Author’s note: this is a paraphrase, and I only quote the Legacy Giver twice because there was only time to listen and not to take notes or write down phrases. Then she wrapped me in a once in a lifetime to moments to experience it with her and the more than one hundred women in the room. To the time she was first loved – before she was twice loved. (The photo below is not of her.)
It happened at a Legacy Retreat I was leading. It’s always a little risky to ask a large group of women if someone has a legacy story they want to share – usually lots of hands go up, and I have to pick. That day I felt an urgency to ask with the kind of intuitive knowing that said, this is big.
This time, one woman stood. She was with a group of women younger than herself. In her nineties, she was older than all of us. Shortened by age, she still stood tall with her gnarled hands resting on her cane. Her face was full of deep wrinkles that didn’t limit her beauty but enhanced it. Blue eyes the color of Norwegian waters, white hair, and a dignity that while it demanded nothing, she had our full attention.
I nodded for her to begin. She smiled at me. After introducing us to her daughters, granddaughters, and great-granddaughters she told us about him. The man she’d loved before the one she married. The one she never talked about until now.
She didn’t tell us her name. It’s likely many there knew who she was, but what mattered was her story. I walked toward the edge of the platform and the women in the auditorium perched on the edges of their seats to catch her every word.
Her words were vivid, and she wasn’t just telling us a story. She was reliving it, and she took us with her.
Photo used with permission and was found on the Milkin University site.
They were young when America entered the 2nd World War. And in love. He had to sign up – he believed it with his whole heart. She admitted she didn’t agree, but she trusted that he would know better than she. When the day to say good-bye came, she wore his favorite floral dress. The one with blossoms the color of periwinkle and sky blue on a white background. She also wore her new shoes and carried a new bag. And after curling her hair just so, she’d put on the hat he told her she looked especially pretty in.
They walked to the train station together her arm tucked into his. The way she dreamed they’d walk on warm summer evenings when he came back, and they became Mr. and Mrs.
They’d spent the night before making promises to each other. They’d write often. They’d stay true to each other. They’d pray the war would be short, and he promised more than once that he’d be home soon.
She held on to his arm tighter at the station. Because it was almost time to let go, and suddenly it wasn’t about promises, it was about loving him. And suddenly she believed him. This war was his destiny. And she told him she believed him. He told her he loved her more for that.
As she spoke, it was as if we were on the platform with them as the train whistle called and the men were ordered to board. He turned her toward himself, put his hands on her waist and kissed her more than once. The breeze causes her dress to move gently against her silk nylon covered legs. Even in her heels, she stood on tip-toes to receive and return his kisses. She told us the moments were both reverent and intimate although they were saving the truly intimate moments for after their wedding. And he promised again that he’d be home, and she’d be in his arms again.
Then she said “That was the promise he couldn’t keep,” as a group we sighed, although we’d sensed it coming, it hit hard. And the tears we’d been trying to hold back, fell down our cheeks. So did hers.
On the train, he and the other soldiers hung out the windows for last kisses. He did too and then it was one last I love you before the train departed.
She told us how he made her laugh, about the friendship that was the prelude to their love. About his faith, commitment to God, and the way he wanted that to be part of their future. Her words were drenched in love for him – even more than fifty years later.
While she spoke, she looked at me, across the room and at her girls. Then she turned so she was facing her girls directly. And told them that he was the one before the one. Before the man who would rescue her stranded heart and be the husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather her first love died. The one she loved more than anyone except Jesus. The one who loved her and them.
She apologized for not telling them about him. Then her voice changed – it grew stronger as she declared that she wasn’t ashamed of him or of their love, but didn’t know if they’d understand her life long feelings for a boy who wasn’t their father and grandfather. The one who loved her first – the one she loved back.
Stronger yet, she told them and us that she would always love them both – not in an unfaithful way, but in the purest of loves. What she couldn’t explain, we all somehow understood.
She sat down and did what mothers who are also grandmothers of a certain ago do – she dug into her purse and handed her girls tissues while she used a cotton lace-trimmed hankie.
I had no words. I felt like I lingered in her memories. She brought me back by saying, “I have no idea why I did that or why it matters.”
Then it happened. One woman after another in the room stood up to thank her for sharing her story. Each one told her a reason her legacy story mattered to them. It was the last session of the retreat, and we ran long, but no one seemed to mind. I’d come off the stage long before she finished talking because these moments were hers, not mine.
Afterward, women waited for her. To be in her wise and good presence for a moment longer. To honor her – this woman who dared to admit she had loved and been loved twice.
I overheard her daughters planning ways to preserve more of her stories because they knew what she had to say was priceless to them and other generations. When I left, they were discussing video cameras, editing software, and microphones with the media guy.
As I was leaving, she told me she felt it was an ordinary story that thousands of girls from back then shared. And that she stood up thinking there wasn’t one chapter in her story that anyone would want to know. And it was risky. Her girls loved her husband who had recently passed from here to heaven. She feared her story would hurt them, but she listened to One she trusted more than anyone else and gave it to us generously. And we were all touched, and more than a few of us were changed.
Because she dared. And because her legacy story (like yours) matters.
Until Next Time,
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