I've been fascinated by the story of my grandparents' relationship since I was in high school- so in honor of Valentine's Day, I'm taking the opportunity to share a series of love stories... starting with theirs.
I hope you enjoy.
Lawrence and Marcia, 1960
"In 1958, I worked as a babysitter for his brother and sister-in-law, and he came to stay with them for a while. I guess he really thought I was something. He was a skinny thing- Grandma Rosie called him 'Larguísimo' (Spanish for big and gangly)! But he was cute, nice and so polite... I just liked him. Even though he was a big pervert because he was FOUR YEARS older than me! But we had the same birthday, April 18th, and he had a truck (I only dated boys with cars), so we went out to see a movie at the drive-in. "
"We just clicked."
My grandmother recalls: "I was almost 17 when I told my mother I wanted to marry him. When she protested, I threatened to get pregnant and she relented." My grandparents married in 1959, moved from San Diego to an apple farm in Washington in 1960, and travelled back to San Diego for the birth of my mother in 1961.
"...and then we un-clicked."
When my mom was a year old, my grandmother once again visited her family in San Diego- and upon her return to the apple farm, discovered hairpins in her bed. Without waiting for an explanation, she packed her things, scooped up my mother, and returned to her family. Though my grandfather followed her South, attempting to plead his case- the decision was made and it was final. My grandmother's family kept him away from her, arranged a hasty divorce, and dismissed my grandfather for good. Eventually he gave up completely, and left San Diego. My grandma remarried soon after, and my mother was legally adopted- erasing all traces of her biological father. She was raised with absolutely no knowledge of him aside from a single, confusing visit when she started kindergarten. "He kneeled down and told me he was my dad, and I said, OK." At five years old, she didn't understand what it meant- but remembers being struck by how "white" he was. In perhaps the most fitting summarization of the situation- my five year old mother's impression of her father was accurate and simplistic; "Everyone in my life was so brown- he just seemed like a ghost." Another visit occurred when she was 11, "he took me waterskiing." Older this time, her understanding turned to guilt. "I felt so awkward, like I was betraying my "real dad"- who had adopted me." Years passed, and the ghost of her father was simply forgotten. "I did try to find him when I was sixteen, but without the resources we have now- I quickly gave up." This time, decades passed.
My mom recalls: "In my 30's, I got a strange call from my dad- saying that Lawrence had contacted them, and would like to get in touch with me. They asked if it would it be ok to give him my contact information? I said yes, and he was on a plane to Kauai about a week later."
When they met again soon after in San Diego, my grandmother joined them. "I felt funny about seeing him again, but I was happily married to a wonderful man- who encouraged me to make peace with it. My husband met him and said: 'He's a good man, you made a good choice- you were just too young. You just went in different directions'."
Lawrence finally had an opportunity to explain what had happened on the day she left him- taking their baby (my mother) with her. While she had been away, visiting her family in San Diego- he'd invited his brother to stay in the house. Those hairpins she'd discovered in their bed... the tiny things that had altered the course of their lives- were the result of a kind gesture on the part of my grandfather; a harsh souvenir of the hospitality he'd shown his brother and sister-in-law. "I told him I was sorry. I realized that it was more my fault than his fault. I felt stuck on that apple farm, and the hairpins were an excuse to get out. I thought I was missing out on something bigger."
Finally at peace with the past, my biological grandparents kept in touch from afar. They met in person again after James was born. James, who was named for my grandma's "wonderful" third husband- whom we affectionately called "Papa". A month after James' birth, Papa passed away. Lawrence, newly divorced- reached out to her to offer condolence. "A few weeks later, he called to invite me to visit his mother and sister. He just thought it would be good for me to get away, and he knew they'd be glad to see me again." My grandma laughs when recounting this next part of the story... "I always liked his family, and felt immediately comfortable around them. Of course, the family is huge, and right away they all introduced me as his wife! When we left, they said: 'How'd you ever let her get away?'" After that visit, they simply never wanted to spend another day apart. She packed up her home in San Diego, and off they went to the house he'd built in Prescott, Arizona.
My grandparents' "un-click" spanned nearly 35 years, 4 marriages and 3 other children between them.
"And then we clicked back again."
"We remarried on our birthday- so neither of us will ever forget." When I asked if they had regrets about the decades spent apart over the hairpin-misunderstanding, my grandma takes it in stride and answers: "It's sad, but it's hopeful. Life is a big circle, and it took a long time to get around to it, but we finally did. Every woman in my family- when the going got tough, we left. It's just the way it's always been. But I have no regrets. Papa was a very good man, he was always good to my kids- he loved the family so much. When Lawrence and I were married, I was just a stubborn kid. Papa changed my life, he helped me find worth in myself. He respected my opinion. "
"It was a long road, but the people we are today are perfect for each other, and I would not be who I am today without the experiences I had."
"Of course, we butt heads once in a while- but it's never for long. I just feel so blessed to have him in my life again, and to be where we are now." When I asked her about their romance, she laughs and says: "He's so hokey. He's really funny, and he's a tender-heart. He's the only man I've ever known who cries at sad movies and likes chick flicks. He just tears right up. It's endearing. He has the kindest heart of anyone I've ever met, and he's not judgmental. I know that I can tell him anything, and that means a lot to me. I didn't come from a family who let it out. He listens, he doesn't judge, and he makes me feel special. I'm just so happy."
They've now been remarried for 12 years and are determined to live as long as they can- to make up for lost time.
Stay tuned for more in the "Love" series next week.
To share your own love story, get in touch here. ♥