The year was 1935. Susan, a petite brunette with a tiny waist and Hollywood good looks, went dancing at San Francisco’s Majestic Ball Room. After all, that was what young people did back then. She had a penchant for dancing after all, having grown up in the Welsh Mormon enclave of Malad, Idaho. The Welsh were fantastic singers and dancers, she always said.
A handsome stranger approached her. “Would you like to dance?” He asked. Susan didn’t need to be asked twice. He went by the name Jim, and she thought he was as handsome and charming as Cary Grant. He was a few years older, and he worked as a journalist and printer making $30 a week… far more than her brothers and father, as it was the height of the Depression. It wasn’t long after that he was picking her up for dates in his Ford with a rumble seat. Of course, her parents insisted that her brother Pat go along as a chaperone.
Susan went away for the Summer to visit her Grandpa and Grandma Owens. She heard that Jim had taken out her friend Norma on a date, and she was heartbroken. When she was in Malad, she got reacquainted with her old high school boyfriend, Sherman Richardson, and they had made plans to get married. However, when she got back to California, Jim showed up to take her to a show. On the way home, he looked over at her and knew he couldn’t let her get away.
“Let’s get married,” he said.
Susan’s heart stopped. She had been in love with him for so long! She said yes. Not long after that, they were married in the San Francisco Courthouse, on April 25, 1936. It was the best day that ever happened in her entire life.
I remember playing at Granny’s house, as she often let me stay over, and she was really my favorite friend to have sleepovers with. I always felt so well loved and cared for. One evening, she sat at her kitchen table, and I noticed she was crying.
“Granny, what’s wrong?” I asked. She grabbed me and hugged me, crying into my shoulder.
“I’m just so sad. I miss Papa. I miss my family and my sister. All of my family is dead, and I don’t have anyone. I wish I would just hurry up and go so I could be with them.” She sobbed.
My little eight-year-old heart broke for her. “Granny, don’t say that! You have us. We love you,” I said, and hugged her back.
She was always so loving, but there was a streak of sadness in her. When all else failed, I knew I could just do Ren and Stimpy’s “Happy Happy Joy Joy” dance, and she would be crying tears of laughter instead of sorrow.
Every night, she kissed a framed photo of Papa and said goodnight, and set it back on top of the gold urn that sat on her dresser. It was a large box with two compartments: one with prayer hands that held his ashes, and the other one with a rose for hers, when her time came. All of the women in her family have roses on their epitaphs. It is Welsh and English tradition.
Granny told me she woke up one morning around the time Papa died, and her mother was standing in her room. “What are you doing here?” She asked. Her mother’s apparition vanished. She didn’t seem the least bit frightened at this admission.
In the Summer of 1998, Granny was dying. I thought perhaps she got lonely lying in our spare bedroom, as she could barely open her eyes or talk. I went in to lie next to her and keep her company for a while.
“Granny, I am going to miss you when you go, but I know that you are going to Heaven. When you get there, I know that Papa will be waiting for you. Maybe he will ask you to dance. And I know your family will be there- your parents, your sister, your brothers. They will be so happy to see you.” I said, as I held her hand. Her nurse exclaimed, telling me to look at her face.
Tears were streaming out of her eyes. Granny gently put her hand on my face. “Pretty,” she faintly said.
Not long after that, she left us on a beautiful and bright July afternoon. It felt peaceful. There is something beautifully serene about the mood surrounding birth and death. Anytime someone is coming or going, the Heavens are open for a brief moment in time.
I imagine that Papa was waiting for her, flowers in hand, ready for a dance. Even when he was bedridden with Alzheimers and could barely remember his own name, he had an urgency to take Susan out on a date. It was all he could talk about.
This is love to me.