Once upon a time — a velvety soft May night in 1974 — I met an Englishman named Peter at a party atop a mountain on the Blue Ridge Parkway of Virginia. “How do you do?” he said politely while shaking hands with we three ladies who arrived together. He spent the rest of the evening with me. We danced, me barefoot, on the stone terrace that overlooked the twinkling valley below.
It was a fairy tale beginning.
At evening’s end he asked when he could see me again. We planned a hike for Memorial Day, two days hence. He arrived carrying an armload of yellow roses for me, a bagful of candy for my daughters who were in school that day. (Later I learned the roses grew carelessly over his carport and the candy came from a stash in his refrigerator, but never mind.)
“Oh! You’re not who I thought you were!” he said when I opened my door.
What a fine way to start a romance! Though we’d danced cheek-to-cheek all Saturday evening, he remembered the woman who’d come to the party with me! (That’s OK, I remembered him as a redhead and much taller.)
Seven years later — 1981 — I worked a magic spell and we married, not in May, but December.
The fairy tale continued. Three years ago this week, our family — Carolynn and husband Bill, Leslie and husband Martin, and their offspring, Samantha and Miah, Peter and me — began a week’s vacation together on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. It was the only week that year when all of us could be in the same place, same time.
Seven glorious, bright sunny family days at the beach, though that early in May the Atlantic was bloody freezing. But we made sand castles, fished, basked, shopped, played games, braved the wild north beach to look for ponies, took to the air, and ate…a lot and often!
At the end of our stay I asked everyone to write down three favorite things, plus one least favorite, about the week. “Family time” was tops, with “fish and fishing” and “pool playing, frisbee and flying kites” tied for second. Parasailing was third, but hang gliding didn’t get a single vote, pro or con. Least liked was the three miles from our house to the shore.
The fisherman among us, Bill, liked catching his big striper, Carolynn liked watching him smile as he reeled it in, Samantha liked seeing it, but she didn’t like that she hadn’t caught a big one. Bill, though he did all the gory, gloppy gutting, didn’t like eating that or any fish.
Most of us were poetic about our likes and dislikes. Two of Leslie’s faves were napping on the beach and cuddling Sam, while Miah, then sixteen, liked ” having tea with the ‘fam’.” But Peter, typically, answered tersely: “House. Meals. Weather.” He didn’t like that there wasn’t anyplace to walk.
My parasailing adventure wasn’t planned. What I really wanted to do was hang glide at Jockey Ridge, as did Martin, Sam and Miah. Leslie called to make arrangements, and I reminded her to make sure someone my age would even be allowed to do it, much less with a bad knee. She was assured that women 20 years older than my 72 went hang gliding, but my bad knee would make it a no-go.
Parasailing was an option. The pilot did the work and the landing would be on wheels instead of on my legs. “Sign me up!” I said.
Carolynn immediately objected. “At your age, Mom? No-o-o!”
“If not now, when?” I asked.
Early the next morning all of us headed to the local airport. Carolynn was beside herself with anxiety, and Peter, who never loses sleep, tossed and turned all night. I was giddy.
The flight was all I’d imagined, except long enough. Martin enjoyed watching me buckle in, probably because I’m a klutz and needed extra help to stuff my knee into the harness, and Carolynn liked seeing my smile when we landed. Hang gliding got no votes, pro or con, because the afternoon was extremely windy. Flyers had to be tethered to their instructors who ran down the dunes as if they had winged puppies on long leashes.
We left on Mother’s Day. It was the first time in years both of my daughters and I were together, if only for a short time, on the second Sunday in May.
The next year, the Roanoke Times had a contest asking readers to submit a photo with a few words representing “freedom or escape.” I sent this photo from my flight, and won two tickets to Cirque du Soleil.
When Peter saw the newspaper feature he said, “Isn’t that the same guy?”
“What same guy?”
“The one you ‘flew’ with?”
“Yes, that’s Jim.”
“Is that you?”
“Of course it’s me, you goof,” I laughed. “I won the tickets with that.”
“How did the picture get in the paper?”
“I emailed it to them as my contest entry.”
Nearly thirty-eight years after our first date — remember, he thought he was going hiking with a different woman — Peter recognized Jim in a picture, but he still wasn’t sure about me!
My husband’s dementia isn’t funny, but it’s better to laugh than to cry.