Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Box of Chocolates

Florence Fitzsimmons and Wilfred Lloyd Marr on the day they became engaged.

[They made it past their sixtieth wedding anniversary before my grandpa died. Grandma lived on for thirteen years after his death.]

My grandmother sat in her blue armchair all the long afternoons at Cottonwoods Extended Care. When I stopped by, after work, her gaze would be vacant, unseeing. Those last years, she was living within, in memory, rejecting her outer circumstances with utter finality.

One winter afternoon, she confided that she believed my grandfather may have strayed in his affections when they were young.

I was shocked. My grandparents' marriage had lasted over sixty years, had been a paragon and an inspiration to the family. It was inconceivable that their marriage may not have been as perfect as it seemed.

"What makes you think that?" I asked carefully.

"When he was bank manager, I went into his office one time, and there was a box of chocolates in the desk drawer, for his secretary", Grandma related, with a flash in her eyes.

From that, she suspected my grandfather had, at the very least, admired this woman.

Those were the hungry years, five children, low income, years when every dollar was stretched tight and my grandmother walked miles down to the train station to buy bruised bananas off the trains to make dessert for her children. A box of chocolates was an extravagant luxury, one my grandmother did not receive that year. So it causes one to wonder: did romance dim, during the tumultuous years of raising children? The grandma I knew was sweet and kind, but her children said she ruled them with an iron hand. So perhaps his secretary seemed comparatively serene. Perhaps he wondered "what if....?" I cant believe it went any further than a box of chocolates. My grandpa saw his marriage and his duty through. He was a gruff and silent presence at our noisy gatherings, sometimes was impatient at being comandeered by grandma. But he always had a twinkle in his eye and a shiny dime for the grandkids.

Maybe my grandma never knew, or even asked, whether or not his feelings had strayed. Maybe she was afraid to. Or maybe she confronted him angrily, invoked the Church, and he backed down, gave up, submitted.

Strange, the undercurrents running beneath the surface of peoples' lives, the vulnerabilities, the wonderings.

Odd that a box of chocolates represents a question, or perhaps belief, my grandmother carried into her 99th year.

That year, she also told me she was afraid of dying. I reassured her, "But Grandma, you've lived a wonderful life!"

She shook her head. "I'm not sure. I'm afraid of going to hell."

I sat, astounded, at the knee of the woman who was the single greatest influence in my life. It was as if, she within and I without, were surveying two entirely different people.




6 comments:

  1. Sherry, I enjoyed this story. Interesting that your grandmother would think your grandfather might have 'strayed' in his affections just because of a box of chocolates, nothing more. I also cannot imagine her having this question in her mind many years and not asking it.

    One thing I discovered about the generation of our parents and grandparents...hmmm, many babies arrived VERY prematurely (ahem)! And...sometime wedding dates were even changed to a year earlier than actual. Things may not have always been as perfect as they seemed.

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  2. what a touching story! we all have our own fears and the fear of death is one of the most common. i guess it all boils down to one's fear of the unknown.

    as for her suspicion that your grandpa strayed, i can understand fully well where she's coming from. that would have also made my head spin.

    thanks for sharing this moving story with us, sherry.

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  3. No matter how stoical older generations seem to us, they were clearly beset with the same worries and woes we still fret about today! Given the context of the times, a box of chocolates could indeed represent much more...

    But how wonderful that your grandmother had ninety-nine years! You are so lucky to have shared a part of that time with her, and have these wonderful pictures and memories to share with us. Wonderful post...

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  4. Gorgeous writing - such a touching story.
    Your grandmother was lucky to have you and your loving words and thoughts.

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  5. Sherry, this is one thing i so love about your writing...the way you blend the philosphical, the anecdotal, and your impressions of the past. so much so, that one enjoys reading about people one might not even know.

    I love the title of the post and the way it surfaces in the memoir. I am so overwhelmed by the incident and its narration that i can't think of anything else to say...

    thanks so much for sharing your impressions with us. we always look forward to more.

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  6. I love stories about the past - so much nostalgia lives there, so many faces gone....but hopefully living on within these tales.....thank you for reading:)

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