My sister and I joke that our parents have ruined us for love. This is their story. Before I tell it, though, I have to say that my sister and I are not ruined at all; just the opposite, in fact – what we want is rare, and possible, and we know this to be true because we grew up with daily proof.
My parents met in Cape Town, South Africa in the early 1970’s, at a going away party. My mom was newly divorced, and I was very little, maybe 3 or 4 years old. At the party, they started talking, and then talked some more. She thought he was super sexy, in his tight bell bottom jeans, and interesting, and she loved his warmth. However, the going away party was his, and he was moving to Canada the next day. They exchanged addresses and agreed to write to each other, but she wasn’t hopeful; Canada is a very long way from South Africa, and was even further away in 1973, with no Internet and poor phone service. But then, the letters started arriving, and they were wonderful. Filled with stories, and drawings, and descriptions of the people he was meeting and all the new things he was seeing…all of which was completely foreign to my mom. Our life was very different from his. We left Cape Town and moved to a small university town in the Eastern Cape, near where my mom grew up. She needed to go back to school, and as a single mother, needed the support of my grandparents. I was happy as a clam, living a in a tiny pretty house with my pretty mom with a pretty garden, with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins nearby. I was oblivious to the fact that we had no money, and that my mom was lonely. But, you know, we got by. I helped my grandmother organize her sewing desk and pick avocados in her garden, and played in my grandfather’s wordworking shop while he carved all kinds of beautiful toys, and clocks, and bowls. I’d make toys out of the wood scraps, and go home with wood shavings stuck to my socks and treats in my pockets. And still, the letters came, fat. Every time a new one arrived, my mom would light up, and I would see her savor the words, re-reading, tucking away for safekeeping. She would write back, telling him about our life, her studies, and hopes, and the books she was reading, and about the politics that were shifting in our country.
I don’t know how long this went on for. As I said, I was happy in my own bubble of sunshine, and oblivious. But the day came that they decided that they needed to see each other, and so my mom packed up her warmest sweaters and flew to Canada. And these two people who had spent mere hours together, realized that they were in love. All those long months of nothing but words had brought them from sunny Cape Town to Vancouver, and then down the coast to San Francisco, where by mom bought herself a multicolored Afghan dress and he bought her a red enameled ring with tiny white daisies painted on it, and they climbed the steps of the courthouse and married each other.
That’s how their story started, and how it continues. Today, they live in Connecticut, where they recently installed a hot tub on their back patio, and where they have a small couch in the TV room because they want to sit close to each other. Of course it’s not always easy, and they’ve had their rough patches. And they also still have all those letters, tied with a ribbon, and tucked away.
The New York Times recently published the article To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This. At the core of it is this idea of taking the time to know someone. To share, and be receptive to their sharing. To pause, and listen, and appreciate. That’s what my parents did. And knowing that, it helps me see things in a new, brighter light. Distance is only a logistical problem, and no more; feeling connected to someone is so much greater than how often you’re able to touch them. And so here I am, repeating my parents’ story for you, and telling you that everything is possible. Just, love.
Happy Valentine’s Day, friends.