Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Letter

My Aunt Hope is dying. As my cousin often reminded me, she is not really my Aunt.

 At the end of World War II new housing in this country was almost impossible to locate. The war took the focus, material and manpower away from constructing homes to the building of an overpowering war machine. When my dad returned home from the service and married my mom in November of 1945 they did not move into their own residence. Rather, until 1948, they lived in the apartment of my dad's parents.

When a  new garden apartment complex opened in Teaneck that year, two young couples were among its occupants. Hope was a striking beauty, married to the equally handsome Max. They formed an immediate and everlasting bond with a young lawyer and his bride, my parents.

As Hope's breathing becomes more labored, she is administered a stronger dose of morphine. She soon relaxes and continues her inevitable march. Marc has been sitting watch for several days. He checks in with me regularly, as we discuss matters mundane and profound. He relates to me the treasure trove of old photos he has discovered, so many picturing four vibrant lives in full glory.

 And then he mentions one particular piece that fascinates and thrills me.

 My dad passed away in 1979, at the age of 61. He had been diagnosed with terminal cancer two years earlier. In March of 1978 he turned 60, an event our family marked with a celebration at a restaurant in New York City. I wondered what my dad must have been thinking at that moment, as time became his enemy.

 "I found a four page note written by your dad to my parents on the occasion on his 60th birthday."  Almost 36 years after my dad's passing, I would be able to hear him speak again, learn of the thoughts that his death had kept hidden.

Was my dad's letter filled with sorrow for the days he would not see, for the things left undone, for the generations to come that he would not touch, not enjoy? Or would he speak only of the passion he had for my mom, for my sister and myself, for Max and Hope and for all the gifts that had been bestowed upon him? Did he even contemplate he might be stronger than the disease that was enveloping him? That there was a future, not merely a past? The answers, I hoped, were on these pages.

How compelling must my dad's reflections have been that Hope had carried them with her through all these years? I imagined they contemplated everything that time would rob him of, the chance to explain to us, to consider with us, to wonder and worry, to celebrate. 

And I wondered, if he could write such a note to Hope and Max, what must he have penned to my mom? Could I be reunited with my dad not only now but in coming years? While my mom is still alive, she has spent nearly a decade in an alternate universe, one in which my dad is only a very infrequent visitor. No, the answer to my thoughts on the full scope of my dad's musings will have to await another day, another ending.

I had been in infrequent contact with Marc for several years after he moved out west in the early 1970's. My wife and I visited him and Georgette on our honeymoon in 1977, but distance and life's demands created a void that was not filled until Max died over two decades ago. After that Marc practically mandated that we strengthen our ties, opening his home to us then and in all the years that have succeeded. It is as though the ties that brought his parents and mine together in that apartment in 1948 were an inevitability through succeeding generations.

I await his call this morning. When Hope passes, I will be on a flight down to Florida, to pay tribute to her and to an enduring memory of two young couples who wandered through their lives inextricably entwined. And I will wait to hold in my hand that piece of paper which will help me open a time capsule into the head and heart of my father. I thank Hope and Max for their deep and abiding love for my parents and for the friendship they all so deeply treasured. And for keeping that piece of history in their possession for the last 36 years.

 Dad, I will see you soon.

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