My father died in April of 2003 after a relatively short battle with lung and liver cancer. He was a few months shy of 65. In addition to six children, he left behind my mother—a vibrant, energetic soul whose daily activities are dictated by the seasons: kayaking in the summer, hiking in the spring and fall, cross-country skiing practically all year long—she lives in the snow belt of Upstate New York. But, even though he had died, it was not as if my dad left her suddenly companionless in her pursuits. Cancer or no cancer, he was not a joiner. He was an introvert. He was quiet. He preferred to spend a Sunday morning with the New York Times crossword puzzle and the acrostic—competing in his own contest to best himself—than to go to church with my mom, who would be happiest going to mass then meeting friends for breakfast and socializing.
While some people do well being alone, my mom is no such person. She is very social, never wanting to miss out on anything. So, a couple years after my dad died, I would ask her every so often if she’d met any men. I always hoped she would say yes.
“Where? In Lewis County?” She’d reply sarcastically. In the very rural part of New York State where she lives cows really do outnumber people. Then, after a pause, she’d respond with some permutation of, “No. But I’m not so sure I want a man. I like my freedom and I don’t want anyone holding me back from going where I want to go when I want to go there.” She had seen this happen to friends of hers and she wanted no part of such an arrangement.
If you were to ask me to describe a good companion for my mom, I would have said, “A good Catholic man who can keep up with her.” Which, though a brief description, is no short order. Add, “Who lives in Lewis County,” to the equation and I’d have been convinced the result would be a null set—that no such person existed.
But in the spring of 2008, during a visit to Baltimore, my mom said, sort of nonchalantly, “I had a date.”
“A what!?! (I might have yelled in my excitement)…. With whom?”
Well, with Bill, as luck should have it. A man who is not just Catholic, but who volunteers at the church and vacations with the virgin Mary. For his 80th birthday he went to Medjugorje—a town in Bosnia where many people have reported seeing visions of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
And so began their courtship. After a year and a half, on a hike up Blue Mountain, he proposed marriage. On the way down, she accepted.
I met Bill shortly after their engagement and was very impressed. The man, though 80 at the time, was—and still is—up for anything. Every Saturday night they go dancing. Every morning (Sunday or not Sunday) they go to church. Every morning after church they take a walk—rain or shine, snow or more snow. He encourages my mom to pursue the things she loves. He makes sure they drive down to Maryland several times a year to visit her children and grandchildren. He bakes pies and cookies. He does the dishes. He folds the clothes. He demolished part of his house so she could have the kitchen she always wanted. When asked what he wanted for Christmas last Thanksgiving, he replied: “Everything I want is right in there.” Pan to the kitchen sink where my mom is doing something to a turkey. They are such a perfect match. So in love are they that, in jest, my sister commented that she looks forward to her second marriage. Bill is a poster-child for the institution.
So, does Bill fit my criteria: A good Catholic man who can keep up with my mom? Yes! He’s not a man who will take away her freedom, but, rather, who will go along on her journeys.
And does Bill fit my mom’s criteria: Someone who won’t hold her back? Suffice it to say, if he holds her back, it will be from behind as he helps her climb a mountain or while firmly supporting her as he dips her while dancing on a Saturday night.
(this is not my mom and Bill)