Raymond chuckled aloud a little awkwardly and some in the crowd smiled a little as they shifted on their pews.
“ I remember Joe’s.. Joseph’s first day back in uniform after his wedding. I was still Private, so I guess it was ’61 or ‘62. We were on some public reassurance operation in a mall doing show-and-tell for the kids and their pretty moms in their plaid dresses and their big sisters with their legs and French hair. We all had stuff going on, but man, his spirit was infectious! It was all about Margaret that day, her and what they’d been doing down in Pismo Beach on honeymoon; California-this, Margaret-that. ”
Margaret sat tall. The light in her eyes had dimmed, but only Joe would have noticed that, really, and she felt older than she had ever done; more in control and more grown-up than before because of all the planning and the church clothes, but she’d never wanted to feel that.
It was supposed to be forever, wasn’t it? She and Joe were supposed to be forever. When they’d said, “ ’Til death ”, she had thought without thinking, that they would die together somehow. They were supposed to take care of each other, forever. One of them shouldn’t be left behind.
“ Everybody here knew Joe, or I guess you wouldn’t be here! ” His awkward chuckle returned but this time he was only aware of Margaret looking at him. “ I won’t dwell on the things we all knew about him, the newspapers have done a good enough job of all that and in the end it was only a small part of him. So I just want to talk about that day in the mall when he spoke about Margaret and the Pacific Coast. ”
“ ‘They’re the same,’ he told us when we were taking a break that day. ‘Pacific and Atlantic are essentially the same big mess of salty water. And it’s the same sun. And it’s the same people. ‘Xept that it’s different and fresh and beautiful in its own way, of course, and it’s not actually the same. But the point is that although it’s fabulous, it’s not home. And if I have to choose, I will always choose home. Margaret is my home now.’ ”
Ray’s wife Donna slipped a handkerchief into one of Margaret’s hands and held onto the other tight as the tears quietly slid from under her sunglasses.
“ At this point, we had no idea where he was going with this story! He could go around the houses sometimes, Joe could. Joseph. We’d been talking about the girls at the mall, and how one day we’d like to raise a family with someone who looked like those pretty moms and who held themselves like that, but who had that adventurous fire in their eyes like the girls we’d seen too. Somewhere between Betty Grable and Brigitte Bardot. ”
“ He said he wanted to see the world without it being from behind the barrel of a gun. He wanted to drive across America and to Mexico and Florida with the roof down and the wind in his hair. He wanted to talk with Castro, Khrushchev and Kennedy and bang their heads together. He wanted to fix Berlin and Vietnam. But most of all, he wanted to chase a dozen children through the gardens at the house and raise grandchildren from a rocking-chair on the porch. But he didn’t want any of it, if he couldn’t have them with Margaret. And he couldn’t have them with Margaret. ”
There was no-one sat on that side of her, yet Margaret felt him take her other hand in his and could feel his wedding band cool against her skin. And she felt his goodbye kiss for the second and last time as Ray finished his piece.
“ I never knew any man love any thing or any one like Joe did. I didn’t just go over all those things to show what he didn’t achieve, but to remind Margaret of what she was to him; she is his home. And home is better than all that other stuff. It’s better than Acapulco and Havana and San Tropez, and powerful people and important things. I never knew a home like Joe’s could exist before then, but it made me set about to find mine and not settle for less than my Donna. Home is what gets you through the rough stuff and where you go to share the great stuff. And it will always be home. ”
Currently listening to “I’ll Slip Away”, by Rodriguez.
This piece inspired by an Elephant Words image originally posted at http://elephantwords.co.uk/2014/06/01/the-first-week-of-june-2/.