Short on Money, But Not on LovebyBOSTONFICTIONWRITER©
Short on money, they were not short on love.
Hi, I'm Freddie. My wife, Susan, and I love one another very much. Yet, we do not celebrate Valentine's Day anymore and have not celebrated Valentine's Day in years. We no longer waste our money on flowers, jewelry, perfume, cologne, candy, or even Valentine's Day cards. We know we love one another and do not need any commercialized gimmick to prove that. It is a given. We both know by our actions that we have the real deal, and our relationship is built upon a mutual foundation of respect, trust, and caring that will last until we die.
Now, our Valentine's Day gift is not to ourselves but to others. Our Valentine's Day changed forever five years ago. We were a normal couple then and celebrated Valentine's Day like everyone else in America by exchanging obsessive commercial tokens of love but stopped all of that when our next door neighbors, Bob and Ida were found dead in their tiny house out in the country. For us, their deaths were a life altering occurrence, a tragedy that changed our lives for the better allowing us to reach out and help others, not only on Valentine's Day, but every day.
Married on Valentine's Day 60 years ago, Bob and Ida lived in the same run-down house for 60 years. Married during the depression, they were accustomed to using it up, wearing it out, making it do, or doing without. Short on money, they were not short on love. He, a veteran of World War II, she worked at the USO where they met. Married just before he was shipped off to war, he made it back from the front in France with a promise to never spend another night away from her.
Never have I met another more devoted couple. Whenever she talked about Bob, even at age 80, she had this endearing smile that gave you a warm feeling wishing she was talking about you. And, even after all this time, he still held the door for her, buttoned her sweater, and called her Sweets. This, my Valentine's Day story, is a brief glimpse of their story of love and commitment. I hope that in sharing this story with you, that it will open your eyes to the plight of others who are in desperate need.
That fateful morning, Bob made Ida a bouquet of gray roses from old newspapers and when he made her tea, he gave her the last cookie. He fashioned a handmade card from a folded piece of cardboard and in scribbled writing from his shaking hand, signed it, "I love you, Sweets, Bob."
"Honey, turn up the heat. I'm cold," she said curling herself up in a tight ball.
"I'll get you another sweater, Sweets."
"I am already wearing two."
"Here is a blanket and if we sit closer together we will warm one another."
Bob and Ida sat like that for hours until they untangled themselves from one another and moved their cramped bodies off the rickety sofa and headed to bed. Without electricity, they had no heat and no money to buy firewood. Too old and too weak to chop their own firewood, all they had to keep warm was wool and one another. Their telephone had been disconnected months ago for non-payment and, no longer able to drive, it was a mile hike through knee deep snow to the neighbor next door.
"Bob, why do you still buy cat and dog food when the cat died last year and we have not had a dog in 5 years?"
"Well...you want some soup? I think there is a can of Campbell's tomato soup in the cupboard that I got from the food pantry last month."
"No, I'll just have some tea and a cookie."
"We are out of cookies, Sweets, but how about some crackers. We still have some of those left."
"They are stale."
We never saw Bob and Ida in the winter months. They could not take the cold weather and hibernated until spring. Occasionally a neighbor would check on them and plow out their driveway, but everyone today is busy, especially with the upcoming Valentine's Day when the malls are bursting with people who cannot wait to spend their money on holiday junk.
"Happy Valentine's Day, Sweets." He handed her the newspaper roses and she smelled them pretending their fragrance were that of American long stem beauties.
"Happy Anniversary, Bob. I love you." She kissed him on the cheek.
"I love you." He kissed her on the forehead.
They embraced and remained in a tight embrace until, weeks later, the Deputy Sheriff found them dead in bed.
"They died in their sleep," said the Sheriff to reporters. "We do not know if it was accidental, suicide, or murder suicide but there was a kerosene heater in the room that had, obviously, run out of kerosene sometime during the night. They died of carbon monoxide poisoning."
I remember as a kid when someone asked me how and when and where I wanted to die, my response was that I wanted to die in my sleep when I was 80 at home in my bed. Well, both Bob and Ida died in their sleep at age 80 at home and in their bed. I wonder if they had the same wish that I had when I was a kid.
Still, it was a sad day in our neighborhood. People, the same people who spent their hard earned money at the mall buying things they do not need and giving gifts to others that they do not want, leaned bunches of flowers at their front door. After seeing the makeshift memorial, that is when it occurred to me that, instead of leaving flowers now that they are dead, they should have left firewood and canned goods at their front door when they were alive.
So, that is how it started for my wife, Sue, and I. Every year, on Valentine's Day, instead of wasting our money on candy, Valentine's Day cards, and flowers, we buy canned goods and firewood and then deliver them to the elderly who otherwise would do without.
We never want to read another sad story, such as this one.
"Happy Valentine's Day to you. Love comes in different ways, so be an angel of mercy and lend a helping hand to someone in need when they need it."