning if
You ever went away
Until that day, I had no idea my grandparents were such hopeless romantics. They were IN LOVE. Not just the love you sign on the bottom of a birthday card. The “I can’t live without you,” Romeo and Juliet kind of love. And as I thought more about it, I began to realize that the most significant memories I have of my grandparents are witnessing the love that they had for each other. Grandpa patting Grandma’s hand as she set his sandwich in front of him and Grandma kissing him on top of his head in recognition. From my childhood-perspective, I learned about appreciation and respect in the little moments and exchanges.
When my grandmother died last August, I wondered how my Grandpa would get along without his partner in life. Especially understanding what that hopeless, “can’t live without you” kind of love feels like. However, when I saw him just a few weeks after she died, my Grandpa, with his quiet certitude, seemed at peace. How could this be? As I talked to him, he simply explained to me that it was her time to go home and he would see her again soon. Their young love had matured and across those years, came acceptance and an understanding that death could not extinguish what they had. And just like he did in all my memories, Grandpa calmly went about life again. Fixing this and that. Sneezing loudly. Loving his family.
I’m sure that in the last year of his life, there were times when Grandpa felt deep “loneliness and tears” like the poem describes. But I also know that the warmth that he wrapped his family in for all those years was tucked back around him in the last few months of his life. His proud children, who have memories filled with laughter and joy, surrounded him in love and literally brought him home. And even though my father couldn’t be there with him, I know he was with my Grandma preparing a party for his dad’s arrival in heaven.
Heaven. This is a word I have trouble saying. With it comes controversy between my intellect and my heart. There have even been times when I have equated the word with ignorance. Yet, it’s a word I want to believe in because it’s the only place I seem to find peace. Peace that there is retribution for wrongs, relief from suffering, reuniting of families, and a chance that this is not all there is (as I listen to sirens scream outside my door).
Two years ago when my Grandpa Parker died, I heard the song “The Dog Days are Over” on the radio on my drive to work. I cranked it up and bawled my eyes out as I sang…Happiness, hit her like a bullet in the back. The dog days are over, the dog days are gone. I could see my Grandpa, who had been crippled physically since the 70’s and had never made peace in his mind since the war thirty years before, overcome with joy and dancing all over the place. A funny little jig, a goofy grin on his face. In the same way, on Saturday when my Grandpa Willson passed away, I just knew that he was dancing to In the Mood with his wife again.
While normally I would find these thoughts irrational, I realize that they are what faith is made of. Hope for what is unseen (because you can’t reconcile any other possibility in your heart). Even my husband, who is a doubter-extraordinaire, looked me in eyes and said, “He’s with your grandma in a better place.” My grandpa’s certainty, love and faith help me believe that this is true.
By the way…I always thought my grandpa had written the poem. With a quick search on Google, however, I found it archived in a Salt Lake City newspaper from 1947. It was written by James Metcalfe. I’m not sure how this poem made it into my grandpa’s hands, but I’m grateful that it made it into mine. It gave me a glimpse into the window of my grandparent’s hearts. And in a time where I should be mourning, I’m feeling more peace than I have had in a long time.
If you’d like to check out the newspaper archive…
Or listen to some big band music:
Or dance your heart out thinking about the possibility of heaven:
© 2012 D. Willson