The Crooked Thing

February 14, 2009

O love is the crooked thing,
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is in it,
For he would be thinking of love
Till the stars had run away
And the shadows eaten the moon.

           — William Butler Yeats, 1865-1939
                Irish poet, patriot, and playwright

Yesterday I celebrated the tenth anniversary of this online presence, of the first Marking of the days of my life. I waited two days before I put up the second piece. Posted on the day after Valentine’s Day in 1999, it was about the love story hidden in the past of Ron’s never-married maiden aunt, who had died a few months before and whose belongings we were clearing out of her house. I was going to repost it here, in its entirety, but I find this morning that I have more to say about it.

You really should click on over to read it (yeah, I want you to), but in case you don’t, here’s the gist of it: Ron’s maternal aunt, born in 1918, graduated from high school in 1936 and for the next half century worked in the office of the Hershey Chocolate Company. She never married, becoming the classic maiden aunt who doted on her sisters’ children, served her church and her community, and died in the friendship of many. Forgotten by or unknown to most of those people was the story of her relationship with a man she met when she was about 23. He was stationed at a nearby Army training facility, and when he shipped out for Italy, they became engaged. Her brother, serving in the South Pacific, hoped he would be discharged in time for the wedding, set for the summer of 1946.

But when the war was over, the young man decided to stay on in the service, make it a career. Ron’s aunt did not want that life. Unable to resolve this conflict, they broke up. In a sense, they were like the characters I wrote about this week. Neither was willing to change everything for the other. Neither was willing to try. And so did their love story end. Like my female character, Ron’s aunt never married. Her fiancé, like my male character, found someone else.

During the clearing out of Ron’s aunt’s things, we found not only pictures from those years, but some objects as well, including the Signal Corps pin seen in the engagement portrait I posted and a high school class ring that had been the young man’s. Through the cooperation of the Department of Veterans Affairs, we were able to send those items to the man’s children. We included a long letter with Ron’s memories of his aunt’s fiancé (Ron was about six years old when he met him) and a printout of the piece I’d written for this site.

The family wrote back, thanking us for the return of the items, but expressing some consternation about the essay. They asked that I not write about this again and that I not post any more pictures. They stressed the long and happy marriage that their father and their mother had enjoyed and suggested that since we really did not know very much about him, we should probably refrain from speculation.

I felt very bad. Not bad enough, of course, to take the piece down, since I hadn’t been asked to (and probably would have resisted if I had been), and ten years later I feel compelled to write about the matter again.

I think I know what upset the family. In the piece, I refer to a picture he sent Ron’s aunt on which he wrote “Annie Dear, I will always love you. Miss you something awful. Johnny.” Of that I write:

Annie dear. Annie. He had a special name for her, something no one else ever called her. He said he would always love her, and I’m certain he always did. I am even more certain that she always loved him.

Maybe the man’s children misinterpret what I mean when I say that I think their father always loved Ron’s aunt. They might regard such an emotion as a sign of disloyalty, even betrayal, regarding their mother.

“The heart is a big place,” poet Tess Gallagher said last year at Franklin and Marshall College. Twenty years before, in the mourning poems she wrote after her husband, Raymond Carver, died, she said there would be, could be, no one to follow him, and yet here she is now, in a new relationship and a new collaboration.

Indeed, the heart is a big place and love is the crooked thing, and I’m not wise enough to know all that is in it. There are many people in my present life whom I love in many different ways. There’s  my immediate and extended family, the friends who have moved in and out of my life, people I talk to or write to or text to (yes, I can now use “text” as a verb!) at least once a week, people I no longer see for whom I retain a certain historical tenderness. There are some I love simply because someone I love loves them, and some for whom my affection is, of necessity, different now from what it was in other times.

And I will love them until the stars have run away and the shadows eaten the moon.

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