By Paula Damon
It has been said that there is light beyond the darkest hour. During our courtship and throughout our 40-year marriage, I aspired to be a light for my husband. Not by anything I could say or do, but because he had been saddled with more than his share of adversity.
The death of his mother in 1970, two years before we were married; the loss of his father in 1972, five short weeks before our wedding and the passing of his paternal grandparents all within those two fateful years.
Added to that was making a new life together in the Upper Midwest, where we raised our children at great distances from surviving relatives. Consequently, we celebrated holidays and birthdays without gatherings of extended family.
We were in our fifth year of marriage, when Brian turned 26 on Feb. 11, 1977. As always, I wanted to stand in the gap left by the absence of his parents.
So, I hired a babysitter, took Brian out to dinner and then we went bowling. While dating in high school, we went on several bowling dates. And during his freshmen year in college, Brian was on a bowling team. Even though our bowling days were long gone, Brian hung onto his bowling ball and bag for practical and sentimental reasons.
That night, as we pulled into the bowling alley parking lot, I curiously asked him, “If you had one wish on your birthday, what would it be?”
Deeply gazing into the frigid night, he thought awhile and said with a sigh, “I guess it would be to know what my parents would think of me now. That would be nice.”
Appearing mesmerized by the notion, he slowly began to list milestones they missed. While I admired his wish, I was at a loss over not being able to make it happen.
We bowled three games that night. Before retiring his bowling ball to its rightful place in the bowling bag of his youth, Brian sorted through the ancient burial ground of score cards, cleaning rags, gum wrappers, scraps of homework and the like. Clear at the bottom, he excavated a dog-eared note carefully folded into fourths.
“Wonder what this is?” he said, examining the exterior with penciled tallies, tired smudges and a worn black ring imprinted from the ball resting on it.
“Probably just an old piece of scratch paper,” I said dismissively, turning away to slip out of my bowling shoes and into my snow boots.
Proceeding to unfold the note, expecting to find more game scores, he quickly could see it was a letter…
As I write this to you, my feelings are mixed. I’m proud, also happy and a little bit sad. It seems like one part of your life will be over tomorrow. It also seems like yesterday you stepped on that school bus for the first day of kindergarten.
I just want you to know how proud Dad and I are of you. We haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on a lot of things and we probably never will. But we have tried to bring you up in the way we thought best. And it has paid off in many ways.
We haven’t always been able to give you as much as we liked. But we have tried to do things with you and for you, which we feel were important.
Although we may be a little short of money right now, we will never be short of love for you. I hope you realize that and will always remember it. I know you will remember me for my corny notes. It is sometimes easier to write these things down than to stand and tell you this.
We wish you all kinds of luck and happiness in the future, Brian. We will always be behind you,
All our love,
Mom and Dad
Time stopped momentarily. Past and present co-mingled. Brian didn’t recall ever reading the letter, which we guessed his mother typed the day before his high school graduation in 1969, one year prior to her passing.
Transcending the years, that not-so-corny note was a garland granting a birthday wish – a miracle light on a dark cold February night.