|Norma Jean and Jan|
Although the past has real weight and meaning to me, my memories are definitely faulty. There are some things I will never forget, but the recollection that burned into my brain long ago may bear little resemblance to what actually transpired. I've learned that in my lifetime, I can recall only a very small bit of it, and when something stands out it is usually because of an emotion that helped to distinguish it from other events.
I remember when Daddy took us on a roller coaster ride. We were both terrified, and I have a strong memory of the two of us screaming in terror while Daddy laughed at our fear. In those days you weren't strapped in; I recall a bar that came across our laps that we gripped, but in those days roller coasters were even more scary! I think I have ridden them only a handful of times since then; I have never enjoyed them. Memory is fascinating. When Norma Jean and I discussed the event, she remembers it very differently than I do, but we both remember being frightened.
There is nobody left alive today who shares those childhood memories with me, except for her. We have spent a lifetime together, but we both went our separate ways, for the most part, after we grew up and left home. When I was a young mother, Norma Jean came to live with us. My husband and I had rented a large home and had room for several people to share it with us. We needed other people to help us make the rent, as I recall. My husband at the time, Derald, also had his friend Pete move in with us. We spent at least one Christmas together in the same house.
It was a very auspicious time in our lives, since this is where Norma Jean met Pete, who ended up being her husband of more than 45 years before he died in 2011. I am now sitting in their home, writing this post in the dark before dawn in the living room where they spent many years. Norma Jean is now a widow, and I live on the other side of the country from her. Although we have kept in touch during most of our lives, the three weeks that I spent here with Norma Jean after Pete died changed our relationship, bringing us much closer than before. Actually, the closeness was always there, but she had become part of another family. When her partner died, her two grown children and the sister she grew up with all converged in Florida to support her.
But then we took up our lives again, and I returned to my own partner; her kids went back to their own lives, and Norma Jean stayed on in Florida in the home she shared with Pete since 1998. Last month I made a decision to come and visit her, to leave drizzly Washington state and enjoy both the Florida sunshine and a visit with my sister.
We spent Thanksgiving with our family in Texas, and Norma Jean and I were together then, but there were all the other family members and we didn't have much time to spend alone. Norma Jean picked me up at the airport this past Friday night, and we will have two entire weeks just to be together.
It's been almost two years since I was here, and the home has changed significantly. Pete is everywhere, but not in the same way. His outstanding artwork graces the walls; she has a living frame (where pictures rotate constantly) of their lives together over decades that is displayed prominently in the living room. But what was his office is now a spare bedroom. She says it is now sparsely furnished compared to what it was like when he was alive. He had his computer setup in there and surrounded himself so that everything was at his fingertips. He spent many hours in there every day. Now it is totally different.
Norma Jean's home reflects her inherent neatness. Everything has a place, and the feeling of the home is one of serenity. She shares her home with her little dog Icarus, a nine-pound Papillon. I'll share more about him next Sunday. Yesterday was a beautiful SUNNY day, and as I look at the weather forecast for the coming week, there will be many more days spent in the Florida sunshine together. On Monday I'll go with her to the YMCA, where I can sign up for ten days free of charge (as a current YMCA member in another part of the country). Then I'll be able to swim in the outdoor pool and attend her yoga and Pilates classes with her.
We are busy making senior memories together, at least as long as I can remember them. We have laughed at the number of times I walk from one room to the next, forgetting what I was going to say, or where I was going. It's part of my life these days. It's so nice to be sharing our memories together, and making new ones.