Personal photo of my mother © Pat Ruppel
Isn’t she beautiful? This is a picture of my mother, Myrtle Mae (Shaw) Collingwood, taken in the 1930’s and is the picture that mysteriously
brought two young lovers together – my mother and father.
As the story goes, my father was in the military and stationed in Norfolk. My mother lived across the Chesapeake Bay in a small Virginian town on the Eastern Shore. A buddy of my dad’s showed him this picture and since his buddy had lost interest in asking her out gave the picture to my dad.
Love at first sight, my dad carried this picture with him where ever he went. He had to find this girl and on his weekend leaves traveled across the bay in search of her.
The stories of how my dad found her and their romance have been lost over time but I know they ultimately met, fell in love and were married on this day, July 13, 1939, by a Justice of the Peace some 73 years ago.
Here they were a young couple, Yankee and a Southerner, in love and ready to embark on a new life together facing a new decade. The 1940’s brought happiness and 2 daughters but also brought the strain and fears of WWII. My sister was born before the war and I was born after the war. As my mother received letters from my dad overseas in harm’s way, she cared for her baby girl maintaining the home anxiously awaiting the return of her man.
The war ended and dad was back home and life lovingly picked up where it left off with the addition of a home of their own and me. Dad went on to a career in welding on ships and bridges wherever staying close to the sea would take him, my mother pursued nursing and we grew. Life seemed normal and happy at first and then it took a definite turn that would last for the rest of our lives together.
I was too young to remember (toddler years) an event that caused the shift but it seemed to be like day and night. My sister and I could never figure it out and they would never say. My mother became obsessively jealous of my dad and with every denial of accusation the struggles and strain continued between them shutting us out and the world around them.
Over the years, I felt I had lost my mother and tried to get them to talk it out – reconcile – to no avail. I could still see a distant spark of love in their eyes for each other occasionally. It hadn’t died – it was just buried.
Nowadays couples just split, get divorced and go separate ways. The children hold onto that hope of reconciliation in their hearts until a parent remarries and moves on and the hope wanes. I can understand their loss but my parents stayed together and I still held my hope. In that era, wedding vows were taken very seriously and literally when you say to each other, “…for better or worse.” Divorce for them was not an option.
Maybe the reconciliation was more for me than them. I wanted my mother. I missed growing up with the birthday parties, primping and fussing over clothes, going shopping and mother and daughter girly talks.
Every time I would go back east to visit, I would say to myself, “It will be different this time. They’re older and surely they would talk things out, I’ll help and they’ll be happy together again.” But when I would come in town it was as if I had never left. We’d visit and catch up but then it was as if a cloud crept over. The back and forth accusations and denials would begin between them and I was shut out as if I wasn’t there. They were lost again in another world but I still held onto that hope.
More years passed and one day in 1985 I got a call from my sister to come home. Mom had died suddenly and peacefully in her sleep. I flew back in shock, devastated. We helped dad deal with the loss of the love of his life and our mother. It was over and there would be no more chances of reconciliation at least not in this world.
After arrangements were made and my mother was laid to rest, I flew home with a hole in my heart and a feeling like the world had been pulled out from under me. I truly believed in the end things would turn out differently for them and this blindsided me. I was a mixed bag of emotions but mostly mad – mad at God. I thought there was an unspoken understanding between us of reconciliation and I was betrayed. We humans are so silly in our expectations, narrow views and beliefs.
One night not long after my mother’s death, I was awakened with the memories of a vivid dream. I saw my mother but she was wrapped with coils of steel from top to bottom. I then saw a hand come in with shears snipping one coil at a time until she was totally free of the demons. I was okay after that and found closure and peace and thankful for the grace of that dream.
My dad almost 15 years later in his early 80’s left just as suddenly and peacefully – and the picture was still with him on the night table in the same plastic frame. He never forgot the woman he met and fell in love with so many years ago. I never saw the reconciliation but I would like to think they had finally made peace on the other side.
If you have similar reflections, I would love you to share or comment.
Pat – from the ol’ kitchen table
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