A LIFE-LONG LOVE AFFAIR

I had just finished my walk and sat in my recliner to take a short nap. But my mind reverted to my late wife Shirley and I started thinking about our life-long love affair. We were one of the lucky ones.

When we first met she wouldn’t go out with me. But after a few days she relented (for years she never knew why). We had a late dinner at Harvey’s Wagon Wheel after doing two shows at Harrah’s Club in Lake Tahoe (she was a dancer and I was a trombonist with Fred Waring and the Pennsylanians). While talking we realized we had a lot in common and stayed in the dinning room for over two hours. At age 32, I had been a dedicated bachelor, but at that one dinner, I fell hopelessly in love and knew Shirley would be the girl I would marry. Of course she had no such intention because I had three strikes against me: One–I was from New York, two–I was a musician and she hated musicians, and three–I was shorter than she was! Somehow common sense prevailed and we got married nine months later, a marriage that lasted 48 years.

Shirley had studied tap, ballet, and jazz, beginning at age eight, and was a first-class professional dancer, having worked on TV, done a movie, and danced with the biggest stars for seven years in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Boston, and San Francisco. Regardless of her love of dancing, she said she had been trained to be a mother and wife. She dedicated her entire married life to the happiness and welfare of our son David and I. We were blessed with a wonderful son after eleven years of marriage, thinking we couldn’t have any children, but David came along just before her clock ran out. That was the second greatest event of our lives, our first being our marriage.

From the day we returned from our honeymoon, we walked three miles a day for 43 years until she no longer was able to. We talked constantly during the walks and discussed every topic imaginable. As I left for work she would wave goodbye to me from the kitchen window, and I never missed calling her on the phone during lunch- time to see how she was doing. Those short talks were very important to both of us. When I went on three-day music conferences I always felt an emptiness without her. During our entire marriage there was never a time that she wasn’t beautifully coiffed or well dressed, never sloppy, like she was getting ready for her next show. She had a look of class whether she wore jeans or an apron. It was the quality of her personality and kindness that attracted others to her. When my father met her, he said, “Son, you have married a beautiful woman.” He saw the same qualities in her I had seen. She was my mother’s favorite, as Shirley never missed a week without writing her, keeping her informed how David and I were doing. Shirley also wrote her parents weekly.

For 17 years Shirley was my children stories editor after I retired and began writing children stories. I looked forward to seeing what words she had changed or added, or what she had done to strengthen and improve the stories. She never changed the main ideas of my stories, but with a deleted word here or a turn of a sentence there, those few magical changes made all the difference.

The last four years of her life were very difficult. She developed serious rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis. She took Fosomax for four years that was supposed to develop new bone tissue but just the opposite occurred. When given an MRI a few years after taking the medicine, they found she had lost 50% of her bone mass. Little by little small bones began breaking throughout her rib area. Through all this she was taking very heavy pain medicine that she felt was affecting her mentally. She said she thought it changed her personality, and found herself saying things to friends and to me she would never ordinarily say or think. On her own she voluntarily took a minimum of painkillers even though it heightened her pain considerably. After awhile she was back to normal. Through all her difficulties and illnesses she continued to work on my children stories until her last days. She never let the pain interfere with her humor and made me laugh every day. During this time she had dual spinal surgery, and then broke her femur bone in two places on Christmas morning. Eight months later she fell out of bed in the middle of the night and broke her hip. Even though she had a successful hip replacement, she died seven days later in the hospital from pneumonia.

Throughout our marriage we felt we had developed some sort of mental telepathy, as we had the same thoughts at the same time. This was a common occurrence. She used to laughingly warn me not to think of other women because she would know. Every week for the last 17 months as I’m on my way to the supermarket, I’ve visited her gravesite. I carry a folding chair in the car and sit and relate the events of the week to her for a half hour or more. It is so peaceful and serene and I hate to leave. Just like at home I sense her presence, and feel that she gives me advice as I suddenly change my mind when I’m telling her about something I’m about to do. The workers at Desert Lawn Cemetery recognize my car and wave at me. They sometimes come over and talk to me, and I know they give Shirley’s spot special attention because they feel they know her, too.

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