The shirts stay, I decided as I cleaned in the bedroom yesterday, going through some of David’s things. I’d already emptied his underwear and sock drawer, dumping most of it into the dumpster, but I hadn’t touched the little things he’d kept hidden underneath or much of anything on top of the dresser except to add some of his cologne on the shirts the girls and I hugged as we fell asleep. I couldn’t resist smelling several of the shirts on the hangers until I found one that still had his smell, and then I buried my face in it.
Abby was having a very difficult day so I impulsively decided to let her do something she’d always wanted to do while David was alive; look through his coins. Her head immediately popped up from the pillow where she’d been sobbing when I whispered through the doorway, “Would you like to look at Daddy’s coins?” She practically ran to my bedroom.
I smoothed the bedspread, preparing a place for the little red box, then opened up David’s dresser drawer. This was a ritual all eight of our children knew; one that they had participated in since they were old enough to recognize the intrinsic value of a box full of old coins. The value was not monetary; instead, it came from the look in their Dad’s eyes as he fingered them. And then came the stories; “My grandmother gave me a silver dollar every year for my birthday. I saved them all. Then one day my mother took some of them from my drawer to pay the paper boy. I was so angry! Those were my silver dollars! She didn’t understand why I was so upset. ‘I’ll pay you back,’ she’d said.” Of course, she never had. My children’s eyes would widen with the story; to think a mother would take her child’s precious possession to pay the paper boy! Even the youngest child could relate, could see their Dad as the little boy who treasured his coins and who had been collecting coins ever since in a desperate attempt to hold onto something. It didn’t take my Psychology degree to figure out it was the beloved grandmother my spouse had grieved for, not necessarily the silver dollars. He managed to save a silver dollar or two after his mother’s transgression, but I was not privy to all the stories related to the other coins in the little red box. It was an infrequent ritual he would bestow only upon his children. “Can we look at your coins, Daddy?” Their requests were frequent, but the box only came out when David was in the mood, and it was alway the same; He would ask whichever child it was to leave the room while he retrieved it. Each child would oblige without question, never revealing that they knew all along where the box was hidden, in his underwear drawer. They would wriggle with pure, unadulterated joy in the hallway, hearing the soft sound of the dresser drawer being pulled open and waiting with breathless anticipation until their father would say, “You can come in now.”
Abby was appropriately reverent as she pulled out coin after coin, lining them up on the bedspread. I continued cleaning off the dresser as she reflectively rubbed the oldest of the three remaining silver dollars between her fingers. I did not have the answers to her questions; where had her daddy gotten the fifty-cent pieces? Why did he save two dollar bills? There were eight of them, and I will choose one for each child as a Christmas gift this year. When she got to the bottom of the box, I noticed some folded pieces of paper. I sat down on the bed next to her and pulled out a small newspaper clipping; his grandmother’s obituary. I had seen David cry only a few times in our life together; the first was during our dating days when he’d told me about the death of his grandmother. The second piece of paper was the memorial card from her funeral. “Daddy’s grandma was very special to him,” I told Abby. It was no surprise he’d kept these little reminders of her in his special box.
The third piece of paper was folded several times. What had he treasured along with the memories of his grandmother? I had found myself recently bemoaning the lack of left behind notes or secrets of my husband’s soul. He wasn’t like my mother; leaving behind letters and notebooks filled with her writing. David wrote so little that I am now frantically searching for a note from him, a list; anything that will give me a glimpse into the secret soul of a man I had loved for over 30 years. I treasure my mother’s unpublished manuscripts, her journals, her notebooks, and even the brown paper bag “idea” book she’d put together. What did David leave me like that? A scrapbook of greeting cards from our dating days, the letter he wrote to me in our wedding book, perhaps a stray note or two, the list of seeds he was going to order from a garden catalog this spring. I unfolded the piece of paper very carefully; it was yellowing and crisp with age.
I burst into tears.
My husband truly amazed me; It was the receipt for my wedding ring. I’d had no idea he’d saved it for 30+ years. Had hidden it inside the box of coins, along with pieces of memories of a woman he’d admired and loved more than his own mother.
There are those reading this blog posting that would think that a paltry sum for an engagement ring and wedding band. I know better.
David adored me. During our dating days he’d placed me high up on a pedestal, and I knew it. What starry-eyed small-town girl could resist the adoration of a man eight years her senior? He’d asked me to marry him less than one month after we’d begun dating in July of 1978. I said no. He asked me again a couple of months later. I said no again. By the time he asked me again in January of 1979, I knew enough about him to know we were compatible in one very important way; we were simple people with a simple need; the need to be loved. After I said yes, he took me to the jewelry store and told me to pick out my engagement ring. Now, I knew him well enough to know he would have gone into debt to buy me whatever ring I wanted. He began by pointing out some of the larger diamonds. I am a woman, after all, and aren’t women supposed to desire large, flashy rings? Not this woman, and perhaps that is another reason David loved me. I chose the smallest diamond displayed in the case, and I was perfectly happy with it. In fact, I was ecstatic. We would not have to begin our marriage in debt and I had a lovely engagement ring. The dress I chose was from a clearance rack at a store in the mall. Our simple reception would be catered by my older sisters. If we could have, we would have chosen Neil Diamond’s “Forever in Blue Jeans” to be played at the wedding, but for some reason, that didn’t fly with either the priest or my sister-in-law manning the church organ.
And so, we’d begun our marriage the same way we would conduct the next 32 years; simply, and in love. My starry-eyes and David’s adoration waned slightly in the ensuing years, bogged down with bills and babies as we were. Some years we struggled mightily with finances. But we continued to enjoy many shared happy memories, including “family fun days” at Chuck E. Cheese, coupon shopping together, book sales, riding bicycles, even digging in dumpsters together on occasion. We laughed together, through the good times and the bad. We survived together, and thrived together, and we always loved each other. It was during his cancer treatment in 2006 we learned to truly cherish each other, and when I think about those years I can truly say they were the best years of my life, for being in love and living that love are two very different things, and my husband and I shared something very special during those five and a half years post-cancer that I now refer to as the “bonus years” with David.
Our love is, and was, a testament of what true love is all about. It isn’t about how much someone spends on a diamond ring or a wedding. It isn’t about money at all. The man who hid a small box of coins in his drawer, and who taught his children those coins were precious because of the memories and not the monetary value, was a man who, unbeknownst to his wife kept jars of coins behind their bedroom door, for reasons she will never know, but she can surmise from their shared life together. (he was the kind of person who never wasted, always saved, and who just liked the feel of change in his hand)
He was a man who continued to adore his wife, who only saw the young girl that he’d married when, 33 years later he sat across the kitchen table from her. Just in the last month or two, he’d taken to gazing at me admiringly as I worked on an article or read the newspaper. I’d look up from my work to see his earnest gaze. “What?” I’d ask, and he’d reply that I was so beautiful. He’d done that so often in the past few months that I was disconcerted. How could he think I was beautiful when I hadn’t even applied make-up? Flustered, I’d then laugh off his half-hearted advances. (the children were about to get up, after all)
A man who’d held onto that little slip of paper that represented the trust and love between two very simple people.
He’d loved me, and that was no secret.
“Oh, precious Lord Jesus, in your infinite wisdom you allowed cancer to enter into our life in 2006 so that I could learn to be the wife that David deserved all along; one that adored him and cherished him. Dear Lord, thank you for giving me a husband who truly loved me. Thank you for our eight children, a legacy that David leaves behind. Please help them deal with the loss of a father who taught them what was truly important in life. And dear Lord, help guide me on the path you have set out for me.”