A Love Story

By Ellie Levin , a member of Get Your Wordsworth

“Everything I do with you is fun,” I wrote on a homemade valentine.  There were a few times that I wondered if I might be doing something else when we were  sitting through a long Russian film without English subtitles so he could improve his conversational Russian.  I knew only a few Russian words. Then I remembered the things that I did without him were rarely fun even if they were good for me.  Swimming was something I found necessary to keep my energy level up to his.  I went alone mostly, but I remember the best times were when he did come along and swam like a fish and we frolicked and laughed in the water.

We went to McDonald’s for lunch, for snacks, and even for dinner wherever we were.  If for a moment I thought I would rather be in a Greek restaurant in New York that featured moussaka, or in a French restaurant in Paris eating bouillabaisse, or enjoying Russian cabbage borscht in Moscow, I knew that his smile, which said, “All is right with the world,” as he dipped the first French fry in a small paper cup of ketchup, meant more to me than the taste of any food.

Once we were caught in a snow storm in the Pyrenees in a cabin without any heat; he deliberated for a while and then decided because I wanted to leave, to risk following some natives down the perilous, slippery mountain road to the village below.  It was Easter Sunday, warm and sunny in the valley, and the outdoor cafes were overflowing with happy people. The next morning, Easter Monday, the church doors were flung open and life size models of the King and Queen of Heaven were carried through the streets by priests and monks in a grand procession to celebrate the holiday. Before our trip began, he made a list of the town’s hotels just in case. The one he chose was without hot water, but I felt so lucky to have escaped from the mountains and to be with him in this charming village that not having hot water was a small inconvenience.

When he went to California to see his children and grandchildren without me, leaving in the middle of the week, I counted the hours until I finished my teaching week and I could be on a plane to join him. When I flew to Saint Louis without him to see my son and his family, I counted the days until I would see him, a head above everyone else, waiting by the security gate at the airport. There would be flowers standing in water, wrapped in florist paper, waiting for me to arrange when we got home.

I taught him a few things about costume and scenery making, having had a luxurious education in the arts. He had worked hard from a very young age to learn what a wage earner needs to know, but in retirement he became more imaginative and productive than I ever could be. He made scenery and costumes for plays he wrote and constructed basic doors and ramps for several productions.  While he worked in the shop I proofread his plays. He read the stories I wrote for a class in writing memoirs while I was sleeping.  In the morning his suggestions were waiting for me.

We went to the Alliance Française often on Tuesday to see a French film. I knew some French, but I didn’t pick up French phrases by just listening to dialogue.  I envied his ability.  Sometimes I thought I might want to be elsewhere when I understood very little of what the actors were saying, but soon I settled into the happiness of being with him.  In the library I looked up basic words, while he checked idiom and slang expressions.  As always we were in our own way enjoying being together in some relation to the thing at hand.

The places, the circumstances, where we went and what we did, multiply in my mind, but always there is one constant: if we did it together it was fun.  It might be a shopping trip to buy groceries for the week, a doctor’s appointment for one of us or both of us, a visit to a museum or an art gallery.

We spent his last day on earth in a hospital room enjoying memories of friends and good times as he dictated letters to me to deliver to people who remembered him with gifts and cards.

Yes, everything we did together was fun.


4 thoughts on “A Love Story

  1. Nancy says:

    What a beautiful love story, Ellie! I raced through it and then read it again to savor each experience with you. You wrote these memories with clarity and feeling. Thoroughly enjoyed your piece.


  2. peggy strait says:

    What a beautiful love story!

  3. Roger says:

    Mom —

    Enjoyed reading your piece. Glad you were so happy with him for so long! Oh yes, and the writing is quite good. Writing-wise, I only lost you a little in one place, at the sentences: “I taught him a few things about costume and scenery making, having had a luxurious education in the arts. He had worked hard from a very young age to learn what a wage earner needs to know, but in retirement he became more imaginative and productive than I ever could be.”

    The confusion (for me) is in the phrase: “He had worked hard from a young age to learn what a wage earner needs to know…..” Of course, what may be confusing me is that I know Jud and I don’t know how literally you are referring to him or to a fictional character but largely based on him. But here’s the crux of the confusion: Is the male character supposed to have had a hard time learning, IN GENERAL, what a wage earner needs to know? (interpretation #1) or only what a wage earner needs to know ABOUT THE ARTS? (interpretation #2).

    The first interpretation is what your words literally say, but I think it unlikely that this is what you mean, because it raises all sorts of questions not otherwise addressed or even hinted at in the rest of the piece. (I.e. was the person learning-disabled? Seriously challenged in making a living at anything, even for simple wage-earner type of employment? This of course doesn’t fit with the obvious gift for languages as well as general resourcefulness described in the rest of the piece, not to mention that there is no hint of not being able to afford vacations in the Pyrenees, etc. So obviously this is not what you, the author, means.)

    You might say, well, then the second interpretation should be, obviously, the one meant, but it is not so clear. We are not told what this resourceful person, with a gift for languages, actually did to make living, but it seems clear from the piece that it was NOT in the arts, or even in theater — because that’s what he started to do in retirement. The mystery then, is why would such a person “…work hard from a young age to learn what a wage earner needs to know…” about the arts? That is, if a person were a resourceful person, with a gift for languages, but who did not plan to be an artist professionally or make his living in some branch of the arts (or theater), why would such a person have worked very hard to learn “what a wage earner needs to know” about the arts? Also confusing is that there are “wage earners” in the arts…

    Far more likely such a person would have, for example, only have paid the minimum attention necessary to pass whatever “art” courses he was forced to take and not thought further about it for many years. Put differently, I think you mean to say that he did only the work necessary to pass at the time and, feeling no particular gift for or attraction to the area (at that time in his life), found he had to work some even to get that passing grade. Then having done enough to get by, did not develop in the area any further.

    Not sure how to condense all that into a phrase, but feel free to borrow from some of the phrases i just used in the paragraph just above.

    Thanks again for taking care of the boys and being such a fun and hospitable intermediate step on their journey. Kind of like Elrond, the Elf King, in Lord of the Rings — who gives Frodo a safe haven but, more importantly, a vision of how important his mission is to the wider world, something Frodo couldn’t have understood before, growing up in his quaint, safe but small byway of a place called “The Shire.”

    — Love


  4. The conscious joy is overwhelming Elie, made even sharper by the loss we know cut it short. What a loving heart you have; what simple restraint, without a drop of self pity, a paean to love itself.

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