My paternal grandmother passed away almost three weeks ago. She was an interesting woman, held down by a deep and abiding love for the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod and the Republican Party. It should come as no surprise that she and I were quite different in most aspects of our life, barring that we both only like half and half in our coffee and could eat raw cocoa beans and not think them dark enough. Oh, and the beer drinking. And wine drinking. Ok, that's it.
In 2001 she asked me how you find people you haven't seen in a long time. She was a nursing student at a hospital in Tulsa and met a dashing young Dr. named Wilmont Burgess Boone. In her story, she knew she loved him before she even saw him because of the books he had in his office. They met, and fell in love and carried on a five year love affair. Problem number one, he was married with three children and told my Ma that he would never leave his wife. She continued on in this relationship hoping that one day he would realize she was the one. But he didn't. She met my Pa and Boone (as she called him) told her to marry him because he would take care of her and give her all the things she deserved. My Ma followed his advise and married my grandfather. My grandfather knew about her past and that she did not in fact love him, but he was so smitten with her that he didn't care.
At this point, there are a lot of gaps. She shared once that after she was married, she saw Boone, and got pregnant with his child. Problematic because this child was conceived when my Pa was in the Korean War. She said she had a miscarriage and never had to deal with the issue with my Pa. After she had my uncle and father, she ran into Boone at a park in Tulsa one day. He was on a his second wife. She tore up all of the pictures she had been saving of him except for one, which she asked her friend Steve to hold onto for her.
I took his name and when I got back to Atlanta I googled him to find out where he was. With the click of my mouse I had his phone number, address and a slew of articles that I sent to my Ma. I called her that night with the phone number. I told her that I hoped this could bring some resolution to her and that if she felt like sharing I would like to know what happened. Two weeks later she called me in tears. She had just hung up the phone from calling the number and his family was returning from his funeral. He had died two days before.
Ma called her friend Steve and asked for his picture. For 50+ years Steve had kept it in a folded up piece of pink tissue paper in her lingerie drawer, knowing that in time, Ma would want it back. My Ma took down the photos of my grandfather and only had Boone's picture up, she took of her wedding ring and wore a mourning ring she had purchased in London years ago, and became a different person.
The one time in my life that my Ma and I had a connection was when I was separated from Marvin. She was the single family member who encouraged my act of defiance in my marriage and told me the best thing I could do was to go off and figure out what I wanted, that a life unexamined was not worth living. She was right. In my story I ended up where I needed to be, with my husband.
When we traveled to Dallas this past weekend to hold a makeshift Memorial Service/apartment clean out, my stepmother kept telling me she needed to spend some time alone with me talking about a few things. I had asked to keep a picture of Boone for my grandmother. For some reason I felt that it was something that I needed to keep for her. My Ma had told Gloria about Boone on her death bed and I could only assume that once I asked for the picture she just needed someone to talk with it about.
She first handed me a letter I had written my Ma when Marvin and I were separated. She then handed me a beautiful diamond ring with a note attached to it. The note read as follows: Now that I have departed from this earth-this ring is all that is left of the love of my life-please send this to Bonnie Boone Taylor from Danny (my Ma's nickname in nursing school). She is his daughter.
Gloria said that she had called Bonnie and that she was not happy about the call. She was Boone's oldest daughter and without mincing words told Gloria she was not interested in having any connection to the woman who drove apart her parent's marriage. She further stated that my grandmother had written her once a week for the past three years begging for information about Boone. Bonnie told her she did not want to communicate with her and for the past year had been returning all letters to my Ma unopened. When I had asked Gloria for the picture my dad said just to give me the ring since he was just going to throw it away.
I suddenly didn't know who my Ma was. This woman who denied love to her own children, didn't show affection to anyone had done this? Had become obsessed over a man who wasn't even living anymore. Was this what life becomes for women? Is this all we can ever hope for is trying to find some piece of passion that we once had when we realize our life we lived isn't the life we wanted at all? I tucked the ring in my wallet because I didn't know what to do. It suddenly felt to personal and awkward to be sitting with my stepmother having this conversation in IHOP. I wanted to protect Ma, I wanted to protect what she had denied herself.
Yesterday I decided to wear the ring as a symbol of living without regret. My grandmother regretted everyday of her life and lived it for everyone but herself. We can't live our lives only thinking of ourselves but I do think that as women we tend to not worry about ourselves in light of other obligations. We stay in jobs where we aren't happy, we grumble as we clean the house and feel obligated to live to certain standards. What would happen if we stopped doing that? What would happen if we changed our perspective on our lives and realized we have a choice?
I made a choice over three years ago to come back home to my husband and I haven't looked back once. It has been hard at times because we have both wanted different things but I don't regret sticking up for my needs and wants or sometimes putting up with his. I needed our time apart to live without regret and this ring in some odd way affirms that desire, to still hold onto me, while being pulled by so many other people.