Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, and as usual, my thoughts turn to love and romance. Now love is very hard to define, as evidenced by the number of poets, songwriters, novelists, essayists, scientists and plain old men and women who have attempted to over the centuries.
But romance, that should be easy, right? So I started thinking about what I think is romantic. In high school and college, my measure of what was romantic was guided entirely by what my girlfriends thought. By college, I had at least begun to secretly think that “Minnie” and “Henry” having as their song, “Lollipops and Roses,” and Henry actually bringing Minnie lollipops and roses was a bit over-the-top for me (gag). On the other hand, I didn’t find watching old westerns in a squalid downtown apartment like “Gert” very romantic, either. So I was moving at the pace of a pre-Global Warming glacier towards having an original thought of my own. I knew I should have been thrilled when one boyfriend made an elaborate Valentine’s package for me which included a poem about his being Polish, but I’d started to cool on him anyway, so it was just something to stick in a box in the closet and forget.
After college, in my very brief time of singleness, I thought dinner in a nice restaurant was really romantic, because I didn’t have enough money to go out myself. I found guys with sports cars romantic, until I got to know them. I thought Beethoven’s Für Elise was romantic because John played it on the piano just for me. I thought married life must be romantic, because being single was sort of a drag most of the time. (It wasn’t until later that I discovered that going directly from a family of eight to a dormitory had made me into a person who was afraid to be alone.) I thought Willie and the Bumblebees and North Country Band were romantic, because it felt so good to dance to their tunes.
I thought a wedding would be romantic until it came to planning it, wearing a hot dress all day, trying to smile for eight hours straight (I didn’t) and all that stuff. I thought a honeymoon would be romantic until I got sick. Then I thought being a newlywed would be romantic until I found out I didn’t like pinching pennies, having to work longer hours than my husband and eating corned beef hash out of a can (even an egg on top didn’t save it). My romantic husband who used to play the piano for me laughed at the movie “Love Story.” (It wasn’t until years later I told him he was right to laugh, but maybe not when I was crying.) And, he bought me either Jean Naté after bath stuff at the drugstore or a hunting knife at Graham and McGuire’s Sporting Goods store for a Christmas gift.
Finally we started our business and had a baby, and I was too busy and tired to worry about romantic. Although it was pretty romantic sitting on our back porch watching the sun come up after putting the paper to bed. There was something romantic about holding our new born children and knowing they were made with love. There were other times — a trip on the Mississippi, a night in New Orleans, the sky in Italy, the rain in Ireland, a fire on a sandbar — when romance presented itself as contentment and peace.
Every now and then I still find a song that I find romantic. John has overcome his aversion to romance and dancing enough times over forty years that he gets a pass. Now I understand that he doesn’t bring me chocolates because they aren’t good for me. He brings me flowers when Patrick sells him Rotary Roses. He shops at the jewelry store for special occasions.
The truth is, I am not a very romantic person in the romantic comedy sort of way. I much prefer a sonnet to a present. The most romantic moments in my life have been totally unplanned and surprising. I was listening to a Willie Murphy CD in my car this morning, and found these lines in his song “Sometimes Dreams Come True” that I wish I had written.
Sometimes dreams fade, sometimes they grow.
Visions of love, well, they come and go…
Call it love, call it fate, or a gift from above
Our gift became a lifetime of love.