The love story I never knew…..

Dearest Ruth,

For once I ran out of envelopes before I ran out of paper. I guess this box of stationary was properly designed for both to just about come out the same.

Also for once I actually got my arms around you in a dream last night and saw you very plainly too. Mostly you’re just in my dreams and I feel your presence but I never actually am able to stand back and see you. But I must have been thinking of you exceptionally strongly yesterday – even more so than I usually do which is a lot. Because I remember that there was a bombing raid on and I ran into this apartment house to find you and you came out of a door and ran right into my arms. I could almost feel you in my arms and your cheek against mine and you looked very happy to see me too. Just like the first nite we met in New York – remember? Anyway it seemed so real that I woke up and was rather startled – I couldn’t figure out where I was. Next time you leave my dreams take me with you please?

Well a week from today is Valentines Day my darling and if everything goes right we will be able to mail these letters tomorrow and you will get this one not too far after the 14th. In which case will you be my Valentine? I know you will because you always have and it’s lucky I am for your the sweetest Valentine a man could ever hope for. Darling I love you very much, more than I can ever tell you and I can only hope that I can soon be with you so I can demonstrate in various little ways how great is my love for you. This year I haven’t a Valentines Day remembrance to send you. But next year I hope to bring you one personally.

Until that happy day my darling we’ll just wait and be patient. Knowing that our love and life together will be all the sweeter for our separation.

All my love,

P.S. I can’t say where I am of course but to ease your mind I can say that we are proceeding to an area relatively free from dangers. HH


a little locket of mom’s with a picture of dad and herself, likely from before they were married, maybe high school days.

Written February 7, 1945, this letter, written by my father to my mom while he was on a minesweeper in during WWII, was written only weeks after his ship participated in the Invasion of Lingayen Gulf, an allied amphibious operation in the Philippines to retake the bay from the Japanese. It was an operation similar to the more well known invasion of Normandy, with dozens of ship casualties, mostly from kamikaze attacks. He describes the invasion in a letter to his mother written in March of the same year. After describing the line up of ships ready to attack, he writes, “everyone has to wait until the cocky little minesweepers run in by the beaches to sweep for any stray mines before the first waves of landing craft come in. The whole gulf had been previously swept by us and the big minesweepers the 3 days prior to the landings before anyone else was there….”

I try to understand the extremes of emotions one goes through when at war, living in extreme danger, watching those around you get blown up, yet at the same time staying involved with life and loved ones back home. My father wrote my mother nearly every day, as I’m sure many soldiers and sailors did. The letters must of piled up since they were only able to send them periodically. Since their ship’s whereabouts were mostly secretive, letters to men on the ship were often delayed months. Shortly after this letter was written he received, from both grandmas and mom, the news that his first child, a son, was born January 30. Oh how the letters changed! They still began with “dearest Ruth”, or “my dearest”, and he still expressed his love and appreciation for her, but now he spoke of Kenny, or Ken, or K.B. – in every letter. He had the questions first time dads have, he wanted to know everything, he speculated on Ken’s future. He is proud and happy and clearly missed being with his new family. In the first post-birth letter he says he was “floating on the deck” and handed out cigars to all his ship mates. (This is funny because my parents never smoked, but tradition is tradition! The question is, where did he get them?)

From my perspective my father was not an emotionally expressive person, except when anger got the better of him. I never heard him say I love you or even show pride or approval to anything in my life, and I believe my brothers experience of him was similar. He did show his feelings in small ways. There were presents at Christmas that showed personal thoughtfulness. He wanted us to have life experiences, family vacations were important. He took the role of father and provider seriously, but was not emotionally connected to his children. And he always gave gifts and cards to mom for every Valentines Day, birthday, anniversary and Christmas, often very thoughtful, personal ones and always with a loving “Hallmark” type card. I think the feelings were there, but they were turned off.  Mom would say “ your father is proud of you” or some such thing, but I never knew if this was true or she was just “covering” for him.

My parents marriage, from my grown up analytical perspective, was not always easy. As a child I never felt I was growing up in a tumultuous home, but there were occasionally scary, volatile arguments behind closed doors. In many ways my parents were equal partners making major decisions together, in other ways it was a patriarchal home.

After reading letters between them before they married, as well as the small spiral notebooks kept in some secret place (a milk box or mail box?) in which they wrote notes to each other when Dad, in college, was working a graveyard shift, and Mom, younger than him, and still in high school was living with her mother, I have come to know how deep their friendship was, the strong values they shared, and the dreams they had and worked toward in their life together. I have learned their’s was a love story I never knew.

I think Dad may well have suffered from some degree of PTSD. The emotional impact of war, though recognized as far back as the Civil war, was not addressed as it is now. During the Korean War it was called “shell shock”, but the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a post Vietnam Nam War term. To be in a war zone, to participate in the killing of others and watch others be killed, any sane person would need to turn off the more sensitive parts of themselves. Some people cannot and are emotionally traumatized, others can and successfully turn that part of themselves back on once away from the trauma. Other’s cannot turn their feelings back on.

My dad had resiliency, his letters home to his wife and mom were generally up-beat, though he occasionally wrote of being homesick. He wrote about every day life on board the ship, especially the food, which was scarce in variety at times, then suddenly they’d get a drop off of fresh veggies, fruit, maybe cheese and eggs. Once there was a case of Washington apples, a treat from home for him!  He wrote about life at home, asking questions, always responding to things they would write him. Long, chatty, expressive letters, they showed gratitude for little favors done by others, like his mother sending flowers in his name when my brother was born. They also showed the practical pragmatic he was, he carefully asks about the cost of the glorious birth!

There were times I saw this expressive side of my dad, but for the most part he was the practical, the pragmatic. Late in his life, in his 70s and around the time he was first diagnosed with the prostate cancer which would eventually cause his death at 78, he began to draw, to write stories, to write poetry. I knew then there was a side to him he never attended to or nurtured, a side that wrote love letters and was able to show he cared about those he loved. There was a time that side was not turned off.

Dad with the woman of his dreams, his friend, his lover.

Dad’s dream about a bombing raid and looking for my mom in an apartment building may show his worry for those at home and the reality of living in Seattle during the war, when nighttime black-outs and a faux city was built on top of the Boeing plant to disguise it. Seattle was a target city, important to the war due to Boeing and not that far from Pearl Harbor.

The letters, diaries, little notebooks kept by my mother were not kept for others, I knew nothing of them until I cleaned out their house, yet they were preserved through various moves across the country, kept along with the cards, memorabilia and those “important” “dear Mom and Dad” letters from her children. I believe her private keeping of them was her own reserved way of honoring and cherishing the feelings expressed, especially the love. Maybe when the love was hard to see,  when their marriage was painful, she would read them.  I will never know.

I share this private love story on Valentines Day to show how love can be stifled, locked up and hard to notice.  How it can be injured. Look for it, it may just be scared to come out.

It may be in an old shoe box, hidden in an old letter.


other related stories:

Hearts and Califlower

“The Day of Days”

Natue’s Heart

Valentine’s Day

Animal Love

This is not a love story….

This is not a love story, or maybe it is…..

Writing about an old boy friend the day before Valentine’s Day may seem strange, and it is, but it’s only the beginning of this tale… please bear with me……..

The theme of the 1986 Vancouver Expo was communication and transportation. In 1986, I was in a relationship doomed to fail for all the usual reasons, including lack of honest communication. The title of the then popular book Smart Women, Foolish Choices was the mantra I ignored playing in the back of my mind throughout the nearly 18 months I tried to help someone with no history of settling anywhere, settle into my life. Mind you, I was not the one who started it all. After a brief encounter over a campfire in a campground, he looked me up, arriving in my front yard unannounced a few months later.  That was early summer 1985.

When my parents gave us tickets to the Expo as a Christmas present in 1985, they apparently had faith in the relationship lasting, at least until the following summer.  Though Gary and I had some good times together, it was a relationship that made me crazy in so many ways. Gary was a hard-working nice guy, with various well hidden addictions, and the unpredictable behavior of walking away from people…..past family, jobs, and a not-so-ex girlfriend. He had already walked away from our fledging relationship when he headed south the day he was to move from eastern Washington to a rental down the road so we could see where our relationship might go if we lived geographically closer. Embarrassing to say, though his behavior and words of explanation at the time couldn’t have been a clearer sign of what was to come if it had in fact been a neon sign, I convinced him to turn around, come back, give it a try. I reminded him he had a rental agreement with my friends who owned the house.

One of the many colorful modes of transportation exhibited at the 1986 world's fair in Vancouver.

One of the many colorful modes of transportation exhibited at the 1986 world’s fair in Vancouver.

We worked at being a couple for months, but by Expo time we’d tried for over a year and knew it was not going to work…..I think we “stayed together for the tickets.”  That September we went to Vancouver and stayed with a kind, witty, elderly couple, aunt and uncle of my mom’s best friend. We mostly went our separate ways at the expo. This was pre-cell phones, and at one point, when he failed to show at an agreed upon rendezvous, I assumed he had split. He hadn’t. I LOVED the exhibits I went to. I finally “saw” the Northwest Territories I’d dreamed of visiting since I was a child, collecting literature for the trip I still had hoped to take. At an African (I can’t remember which country) exhibit, alive with music and color, I bought a little thumb piano made from recycled tin. Gary and I were both enchanted by the brightly painted buses and trucks from Pakistan. When the weekend ended he hitched back to Washington to work, I set off for a solo vacation to the Canadian Rockies.

expo 86032

Which gets me to the reason for this story at this time. Clearly, though it is Valentines Day, Gary was not the love of my life. (I’ll get to him.) No, it’s because this week I am sick with one of those flu viruses that hit ya about once a decade. And in the 80s, it hit me in the Rockies.

Feeling relieved to be away from Gary, I drove northeast toward Banff. This was the year before the opening of the Coquihalia Highway which streamlined the route between Vancouver and Banff.  The older route was longer and I enjoyed the scenery as I looked forward to mountains, camping, and traveling on my own, as I had for 7 years after the amicable end of my previous, one and only, long-term “significant relationship”.

I felt a sore throat the first night I camped. The second day, after a brief stop at Lake Louise Hotel, which was nearly empty (I guess everyone was at the Expo!) for the spectacular lake view, I arrived at a campground outside Banff late in the day. A mixture of rain and snow was just starting to come down. It was cold, and I was hot. I pitched my tent, cooked a meal inside it, and crawled into the back of my Toyota Corona where stormy weather outside reflected the fury raging in my body through a sleepless night.

The next day was one of those blue sky sunshiny days where, at those higher elevations, everything seems crystal clear and so bright there’s a feeling of other-worldliness. I, determined to see something in spite of how I was feeling, rode the gondola for what was indeed a surreal experience given that by then I had a high fever and chills and aches that made dying sound like nirvana and the only possible relief.

I did not have a credit card then. I called my mom, we both consulted the same B.C. guide-book, found an affordable motel just outside the park, heading south. She called, made a reservation, and I left, driving away from my dream vacation of hiking and traveling alone in the Rockies. I was both chilled and feverish, and drove holding to my forehead a wet cloth I would “refresh” from the melting ice in my cooler every 20 minutes. I undoubtedly drove through beautiful scenery, but I was just trying to stay on the road in what was starting to feel like a fever induced delusional state of mind. It was a long drive. I do remember one roadside stop where other cars had stopped to view a mama bear with cubs. When I crossed the park boundary and found the motel, it was evening. I walked into the office, the person at the desk looked up and said “You must be Penney, you look really sick.” They weren’t offering anything more than a room, but after buying night-time NyQuil at the small, and only, nearby store, the room became my sanctuary for five days as I laid in bed, occasionally heating soup or boiling water on my camp stove set up in the shower stall.  Time has not embellished my memory of this story, I was really sick.

I survived. After a few days the fever broke, I gingerly took a few walks nearby. When I thought I could do so safely, I drove home… took four days. I was weak.  And I was late back to work. It was not a fun trip to the Rockies, but it was a break from a crazy time in a crazy relationship. I don’t remember if at the time I reflected on much, the flu forced me to live in the moment. In a weird way, I enjoyed and appreciated the time away with no expectations of having a great time. I was not having a great time. And though it was scary how sick I was so far from anyone and anything familiar (did I mention the nearest hospital or doctor was along ways away), I was having time away from everything and everyone in my life. In that sense it was a true vacation.

Gary left a few months later. Moving on with life, I visited friends in Sweden and Germany the following March. Gary even sent me a nice travel book as I planned the trip. In the summer of 1987 I began a Masters program in psychiatric rehabilitation.  That winter I did meet the love of my life. And our first “official” date was in fact to the Swan School Valentines Sweetheart Ball in 1988.

PJ & Mike 1987030

Mike, a little self-conscious on our first official date to the Swan School Valentine Ball, wearing a borrowed sport coat, attire no one had ever seen him in before. He turned out to be a pretty good dancer, easy to be with, and we’ve been dancing together through life ever since.

As I lay here sweating, every cell of my body aching, coughing til it hurts, head throbbing, throat feeling like I swallowed crushed glass, voice almost gone, (you get the picture, especially if you’ve been there), I know this is one of those once a decade bugs (I hope, as I do to want to repeat this for a long time). The past two years of my life, with the care of mom as she declined into Alzheimer’s, moving her four times, emptying and selling her house, two bouts with breast cancer, Mike’s health challenges….has been the most crazy time of my life. The past several days I’ve been too sick to reflect on anything….or eat, or sleep. I still feel lousy, but the fever has broken, and as my brain begins to function again I recall this past flu story and wonder…… maybe this is a way of “burning up” the past to move on. I hope so.

Though he locked his keys in his truck tonight, my sweetheart did deliver a lovely bouquet!

Though he locked his keys in his truck tonight, my sweetheart did deliver a lovely bouquet!

As for a more seasonally appropriate love story…….I left sick bay tonight, albeit grumpily, to drive 23 miles round trip to where Mike locked his keys in his truck. Driving home in the dark I thought about the myriad ways Mike, in his sometimes bumbling, but always heart felt, genuine way, goes out of his way for me.  Every day. The past two nights he’s come home from work and made me miso soup, the only thing I feel like eating. I do not need to tell love stories for Valentine’s Day because I live a love story.

I wish you all a Happy Valentine’s Day and invite you to read previous Valentines posts. And if you’ve had any crud bugs this winter, perhaps this will help you reflect on the experience as a time of transition, a time out.

other February posts: Animal LoveA Love StoryNature’s Heart

and another love story: Love Child

A Love Story ♥

An early Valentine bouquet from Mike makes a perfect Valentine to send all!

An early Valentine bouquet from Mike makes a perfect Valentine to send all!

This is a love story, a story some of you have heard in parts, but like all true love stories, it just keeps growing.

For Valentine’s Day, I am making a song list of favorite love songs for Mike’s iPod, (top among them: “Love Is In The Air”, haven’t heard it in a long time? Give a click, it will remind you of love in the 70’s!). As I listen to One Love, also a 70’s song written by Bob Marley, I’m reminded of where that song led me a few years ago.  What brought the song front and center to my attention was the awarding winning documentary: “Playing For Change: Peace Through Music”.  We have the DVD and every time I watch it, One Love makes my spirits soar. A song about unity and love (and anti-oppression), sung by musicians ’round the world, from cultures as diverse as South Africa, Italy, Israel, India, France, and The Congo, magically ‘spliced’ together to become a unified whole of musical talent and upliftment, is a song that instills hope. The tune moves the body, but the voices, deep with feeling, singing in many languages and dialects, stir the heart.

So one day I went to the Playing For Change web site and read the bios on the musicians included in the song.  One story was that of William Aura, a white guy from California, who in the video is playing an electric guitar on a roof top in Katmandu, Nepal.  What’s with that?, I thought.  Turns out Aura, as friends call him, is a jazz musician with a life long love of Himalayan culture (something we share), who, after his own experience sponsoring a Tibetan boy through a sponsorship program, goes to Nepal and meets another young man wanting to bring education to his village. The two hit it off, and Aura starts a sponsorship program to bring education to the remote Nepalese village of Tintale.  Tintale takes a bit of trekking to get to, through a raging river, after driving challenging roads to their end.

The day I called Aura he had made that trek from the end of the road quite a few times.  He sounded suspicious on the phone – who was I and how did I find out about his program?  I had my own hesitations, who was he, and was it a legit sponsorship program? He seemed to be discouraging me “if you want letters from your sponsored child and regular updates, there are bigger programs you can contact.”  He kept reiterating he was just ‘one guy’ doing this, I shouldn’t have expectations of a big organization.  This from the man who, hand over his heart, beams with love at the end of the One Love video. :o) We are all so complex!

So started my friendship with Aura.  Like so many relationships in this computer-age world, we have never met in person, but have exchanged emails, talked a few times, and shared a bit of our personal stories, (including his story of how he came to meet his lovely wife, who is from Thailand – but that’s another love story!).

So where is this love story going?  After a few email exchanges about different village girls,  (I wanted us to sponsor an older girl, having a passionate rage about sex trafficking, which naïve village girls in Asia countries are very vulnerable to),  I asked about a young girl whose serious, but calm, delicate face drew me in. It was the face of a girl who looked like she had already experienced the harder side of life.  And that’s how Aspara came into our lives.  Mike took one look and was immediately smitten.  We’ve since seen Aspara’s lighter side in videos Aura has filmed of  village children at play, and have pictures of her beautiful smile.  She does remain, in most pictures, on the serious, thoughtful side.  Will we ever see her smile in ‘real’ life? Not likely, but we are in love just the same.

It has been just over three years since we began sponsoring.  In those years we’ve watched, thanks to Aura’s excellent skills as a photojournalist, as The Aura Import Sponsorship program, with more sponsors and donors, built a school, built toilet facilities for the school, carried desks through the river for the school, carried harmoniums and guitars to the village, (from the Playing For Change Foundation, which supports music programs for dis-advantaged children throughout Asia and Africa), and have watched Aspara grow from a shy girl to a young teen-ager.  This month Aura made a rare winter visit to Tintale at the request of two Brazilian film makers wanting to include the story of Tintale’s school in a documentary. On this visit the first computers were taken to Tintale.   We’ve also ‘met’, thanks to facebook, the remarkable young Nepalese volunteers who go with Aura on his annual trips to Tintale.  They all have busy lives, but are dedicated to the village ‘kids’ and to helping Aura.  And they have expressed concern and sent prayers for me during this cancer challenge time.

Aspara and her baby brother.

Aspara and her baby brother.

I am in love with them all – the village, the crew, and of course Aspara.  I’ve made her three photo books of life in this far away place called Washington, USA, and Aura has posted videos of this magical paradise in Nepal, where subsistence living can be harsh and on the edge, but also joyous and loving.  The videos, which bring both smiles and tears to Mike and I, connect us to a place we will never go, but which feels like part of our ‘home’ on this planet. We’ve watched as Sujan, one of the volunteers, read my books to Aspara.  Mostly full of pictures, he translates the English words she will someday be able to read herself.  Sujan, who has sent me personal messages through facebook, is kind and patient with the village kids, a ‘big brother’. Did I mention I was in love with him too?

There have always been long-distance friendships forged, many of us had ‘pen-pals’ growing up, or connected with relatives in some other part of the country or world.  The visual opportunities of the internet and email add a timeliness and richness to this long practiced human trait of reaching out across the miles.  When such connections are made with open hearts, whether via the internet, ‘snail mail’, or dedicated trekkers, there is a mutual exchange of giving and receiving, there is truly hope, there is indeed One Love. (if you have not clicked and listened by now – do so and it will lift your spirits!)

Our little love story is one of millions, people connecting and helping across political and cultural barriers, through sponsorship programs, churches, non-profit organizations. It is, to me, what this thing called love is about – reaching out and touching another person’s life, near or far, making a commitment of support, making a difference.  Uh oh! There’s another song: Reach Out And Touch Somebody’s Hand!

♥ Happy Valentine’s Day! ♥

PS  If you would like a Nature themed Valentine’s read, check out my post from last Valentine’s Day, Nature’s Heart, about the heart shape in nature.

PPS You can view pictures, videos and learn more about the Aura Sponsorship Program through the facebook page for the program. There are actually more postings on Aura’s facebook page – he is, after all, ‘just one guy’ and sometimes can only keep up one facebook page at a time!

If you have a sponsorship story to tell, please feel free to share it in the comments section.  We would all enjoy hearing such stories of love across the miles.