Tag Archives: Love

Grandpa’s Laugh

6 Mar

I met Jerry L. Fitzsimmons, Sr. under unusual circumstances. I’d been engaged to his son for less than a week and we’d been driving through Kansas on our way to McCook, Nebraska in our ’66 Mustang to meet his grandparents. From there, we planned to drive to Denver to meet his parents.

We never made it to McCook.

Instead, we hit black ice in Hayes, Kansas and my fiancé was hospitalized in a tiny clinic in nearby Colby. His parents arrived in Colby the next morning, just as young Jerry was being loaded into a plane for emergency transport . . . back to Denver.

So, I got to know my future in-laws by myself, on the drive to Denver. I ended up staying with them at their house for the remainder of my 30-day leave, visiting my fiancé at the hospital every day and bringing home reports for them at night. They visited their son when they could, but the day-to-day pressures of life and raising two small children at the time seemed to tug at their time.

I hit it off with Jerry, Sr. right away, not knowing the extent of his brokenness. His son had never expounded on the depths of the chasm between the two of them, only telling me they’d had a “rough time” in his teens. I called him Grandpa and Old Man from the start, long before we even knew if his son would survive, or if we would, indeed, marry and actually make him a grandpa.

During those 30 days, Grandpa and I bonded. I could make him laugh, and I enjoyed doing so, because his laugh was deep and booming. He never said “yes,” but instead said, “that’s exactly right,” which tickled my ear for some reason. We spent hours each night chatting and laughing. During those 30 days, I never saw him drink to excess. Nor did I see evidence of the bridges he’d burned between himself and his children, or the extent to which they’d continue to burn.

The choices Grandpa made over the next 10-15 years would pull him even further from his “first” family, as he and Grandma divorced. Over those years, my by-then husband still didn’t discuss the chasm, and we rarely seemed to have time to visit. Only recently have the wounds between them begun to heal.

Granpa and the boys3

An old and rare photo of all my boys

In the years to follow, there were a few visits, stops during cross-country treks, “as long as we’re in the area,” but never specific trips to see him. And he came to see us in Virginia at least twice that I recall. All those visits were way too short. From those few moments spread out over 35 years, I must now draw all my memories of him. I already regret that I haven’t more, but we each chose, first through stubbornness and then through inaction, not to be closer. Because of that, his grandsons missed out on what could have been a sweet relationship. So did we.

Now, Grandpa’s laugh has been silenced. I’ll miss it tremendously, and will do everything in my power to remember the way it sounds, because it’s all I have.

Grudges and hurt feelings are tools that the world uses to keep us from enjoying love in its purest form, particularly among family. I think the greatest sadness to that truth is that restored relationships are often even more sweet than those with people we’ve loved freely all along, and so often we miss that. However, it takes tremendous courage to take that first step. While I’m glad, for my husband’s sake that he took that step, I will always mourn the years they lost.

I truly hope Grandpa left this world knowing that we do love him, that although we only understand a small bit of the battle he fought, we hold no grudge, and that, in our hearts, his booming laugh lives on.

Peace to you, Old Man. I pray you’ve found what you were searching for.


 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. — Ephesians 4:32

To the Moon, Alice! (But Take Me With You)

12 Jan

Tomorrow marks my 33rd anniversary of marriage to a wonderful man. In previous years, I’ve used this event as a reason to wax over the ordinariness of our marriage or to tell you why my husband is my hero (much to his discomfort). By now, you pretty much know all there is to know about us . . . we’re not exactly Buzz-feed material.

However, I’m sad to say, there are still volumes to be written about double-digit anniversaries, because successful marriages are becoming increasingly rare in this fast-paced, me-first society. That is not to boast about “making it,” because, frankly, I sorta’ stumbled my way here. Given that I spend at least 70 percent of my time living in my own head and the rest judging with surprise that which has transpired while I was gone, I easily could have stormed away at many junctures along this merry adventure. I hung in there because I’m too lazy to cook and I can’t do math and Jerry is a master of both. I think he hung in there because I make him laugh—usually unintentionally.

Marriage is easy. All you have to do is say “I do,” sign the papers and ride off into the sunset. There ends the romance novel. Then comes love. Choosing to love, day after day, despite muddy footprints on clean floors, arguments on Christmas morning, less than angelic children, bounced checks, cars with mysterious dents, flannel pjs, temper tantrums, and all the other unromantic cogs that jam themselves into the wheel of bliss, now that’s the hard part.

I keep a reminder of what I believe is real love close to my heart. It came from an interview with the late Jessica Tandy and her husband Hume Cronyn, who were married 52 years. When asked the secret to a happy marriage, they replied in unison, “Frequent separations and partial deafness,” then smiled at each other in that all-knowing way. In case you missed it, the “real love” part is in the knowing look. I’ve always considered them the ideal couple. After Jessica passed, Hume compared living without her to being a quadriplegic.

My image of Jessica and Hume can only remain pristine as long as I never look too closely into their lives. I’ve learned enough about them to know they had place in their home called “the sulking room,” where one could retreat when they couldn’t stand another minute in the other’s company. I’m not saying a room like that would get much use in my own home, but I think I’d visit there a time or two.


Mom and Dad–A story with many twists and turns

So, how do we know what a good marriage should look like? My parents’ marriage lasted nearly 30 years, until my father passed away at 64. Those of us nine children who spent any amount of time with them in those final years would have called it an unhappy marriage, judging from the tears, the tiredness and the brokenness we witnessed. However, as I delve into old letters, I’m seeing traces of a different story, which I hope to share with my siblings one day soon. We’ll never know for sure, but, come on…nine kids?


Never met a more gentle soul than my Old Poop of a Grandfather

My maternal grandparents were married almost 50 years. To her dying days, she called him the Old Poop. I never quite knew what to make of that, nor did I know for sure whether they were happy. They spent every minute of their 20-plus retirement years together. If ever a couple needed a sulking room…

Truth is, there is no perfect marriage, only imperfect people trying to live up to the ideals and values they’ve set for themselves and to honor their chosen mate as best they can with the imperfect tools they’ve been given. We can emulate our parents and grandparents, but without knowledge of what they endured off stage, it’s like reading every third page of a novel. Not the best how-to manual.

However, there is a perfect love. We see that in Jesus, who put others before himself and sacrificed for the greater good when the situation called for it. He showed us how to love, and, when we’re not being obstinate, it’s easy to see how loving His way can build up a marriage into the rewarding, blessed union God intended it to be. It’s something to strive for. I confess that I have, I occasionally, I often usually miss the mark, but I see my failures as blessing my husband with an opportunity to wield another useful marriage-building tool: forgiveness.

All kidding aside, I do take great delight in my marriage and my sweet husband, and I see him as a wonderful gift from God that means more to me with each passing year. I look forward to sharing with him the joys and trials that lie ahead, because I cannot imagine going through them with anyone else.

Jerry, you are my love, my rock, my steadfast friend, and my mathematician. And who knows, play your cards right and one day I might tell our grandchildren that you’re also my Old Poop. Here’s to 33 more…and a sulking room.


Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life, and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. –Ecclesiastes 9:9

What the Habukkuk is Going On? The April Fool’s Antidote

25 Apr


“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I might have.” —Abraham Lincoln

I had to take a few weeks off to regroup after my recent blog about April fools. Not that it doesn’t reflect my true feelings, but because I diverted from my mission. Let me assure you, all you wonderful people who sent me encouraging messages, although I’m frustrated with the direction this nation is taking, my spirit is still at peace.

Being at peace does not enable me to close my eyes to what’s happening in this nation. It stirs me to act, using the only weapons God has chosen to armed me with: words and prayer.  Sometimes I feel as if I’m running through a forest of sleeping people, trying to wake them so they can flee an approaching tidal wave. But after posting my April Fool’s blog, I remembered, that’s not my job. My job is to remind people that there is light in the darkness for those who seek it. That there is hope, and love, and peace in this nation, regardless of what we see in front of us.

So this week, I present the April Fool’s antidote: light.  It’s an increasingly rare commodity, but it’s something we all need in order to keep hope in our hearts. There’s light in each of us that we’ve been given to share, and when we do, it becomes contagious.

Sometimes it takes darkness to bring out the light. I’m reminded of the prophet Habukkuk, an oft overlooked character in the Bible with a heart for his country’s fools. Habukkuk became fed up with God for not “fixing” what was wrong with Israel. He accused God of taking a rather heartless stance against the Israelites, refusing to hear their cries for help.

God didn’t reply with sweetness, but basically said, “Habukkuk, my boy, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

The rest of the short story involves Habukkuk waging a futile argument to save his people despite their foolishness, and trying to show God the folly of his plan to have the Babylonians conquer the land—those stinking Babylonians who are even worse sinners than we are, thank you very much. But God assured him the Babylonians were on their way to enslave Israel. Eventually, the prophet realized he had only one recourse: trust God, regardless of his apparent senility.

So, Habukkuk looked for the light. He reviewed all the things God had done in the past for his people, from freeing the slaves living in bondage in Egypt to bringing them into a land of their own. And he reviewed all the promises God had made and brought to fruition. Then, despite all desolation and ugliness around him, Habakkuk vowed to continue praising God for his sovereignty and his goodness, and to trust God’s plan.

His spirit was at peace, even though the world was not.

That same peace is available to all of us. While it’s quite possible our country is about to suffer horribly for decades of bad decision-making and a tendency to race away from God, his people can still be at peace by remembering there’s more going on than what we see, and God’s plan for us is good. Review all God has already done in your life, and all the promises he has made. Not once did he promise that our lives will be easy, or that our loved ones will not suffer, or that the world will not crumble around us. But God has told you he knows what he’s doing, and you can trust him. He’s with you throughout all these troubles, and he’s going to bring you through it. But there’s more.

Once you find this peace, figure out what your job is in spreading it to others. Use whatever weapons God has given you to beat back the darkness. Be one of what former president George H.W. Bush referred to as the “thousand points of light.”

I thought of this when I heard a story on the radio this morning about a judge who sentenced a repeat-offender alcoholic and veteran to jail—and then spent the night with him. The judge, a fellow veteran, recognized the signs of PTSD, and while he had a legal obligation to sentence the man, he didn’t want him to be alone in that cell. Read about it here: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/n-judge-jail-vet-article-1.2612232

So, as the antidote to April Fools, let me tell you about a few other points of light I’ve heard about recently. People who understand how to beat back the darkness. As you read, ponder this: what are you doing with your light?

. . . A restaurant owner in Kochi India put a refrigerator outside her business so the homeless could help themselves. She kept the fridge stocked with unused food from her restaurant and it remained unlocked around the clock. Other restaurant owners started adding to the supplies. A steady stream of visitors partake of the food, but they each take only what they need. http://www.presstv.com/Detail/2016/04/03/458925/India-Minu-Pauline-refrigerator-homeless/

. . .Two boys from Illinois helped a homeless man get out of the cold and talked one of their fathers into helping purchase a train ticket so he could visit his son.  Two years later the man sent $10,000 to their high school to say thank you. http://abcnews.go.com/US/high-school-students-good-deed-spurs-10000-donation/story?id=38006234

. . .A café owner, when approached by a homeless man for food, offered him a job instead. The man, who couldn’t get work because of his criminal background, is quickly becoming one of her best workers. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/minnesota-cafe-owner-shows-homeless-man-job-not-the-door/


Now, THAT’s a man of light

. . .A powerlifting former Marine befriended a 12-year-old girl with a rare disease and is now spending all his efforts to increase awareness of her disease so others do not have to suffer. http://distractify.com/news/2016/04/06/powerlifter-girl-bff

. . .A young Houston girl with terminal brain cancer was given a Make-a-Wish grant. Instead of using it for herself, she asked them to make a well in Sierra Leon so children there could have clean drinking water. Her act touched singer Matthew West and inspired a song on his new album.  http://www.breathecast.com/articles/matthew-west-young-girl-brain-cancers-story-inspired-song-new-21755/

I’d love to add more to this list, with stories of courageous people who refuse to be dimmed by the world. In fact, as my contribution to fighting back the darkness, I’ve decided to write a monthly “Stand in the Light” post. But I’ll need your help. If you know someone who is a light to others, I’d like to write about that person. Or, send Rosefitz.portraitwriter@gmail.com a link to your favorite light-filled story, I will share it with my, er…, 49 or so readers. Perhaps we can inspire people to start their own fires…

We’re all in this together, people. Let’s light up the world.


I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
– Habakkuk 3:16-18


Chocolate Muscles and Frozen Peas: Love is Complicated

13 Jan

Thirty-two years ago, on a Friday the 13th, something wonderful happened when I agreed to drive over to the Justice of the Peace in South Kingstown, RI, with Jerry Fitzsimmons. How could I resist, considering his oh-so-captivating suggestion:

“Do you wanna?”

Why, yes, I did.

Not that it was a rash decision. We’d been engaged for a couple of years, but our plans for a traditional wedding had been repeatedly thwarted by military orders and a life-altering car accident. I wonder sometimes if we’d have gone through with the ceremony if someone had told us the date. That I wore black, the only dress I’d packed for our trip to my parents’ home, only added to the surreal situation, as did the attire of our witnesses, who stood at the opposite ends of decorum’s spectrum – one of my brothers looking spiffy in his Marine Corps dress blues, and the other, a carpenter just off a roofing job, slumped over the justice’s podium wearing dirty, ripped jeans and smelling as if he took his manual labor seriously.

Nevertheless, we took the plunge together and headed off into the world of…well, something a lot less romantic than the phrase “wedded bliss” should be allowed to connote.

In fact, our first years were more like weeded bliss. We each had to compromise more than we might have wanted to, and our compromises were usually less a result of gallantry than argument-induced concessions. He’s a practical, hard-working, methodical, technically proficient detail man and I’m a somewhat flighty, spontaneous, irresponsible, artistic dreamer.

Somehow we survived. We made it through the adjustment years, the parenting young children years, the “what if I missed something better out there” years, the “our children are screwed up and it’s all your fault” years, and even the (still ongoing, but let’s call it a phase) years of, “if she rips open one more bag of frozen peas like that I’m going to give her a frozen peas experience she’s not likely to forget.”

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I had no idea what love is when we married. In fact, if we had relied on love as we defined it in our early years to get us through, we’d never have made it. I formed my idea of love by reading silly romance novels in my 20s, and I think he formed his by watching shoot-‘em-up action movies. Love is not summed up that easily. Were it so, I could have stopped looking when I read, “Her heartbeat quickened and her pulse raced until she felt the crimson heat flush clear up to her cheek bones.” And he would be striving to become the hero in the final scene of a battle saga: “He hoisted the BGM-71 TOW missile launcher effortlessly onto his shoulder, grunting in her direction, ‘C’mere,’ and she followed dutifully, staring wide-eyed at his bulging muscles as if they were made of priceless chocolate.”

Nowadays, our action scene is a little less breath-taking, as in, “He’d just settled down with a nice cold beer in front of the TV to watch ‘Braveheart’ yet again, and she, in those dratted flannel pajamas, had just pulled out the nighttime sleep-aid-enhanced pain medicine and was heading upstairs to find her book, when they turned to each other and said in unison… ‘I thought YOU were picking Charles up from youth group!”

It’s the scene afterward that speaks volumes about love.

We finally got our church wedding on our 25th anniversary, and it was a special moment that solidified, but didn’t change what we have. Our relationship still isn’t perfect. Most likely, I will always tear little gnaw-holes in the frozen peas bag, holes just big enough for eight or nine peas to escape at a time, and he will always tease the cat just as it curls up to snooze on my lap, forcing me to give him that look. I will always cry when I’m tired, and he will spend the rest of his life trying to figure out whether to try to hold me or let me cry it out. (What? Help him figure it out? Are you nuts? Where’s the fun in that?)


A glimpse of the younger, bolder, tougher, but not-so-wise years.

You see, what makes our relationship work is that we’ve become as close as two friends can be without some strange and awkward surgical procedure, and we’ve learned so much about each other that we can’t imagine being with anyone else. We see each other as a gift from God and value that gift as more precious than gold. Who else but he would know I’d get more joy out of the pair of purple “porcupine” socks I found in my stocking this Christmas than any amount of sparkling jewelry? And my joy comes from knowing that, not only does he “get” me, but if I said, even once, that I wanted the sparkling jewelry, he would have moved heaven and earth to get me some.

Because love is not about things, or feelings, or what sort of wedding ceremony binds a couple, or about always being right, or ever being right, for that matter. After 32 years I’m beginning to understand, love is about striving for second place. If I put him first, and he puts me first, well now, we just might make it another 32 years.

Besides, I’ve improved our chances by replacing his copy of “Braveheart” with “Pride and Prejudice.” Next time I cry, he can use that to figure me out…

I love you Jerry. You will always be my hero.


“No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”  – 1 John 4:12

To My Hero, on the Occasion of Our Anniversary

13 Jan

I’d been on mess duty about a week before I noticed him. Really noticed him. At the time, women Marines made up only four percent of the Marine Corps population, so it’s not that much of a stretch to think I didn’t notice yet another hopeful face in the sea of men at Camp Lejeune.

Such a dashing young man...

Such a dashing young man…

Jerry was a line cook. He’d made me a cheese omelet once or twice. As he tells the story, he joked and smiled as he cooked—all he wanted was for me to make eye contact. I did not.

I had no idea when I received orders to report for 30 days of mess duty that they would change my life. The work itself was rather mundane. As part of my responsibilities, I checked identification cards at the front doors during mealtimes, which also meant doing some minor record-keeping in the office. For me mess duty was an annoyance; for Jerry it was a 30-day window of opportunity.

Every afternoon during a break time between meals I’d settle at a quiet corner table with a cup of hot tea and a book. Soon he started to join me, and I set my book aside in favor of a daily chat. I didn’t learn until years later that he wasn’t exactly a fan of hot tea.

Then came the day I misplaced the cashier keys, and a disciplinary-minded sergeant hid them to teach me a lesson. I probably would have gotten into a lot of trouble. However, Jerry saw where he hid them and snuck them back to me just as I’d noticed they were gone. The sergeant came into the office grinning like a Marvel Comic villain.

“So…are you missing anything?”

“Why no, I don’t believe I am.” I pulled the keys from my pocket and opened the cashier’s box in front of him. The look on his face was priceless.

Jerry has been my hero ever since that day. We married 31 years ago today, on Friday the 13th at a Justice of the Peace office in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. I wore black because that’s all I had with me.

We survived the first 19 years of marriage on our own, despite gale-force winds and buffeting storms. We almost didn’t make it.

Then God became part of our lives and helped us through the next 11 years. I highly recommend the “with-God” approach to marriage. It’s not without storms, but the winds don’t cause near as much damage, and the sunny days are so much more rich and beautiful than I could have ever imagined they would be.

There’s no way I could tell you everything I love about my husband in one meager little blog post. So instead, I’m going to tell you one small story that I carry in my heart because it epitomizes his character. On top of that, I’ll bet he doesn’t even remember this occasion. Why not? Because it concerns an argument, and he never remembers those days once the disagreement passes (sometimes, much to my frustration).

We rarely argue, but on this particular day, it was a major deal, and on a night he had to go to a meeting somewhere. We were giving each other the silent treatment with every subliminal inch of our bodies. Then I remember him putting on his coat and going outside without even kissing me goodbye. (To be fair, I was being petty enough, I probably would have turned my head.)

He came inside, went upstairs for only a second or two, then came back down and left again. I didn’t ask.

An hour later, when I went up to bed, I figured out why he’d come back—to turn my side of the electric blanket on.

He’s like that. All these years later, he’s still my hero. And my rock. And my love. And my best friend. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat—including the buffeting wind days.

Because, yes, I still do.

Happy Anniversary Jerry. Here’s to 31 more.