Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Fine Romance (by Juliet)

Mem and Rudy met in Houston sixty-six years ago, when he was a brash young 22-year-old Airforce pilot-in-training from Bull Hill, Oklahoma, and she was a 19-year-old Texas rose who used to sneak out of her mama's house to dance with the boys in uniform. He made her laugh; she had the prettiest eyes he'd ever seen. They danced, courted, and wed within weeks, just before he was sent to join the war effort in Europe.

Her full name was Meredith, but Rudy called her Mary Edith just to tease her. They had two fine, healthy boys, but their youngest, a daughter, was born with profound disabilities. Rather than drive them apart, her needs drew the family together. Her name was Joanie, but for some reason Rudy called her his Sweet Trudy. He had his own way of seeing the world.

Rudy flew in World War II and in Korea, earned a chestful of medals and moved steadily up the chain of command. He was stationed in Saigon during the Vietnamese War, and after a short period of time he came to believe that our involvement there was deeply wrong. He refused to fly; the military threatened a court martial. Rudy essentially told them to Bring It On...he carried the phone number for the New York Times in his wallet. After decades of combat service in the military, this old Okie guessed he knew a thing or two about right and wrong. He won that fight.

Nonetheless, Rudy was scarred by his time in Vietnam, as were so many others. He was exposed to Agent Orange and spent the rest of his life struggling to breathe. Still, he never stopped fixing cars (Studebakers were his favorites), never stopped making time for kids (he was everyone's favorite uncle/grandpa/great-grandpa), and he never stopped making Mem laugh.

And her blue eyes never stopped sparkling. Mem was one of the most accepting, non-judgmental people I've ever known, with a ready laugh and a sly wit. Though she had been raised by a southern mother to be a "lady", she told me that she didn't think those skills were very useful in Real Life. Indeed, when she realized her daughter Joanie was not getting access to the care she needed, Mem became a fierce tigress of an advocate, making herself known to, and feared by, congresspeople and health personnel alike. Though she never had much schooling --we used to tease her for reading the National Enquirer, a rag she insisted gave readers profound insights into unknown worlds-- she had a keen business sense, and managed to eke out enough savings from Rudy's military pay to start buying small pieces of land wherever they were transferred; in the end, they were quite comfortable.

And they never stopped laughing.

Toward the end, the pair moved into an assisting-living apartment with separate beds, the idea being that they could both get uninterrupted sleep. One night they called for help; Rudy had fallen while trying to get from his bed into Mem's. They had slept together for sixty-five years; he wasn't about to let a health problem or two get in the way of that. Apparently when the aides arrived Mem and Rudy were both rolling on the floor, giggling like naughty teenagers caught with straw in their hair.

Rudy passed away last June; six weeks later my aunt joined him. She was ready. Mem said Rudy would be waiting for her, ready to make her laugh.


L.G.C. Smith said...

Oh, for goodness' sake. That's just lovely, and I have tears in my eyes for the third Pens read in a row.

Bah. This is no place for an old curmudgeon this week.

Rachael said...

ARE WE GOING TO CRY ALL WEEK???? Oh, God. This was beautiful. I'm sorry for your loss. xo

Juliet Blackwell said...

Thanks, all. I was going to write something cynical and funny for this topic, but then I couldn't stop thinking about their story. Thanks for letting me share it with you. Wish I could have found some pictures as well!

Pop Culture Nerd said...

Oh, brilliant. Just...brilliant. And, uh, I'm not crying. I think something just got stuck in my contacts.

Thanks for sharing this beautiful story, Julie. I hope they're still laughing and rolling around on the ground wherever they are.

Susan said...

Jules, you should of called me, I have a lovely photo for Mem and Rudy at their 60th wedding annaversary. Rudy is wearing his uniform. I'll send you a copy. I have it framed. Lovely story, even i who knew and loved them got teary.

Mysti Lou said...

I've seen couples like this, the ones who still talk to each other at restaurants. Though my life has been far less steady, my relationships far more tempestuous (bad tempered always sounds better "tempestuous"), I'm hoping to be part of one of those couples when the retirement home comes acallin'

During the looong wild days of my "youth", I wastched the couples around me who really loved and respected each other, who really were each others' best friends. It just took me 20 years to figure out who that guy was :)

My family is wicked book-smart. Blessed with limber, inquisitive minds, we nonetheless grow up emotionally as slow as elephants. I don't think ANYONE who writes romance like Julie wrote this column should ever feel their genre is less than. We'd all be cannibals or loan sharks without literature of the heart. I wouldn't have been able to find my way out of the wilderness without romantic literature.

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