I wrote this piece a few years ago. I don’t remember the year it originally ran, nor the month. Unimportant, I suppose.
I was feeling particularly nostalgic and wanted to do something a little different with my column and hammered this out on a beautiful morning when I really wished that I was having coffee with my dear Claire. Since then, I get a lot of laughs and high-fives for some of the ridiculous things I write, but this particular article has brought me more solemn, genuine comments than any of my other pieces.
It’s February, and Valentine’s Day is looming, and well, I figured that it might be time to drag this one out. I hope you enjoy.
I still miss my Claire.
I saw her from across the street. She was in front of the Auto Parts store (that is now the Cypress Grille), and I was heading the opposite direction toward Dr. Adler’s place.
I stared at her with my jaw agape like a fool while she casually strolled. Her hair – I’ll never forget her hair – fluttered around her like a mist in the breeze. I was able to eventually get her to have a cup of coffee with me, and I remember the way that her bright red nails looked while it held the small white porcelain cup.
The way that she laughed so loudly while playing with our children in a large pile of leaves I had raked in the front yard in the fall of 1949. I had returned from the War just a few years previously, and still carried much of the baggage. I leaned on my rake while wearing my dad’s old leather work gloves, and I listened to their shrieks of joy while they laughed and laughed and I could have died a very happy man in that very second. I closed my eyes, raised my face to the sun, and burned that memory into my mind for all eternity.
She wept softly while I had my arm around her shoulder as we waved goodbye to our youngest son as he left for basic training in the spring of ’64. She held her small white handkerchief to her chest and quickly wiped tears away from the corners of her eyes. The nails of her hands were still the same beautiful, beautiful bright red.
Our daughter placed the newborn in my wife’s lap, and she smiled a smile that would make the heavens sing out. She made faces at our first grandchild, and kissed his forehead, and they disappeared in their own little world for quite a while. She held him cheek to cheek and patted his back, and though we had both aged so much, I remember thinking that I wish I was an artist because I would paint that image one million times until I could do it justice. Even though nobody ever could.
I sat in the small wicker chair on the terrace in Italy. She stood at the railing; eyes closed, sun kissing her face, and let the wind blow through her hair. She breathed deeply, her hands on the rail, and I inhaled the image. A vacation for a couple of older retirees, she had always dreamed of seeing Italy. She had told me her dream once when we were dating – she had said “I just want to stand on a balcony and see the vineyards in the distance and…..just drink it all in.” It took me longer than I wanted to bring her here, but if she was my dream, I wanted to fulfill hers.
I kissed her forehead and said, “I’ll see you soon baby girl.” That was 11 years ago today. I listened to her last breath, and then looked out the window at a perfectly blue sky on a perfectly wonderful spring day. A bird was on the window sill, and he chirped at me once before quickly flying off. I think he was saying goodbye, too.
I sat there for a long time that day. When you spend that many years with one person, it’s more than a little frightening to know that my life would never look the same starting the very next day. In fact, it makes you wish that you didn’t have to see the very next day. I just sat there and held her hand, and watched those clouds drift across that beautiful sky. It’s hard to think that it’s really been 11 years now. Not one day has passed that I don’t ache for her and it’s just as painful as it was that very next day.
And to this day, I would give anything to be able to sit with her again. I’d hold her hand and smile at those perfect, perfect bright red nails.
There’s more to all of us than we let on. Yeah, I’m Old Timer, but for 56 years I was also Claire Elizabeth’s Husband.
And she was My Dream.