My grandparents died within two weeks of each other. I paid little attention to their love until they were gone (or nearly). There was Gommie, leaning over Papa’s casket. Her hand touched his shirt. I could have sworn a small cry escaped her lips, but I’ll never know for sure. Her hunchback straightened so she could see in, taking in the view of her lifelong rock, solid as they come.
The leaves on her red-tinted floral dress seemed to curl up just right to balance her black heels and tan hose. He would have thought her as beautiful as the day they married. It was a quick elopement in the middle of a Missouri bone-chilling January. Their car had no heater and my grandmother wore open-toed shoes. Papa started work the next day. The minister and his wife were the only witnesses to the beginning of their union.
We think love needs heat, but the most enduring kind of love, which the Greeks called Pragma, grows strong, even in the dead of winter. This kind of love stands up and stands in when heat and passion have died.
Stay. Persevere. Last.
They did that. They were in love in a little house. My grandfather snapped loving, evocative black and whites of his bride nursing their first baby, her full white breast exposed. He filmed her at forty in her bright red lipstick and blocky heels standing next to an old car. Baby Mary was throwing tantrum in the grass. Lois, not Gommie as I knew her, was swank, and I bet he loved her curves.
They had three fiery girls, and he owned a Western Auto shop on the square. He called home late and let the phone ring once before hanging up. That was the signal he was on his way.
There was small town living, the Baptist church, and expectations. Moody teens with their boyfriends stealing kisses on the stairwell and between band practice sessions in the living room. Play a little, kiss a little.
Pragma stands up and stands in when heat and passion have died.
There were committees, gardening, and middle age. Wrinkles deepened like book binding creases I thumbed with pudgy hands in the study. Hair thinned, shoulders hunched, and a leg grew gangrenous.
Before the amputation, I saw Gommie crying on Dr. Link’s shoulders. I played Lincoln logs by the brick fireplace and looked for the little green ranger with two legs. One of the other cousins had lost him long before.
Sons-in-laws broke hearts and telephone lines. Another prayed. Daughters and grandchildren did their best to mend and love.
All the while, Pragma. The stand-up and stand-in in love.
Practical. Showing up. Faithful, as promised.
I smell sweet cherry tobacco or bacon sizzling in cast-iron, and I am washed over with love which is patience, tolerance, and dying to one’s self, day after day.
It’s strange to say, but I could not be entirely broken-hearted when first Papa passed, then Gommie two weeks later. In my grandparents’ communion, dependency, and even their dying, their Pragma love showed me why I cook up dinner every night at 6:30, no matter how I feel. How standing in and staying, even when I want to turn on my heels and drive back to Missouri, is the bravest act of love some days.
In my grandparents’ communion, dependency, and even their dying, their Pragma love showed me why I cook up dinner every night at 6:30, no matter how I feel.
Christina Hubbard is a poet who writes memoir. Her work has appeared at (in)courage and Proverbs 31. A wife and mom to a pair of squirrelly kids, Christina dreams big and believes words can change the world. She spends her days writing her way toward grace and learning to love her messy, adventurous self. She’s the author of Five Ways to Love Like You Mean It. Find her at CreativeandFree.com