Don’t Buy Green Bananas… A Real Texas Love Story
This was a most interesting Mother’s Day. After all, how many 89 year olds meet their children… for the first time?
It was only 9:30 in the morning here in Texas, but it had already been a spectacular lead in to Mother’s Day.
Many of you who are regular readers know that my mother actually passed away while I was living and working in Azerbaijan. My father passed away a few years ago, just after I repatriated.
This story isn’t about them however.
My parents divorced somewhere about 1968, I guess. I came home from summer camp and saw my father moving furniture out of the house.
He said goodbye, I said goodbye, not really understanding what we were saying goodbye for, but figured it would all be sorted out soon enough. (As a Navy man, he was always coming or going, so I didn’t really grasp that this was really goodbye. He was typically cryptic (read Black Holes: Making Peace With The Darkness here.)
After the divorce, my father remained alone for as long as I knew him. He took a transfer to a remote base in Alaska, and was a ghost for much of my young adult life.
But then, an interesting thing happened.
I was contacted by my sister to let me know my father was ill and it was time to make the final peace. In the process, I learned that he had recently remarried… at 80 years old.
Wow, I didn’t see that coming. I would never have believed it possible that he would reach out to someone, let alone begin an old-fashioned courtship.
On arriving at his place in Texas, I met Eleanor, his bride of just 3 years. The pieces were revealed slowly, and the story of a 60 year love unfolded.
Eleanor told me of a chance meeting with a friend of my father’s at a USO dance in WWII San Francisco. The friend decided on another girl he met at the dance but asked Eleanor if it would be alright if he gave her name and address to his buddy back aboard the ship.
My father wrote to the girl in San Francisco from all over the world, and when they finally met, he told her he was going to marry her someday, somehow.
Well, war being war, she broke up with him- he planned on a career in the Navy and she couldn’t see herself in that life- and eventually married another. (He always teased her that she “dumped” him, which she thought was rather discourteous!)
My father had kept in touch with Eleanor and her husband from a distance. When she became widowed after a 52 year marriage, he reached out to support his best girl when she needed it.
After being alone for 8 years, and with my father respectful in his correspondence, Eleanor was ready to rekindle their relationship in a more-than-friend-way.
When the time was right, he told her, “I have loved you for 60 years. I know we don’t have much time left, will you marry me?”
She was won over. They were married in Texas and consolidated their lives at his home near Austin.
The story doesn’t end there, though.
What makes the story of this Mother’s Day even more lovely, is that Eleanor had always wanted children, but she and Jack had never had any.
As a young wife, Eleanor had bought maternity clothes patterns thinking she would sew her own fashions when the time came, and could make baby outfits when she knew that she was having a boy or girl. But somehow, it wasn’t meant to be for Eleanor and Jack.
Today she tells everyone in the beauty parlor here in this small Texas town of Marble Falls, (population just over 6,000) that, at 89, her new “kids” are coming to visit. She “became a mother at 80, but never met her children” she says… until today.
My brother, John, the actor and all-around sentimental fool (and I mean that in the best way!) decided he was going to fly from Oregon to meet Eleanor. They had spoken by phone and corresponded through their letters, but had never met.
Eleanor mentioned the happy plan to me, and I spontaneously decided to come too. And since my own daughter is now in Houston, within driving distance, Eleanor could also have the chance to meet her first “grandchild” as well! She was nearly overcome with emotion- tears of joy flowed freely.
We also have a brother, Bill, up in Philadelphia. I called him and asked if he wanted to join the impromptu family “reunion” (can there be a re-union of people who have never met?)
Yes, Bill was in. With all arrangements made, the boys and I arrived in Austin on Friday. We drove the 79 miles northwest to my dad’s house on Lake LBJ where Eleanor still lives after his passing.
This is a lot of excitement for an 89-year-old with a history of heart flutters, so we kept our fingers crossed.
Suddenly, we realized as we got further out into the Texas Hill Country, that in all the excitement, we had not brought a Mother’s Day card or flowers. We turned around and headed to a nearby convenience store to see what we could cobble together for a suitable gift. People in the store buying gas and beer looked at us a little strangely, but we were undeterred.
The boys went out into the pasture next to the store and picked a small bouquet of wildflowers and greenery while I searched inside for the most unlikely things in stock… we ended up with a baby card, a lavender gorilla and the flowers.
The day just kept getting better! (Or stranger…)
Within minutes we were at her door, making introductions, laughing and re-telling the travel horror stories.
We spent the weekend putting pieces together, eating Texas brisket and barbecue, staying up too late, and running ourselves on adrenaline.
During the weekend we talked about all the joy, hurt, bitterness, and sorrow that had accompanied our lives of moving and uncertainty.
Everyone went to the cemetery to put a flag on my father’s grave (a rather odd thing to do on Mother’s Day, but it seemed right for us).
By the time Monday morning came, we were exhausted from talking and sharing, crying and laughing. Eleanor decided we were worth waiting for and was thrilled that we would accept her as a 2nd Mom.
We shared what we had learned over the course of our days.
John talked about the “old guys” he plays softball with back in Oregon- you never ask how they are or complain about your little ailments. These guys keep their complaints private and come out everyday just to see who among them is still alive. Just being alive is enough at this point, everything else is small change.
Bill talked about how things come around later in life. He was used to being the star in the family, the leader, the dreamer of big dreams. Nowadays, he has other issues to conquer; his dreams are less grandiose- just being alive, like John said, is a major achievement, as has been his return to Penn State University after age 60.
Eleanor wistfully remembered something her granddad had often said to her. He always admonished her not to buy green bananas. Though she thought it was an odd piece of advice as a child, it makes sense now.
Indeed, at this stage of the game, no one can guarantee any of us will be here to see them ripen. Enjoy today and eat sweet bananas when you can.
That sounded pretty good to me.
Eleanor has often told me she is pleased by the lack of anger and the amount of forgiveness I have shown toward my father.
I’m glad that comes through. I never could change his mind anyway.
It’s like Eleanor’s granddad said about the green bananas… we need to just enjoy what we can today and not sow seeds of trouble for tomorrow.
And to think we “kids” thought we were doing something nice… It’s like most good things, we got back much more than we put in.
This past weekend, we learned about first loves and last loves, wishes of the heart that may come true when you’ve almost given up hope; old wisdom for enjoying new life today, holding onto what matters, and seeing the fruit of your labors yield many times more than imagined.
I never thought of Texas and bananas in the same story, but love does interesting things.
Interesting and sweet…