You’re never too old or too sad to fall in love again. I know this, because I’ve seen it happen. Mama was married four times, and she buried all four husbands. The first was my daddy, but it’s her fourth husband who will have you raising an eyebrow and smiling.
To understand the logistics that came into play with Number Four, you’d have to go back to the day Dick and I got married. It was a second marriage for both of us, so there was to be no tossing of the bouquet or garter. We were married in a simple church service, followed by a cocktail reception at the country club.
Dick and I both come from fairly small families. Over the years, whatever cousins we once knew had long since moved off and were now too far away to travel home for a second wedding. In my family there were only the four of us: Mama, me and my two sisters.
Nobody loved a wedding more than Mama, but at the time she was in Baltimore tending to my sick sister. My other sister, a drop-dead gorgeous redhead, was the lead entertainer on a cruise ship. To the best of my recollection, she was somewhere in the Caribbean at the time. Her husband was the only member of my family to make the wedding. Dick’s family all attended. His dad, a silver haired widower, sat in the front pew with a white carnation pinned to his lapel.
And so it was we were married without our parents ever having met.
My sister passed away a few months after the wedding. She’d been sick for a long time, and we consoled ourselves with the thought that at least she was no longer in pain. She wasn’t suffering anymore; it was a blessing, we thought. But to Mama it didn’t feel like a blessing; it felt just plain sorrowful. She came to New Jersey, spent a week with us, then returned to Baltimore.
The thing about Mama was that she liked taking care of people — husbands and daughters in particular. Now she was alone with no one to take care of. I urged her to come and stay for a while, but I suppose hanging out with a pair of starry-eyed newlyweds wasn’t her idea of fun.
Finally she agreed to come for a visit in late November. The plan was she’d spend a week with us, and we’d all go to my sister-in-law’s in Connecticut for Thanksgiving. On the way we could stop in Bayonne, NJ, and pick up my father-in-law.
After losing my sister, it had been a tough year for Mama. I tried to lighten the mood with cheerful thoughts of the upcoming holiday. I teased her by saying I’d fixed her up with a good-looking date for Thanksgiving — meaning Dick’s father.
A Bright Smile and an Open Heart
On Thanksgiving morning, Mama was up bright and early. By time I got to the kitchen she’d already had coffee, curled her hair and dabbed on some makeup. Mama was a beautiful woman when she was young, and she was still pretty in a softer way. Looking at her with her sweet smile and the twinkle in her eyes, you’d find it hard to believe she was in her late 70s.
By 10 o’clock we were in the car and on our way to Bayonne. While Mama was sweet as pie, Dad, Dick’s father, was a crusty old soul who found fault with just about everything. His face was scrunched into a frown when we pulled up in front of his apartment building. He pushed open the glass door and shuffled out, complaining that we were 15 minutes late and he’d been standing there in his hot overcoat.
Dick walked up to meet his dad while Mama and I waited in the car, me in the front seat, her in the back. Still grumbling, Dad opened the back door of the car and bent down to climb in. He took one look at my mama and gave the biggest smile I’d ever seen.
“Well, hello,” he gushed, his voice almost dripping with honey.
Dad, a man who wouldn’t get out of the chair unless it was on fire, spent the entire day fussing over my mama: freshening her drink, fetching her another plate of hors d’oeuvres and seeing to the pillow for her back. There he was, a man in his 80s, flirting up a storm. And Mama loved it!
That night Dad didn’t go back to his apartment. He said he’d been meaning to pay us a visit, and now was as good a time as any. He came home with us and stayed for three days. When Mama left to go back to Baltimore, he left also. Before the week was out he called to ask when I was going to visit Mama. He wanted to come along.
After two or three visits to Baltimore, he brought his suitcase and stayed. Three months later they were married — which made Dick and me brother and sister as well as husband and wife!
Mama and Dad had several good years together before he passed on. He was her last husband. She never married again, but with Mama being Mama she did have one last fling with a gentleman friend who was every bit as crazy about her as Dad was.
Over the years Mama taught me many things, but one of the most important lessons was that no matter how old you are love will find you if you have a bright smile and an open heart.
This essay was written by Bette Lee Crosby, the USA Today bestselling author of eighteen novels, including The Summer of New Beginnings (March 2018). Learn more about her work by visiting her wesbite.