Sunday, February 12, 2012

Love Among Us Common Folk

Taj Mahal, completed in 1648, honors Emperor Shah Jahan’s
favorite wife who died in 1631, after giving birth to their 14th child.

Just in time for Valentine's Day, the online Smithsonian magazine offers Abigail Tucker's "Top Ten Demonstrations of Love" The series of vignettes covers grand gestures of love by the famous -- inventors, politicians, royalty and celebrities.

Queen Victoria
The young British queen, Victoria, married her German cousin Albert in 1840, making him the Prince Consort. “He possesses every quality that can be desired to make me perfectly happy,” she wrote. The father of her nine children, Prince Albert was also among Victoria’s shrewdest and most trusted advisers. When he died suddenly of typhoid in 1861, the queen was devastated. She built Albert a grand mausoleum and kept one of the rooms in Windsor Palace as his shrine, complete with changes of clothes for him and fresh water for his basin. She traveled with a giant portrait of him and kept a smaller likeness by her bed, so she could wake to the sight of his face. As a widow, Victoria, famed for her longevity, wore black every day until her death in 1901.

Of course, Smithsonian's collection of grand love gestures doesn't include the expressions of love among us common folk, but those are the ones that interest me most.
In our family there is a story about the love between my Great Aunt Eva and her husband George Pyle, a Montana rancher. My great aunt, the second of 10 children, was born in 1878 into a certain amount of privilege. Her father was a successful merchant in Saint Louis Missouri and owned an emporium, a large general store. Aunt Eva was schooled in the arts appropriate for young ladies of the time--embroidery, lace making and other scissor arts. I don't know how Aunt Eva and Uncle George met, but do know they married and Eva moved to the ranch outside Polaris Montana, still a small and isolate ranching community today.

The story goes that Uncle George was often out on the range and Aunt Eva was alone, except for visits from the wives of neighboring ranchers. Domestic chores were handled by a staff of Native Americans and my aunt did needlework by the hour, resulting in beautiful lace for pillowcases, sheets, undergarments, curtains. George and Eva had three children--all dying within days of birth. A highlight of my aunt's life was a visit from the circuit riding minister who'd come to stay for a week or so and families would flock to the ranch for preaching and socializing. Then Aunt Eva would be alone again.


H. D. Koerner’s painting Hard Winter reveals the hardships

of the western frontier. This painting is notable in that it stripped

away the romanticism often associated with cowboy mythology.

 But, they say George and Eva were completely devoted to each other, when they were in a room together, the bond between them was almost visible, they hated to be apart.The Smithsonian's story reminds of this. Before each Valentine's Day, George would ride horseback to Dillon, a three-day trek in the snow. He'd ride to the train station and pick up the strawberries he'd ordered for Eva and ride back, keeping the berries from freezing by wrapping them close to his body, under his coat. Shattered by George's death in 1947, my great aunt sold the ranch in Montana and moved to live with family on ranches in Lake County. Although it made her cry, my grandmother always brought Aunt Eva strawberries on Valentine's Day.

This ritual disturbed me as a child and it wasn't until I got older that I began to understand. About two years ago my husband John died. I offered this among my remembrances at his funeral:



oerner’s painting Hard Winter (below), origilly appeared as a black and white

John Van Veenendaal
1947-2009
John knew I loved chocolate. Not milk chocolate, which I think is for sissies, but rich dark, Double-Dutch chocolate. There were times, when he’d come home from a glass job (he was a glazing contractor), late in the afternoon. He’d come into my sun-drenched office and pull out a big, expensive bar of dark chocolate. He’d kiss me and always whisper the same thing: “Don’t share it with anybody.” Because we had a house full of kids, I had a hiding place for my chocolate gifts. Sometimes I’d find he’d secretly restocked my stash with some extra-special dark.

From Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem In Memoriam:27, 1850:
I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
See you in The Garden with the one you love. Wear red and bring a heated heart.