Valentines, Both Bitter and Sweet

IMG_20180214_112846343We only really want the sweet ones. But life happens on Valentine’s Day and it isn’t always sweet.

Take February 14, 2000.

Our phone rang at 6:00 that morning, someone calling to tell me that my dear friend’s son had been critically injured, his wife and baby killed, when their mobile home took a direct hit by a deadly tornado. I hurried over to the hospital to hug my friend. She was so strong, like an oak tree with deep roots. We her friends were crying for her but she refused to be overcome. She had worked her entire career with FEMA and, though under such stress with her own family and the many friends who also had suffered loss, she took time to brag on the quick, decisive work of the rescue teams. I was so touched, too, by her smile as she said, “No hospital in the whole USA could have responded any better than Grady General has.”

My friend’s son lived, having to undergo several surgeries. His wife and baby were buried in the same casket. He, like his mother, is a strong Christian. He is active in his church. He and his second wife have adopted two wonderful children. Whereas some might be stuck asking the question “why?”, he has moved on.

Valentine’s Day, 2004, was a wonderful day, the day my brother Orman married my friend Reggie. Separated by most of the state of Georgia, Orman and Reggie met because God planned it that way. There was no other way they would have found each other. They met as senior citizens, he at 79, she several years younger. Each had lost their first mate and each had prayed that if God saw fit He would send another spouse.. Each had traveled a lot, he as a missionary, she as a military wife. Each was excited about leading Bible studies and in more traveling. Only months after they met, on a beautiful Valentine’s Day, many of us from both ends of the state met to celebrate with them at their wedding in Albany.

After the wedding, several members of my family from North Georgia, as well as Reggie’s sister Sally and her husband Wes, gathered at our house. We had dinner together, sang around the piano, had a wonderful time celebrating this second love for Orman and Reggie who, of course, were by then gone on their honeymoon. We were all so jubilant. How could anyone be sad that night?

Yet that day, too, had a very sorrowful end.

The phone rang, interrupting our joy. One of our dear church friends, very close to those in our intimate circle that night, was struck by a car while crossing the street in a dense fog. Her death sobered us all and reminded us that joy and sorrow are never very far apart.

There was the joyful Valentine’s week in 2007 when our third grandson Thomas Hamilton Graham was born. Such excitement there was as we welcomed him. Will and Christi had a family suite at the hospital where little William, three years old, could be with his parents and his new brother. Grandparents and uncles crowded in, too, on that February day to celebrate Thomas. Now he’s in the 5th grade, excels in sports, is a great student, considers being a scientist someday, and is a top notch Monopoly player. He has a keen sense of humor, too, never misses a chance to crack a joke or pose a riddle. His birthday is February 15.

One of the funny Valentine outings I remember was the year Charles and I decided to have a night out in Thomasville. I said I wanted to get out of Cairo so we could have one whole conversation uninterrupted by clients asking questions about their pets. Charles didn’t really understand my request because he loves to talk any old time with his clients. But he went along. We both thought he was off that night but as the evening developed, one emergency after another came in, either by phone or at the back door. The evening was far spent when we slid into a booth at Shoney’s. We’d barely picked up our menus when someone spoke from across the aisle, “Doc, I’ve been meaning to ask you…” Turns out, we were surrounded by sweet, interesting Grady County folks who were delighted to have the vet’s ear for their latest questions.

In the winter of 2012 I was having chemo treatments for breast cancer. Charles faithfully took me for my infusions, waiting patiently with me for long hours, entertaining the nurses with funny stories. If the timing was right we would go for a snack at my favorite deli after chemo, giving a touch of party to the day. Day after day, he did many things to make that time easier, coming home at odd times to check on me, sending me flowers, cheering me on when my hair all fell out. But the most astonishing thing he did was to take me for a private meeting with Ralph Bishop one Saturday in February. He wanted Ralph to fit me with new wedding rings since I could no longer wear the treasured ones he’d given me when we married. When I look at my diamond now, so lively with rich sparkles of rainbow colors, I’m reminded of that dark time made bright and wonderful by his love.

Our church traditionally has a Valentine’s Banquet, a fundraiser for youth summer camps. Youth waiters serve tables, plates of delicious smoked pork chops, green beans and mashed potatoes with a roll and then, of course, red velvet cake for dessert. After dinner the fun begins. Many cooks donate cakes, pies and other goodies to be auctioned to the highest bidder. Everyone is conscious of the cause and they become quite ferocious even in trying to make the bids go as high as possible. It’s hilarious to watch family members scrambling to outbid each other on peanut brittle, thirteen-layer chocolate cakes, dreamy coconut ones, and all the rest. Amanda is baking a couple of cakes this time so this is going to be interesting.

Valentine’s days–bitter and sweet. But one thing is always true. God’s love is sure and eternal. Whatever happens, He will be there for you.

Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord. Psalm 31:24

1 Comment

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One response to “Valentines, Both Bitter and Sweet

  1. Carol Ball

    This is a such a timely story Brenda, now that we have had this horrific shooting at a high school in Broward County, Florida. We so desperately need to hear and know in our hearts that God is with us through joyful times and times of grave sorrow. Sending love to you and Charles today.

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