Love: Expect the Unexpected
At 79, my grandmother got a second chance at love. What that taught me about my first chance
“Well this is unexpected,” I murmur with a touch of consternation as my grandmother pulls down our driveway in a gleaming silver Mercedes driven by her beau. She looks like a million dollars, wearing a favorite blouse I’ve lent her for the occasion, her hair painstakingly curled by me. “Usually I’m the one going out on the town while she waits up for me.”
Love: Has it Passed Me By?
I sigh and turn back to the house where a bowl of Raisin Bran and a lonely Friday night watching TV await me.
A newly minted college graduate, I’m working a dead-end job and nursing a broken heart. My fiancé ended our engagement just as I was picking out a wedding dress. Future plans in shambles, I moved back to my sleepy midwestern town after graduation and into my childhood home with my beloved Grandma Sally. I feel like a racehorse who burst from the gate only to stumble at the first turn. I now call bingo for senior citizens at a retirement center and try desperately to hold a full-blown existential crisis at bay.
But while my life seems to be over prematurely, Grandma Sally’s is just beginning anew. She’s spent the past 14 years nursing my grandfather as he succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease. It was a long, brutal battle against a disease that always conquers. Now at 79 she is widowed and strangely free.
A few months after my grandfather’s death, an old friend called to ask her to dinner. The widowed husband of her late best friend, Dale is a puckish, balding man with twinkly blue eyes. They’ve known each other since high school and even starred opposite one another in a school play. That first evening they burst into song in our kitchen; they still remember the parts they both played. It feels like destiny.
Soon Dale is whisking her away for dinner at the country club and weekends cruising the lake at his summer home. She borrows all my cute clothes; I curl her hair and draw on her eyebrows. It’s like a senior citizen Cinderella story.
“We’re just friends,” she insists, blushing a telltale pink. I’m happy for her but nervous too. Everything around me is changing once more, my world tilting. I can’t seem to find steady ground.
One evening in December, Dale kisses her under the porch light while I wait up for her. By January they are engaged and planning a May wedding.
“At our age, there’s no time to waste,” she quips, then adds with a touch of delight: “Love is very unexpected. You never know where it will lead you.”
My Grandmother Gets A Second Chance
At their sunny garden wedding, I serve punch as they dance to Frank Sinatra. I watch them, a little teary-eyed. It’s such a beautiful second chapter in her love story. It renews my hope that perhaps there will be a second chapter for me, too. At 22, I can only see the endings. I don’t yet have the wisdom to understand that often in those painful endings are the seeds of new beginnings.
Then they are off, traveling the world, a globetrotting pair of octogenarian newlyweds. They watch the sunrise over the Taj Mahal, climb the steps to the Parthenon, cruise the Mediterranean, and explore crumbling castles in Scotland.
“We’re doing everything I ever dreamed of doing,” Grandma Sally tells me after they return from a trip to Dubai.
Her adventurous spirit fuels my own courage. I quit calling bingo and apply to graduate school. I move to Chicago. It feels so liberating, this unanticipated second start, so full of possibility. I love my studies, the Art Institute, my tiny basement apartment. And then one day a new student walks into class, leather satchel slung over his shoulder, an English driving cap perched on his head.
He looks so interesting. I’m intrigued.
“He’s a world traveler,” a classmate informs me later. “A local legend. He’s been to 50 countries.”
I learn he’s a former student in my program, just back from Africa and auditing our class.
Dale and Grandma Sally continue their adventures. As I prep for my first date with the enigmatic world traveler, I receive an email. “We have crossed the Arctic circle,” Dale writes, “Sally thinks the sled dog puppies are cute.”
I Begin My Own Adventure
Over the next several years as I finish graduate school, the newlyweds make the most of every opportunity, celebrating each day they have together. My own love story blooms, beautiful and unexpected. We also marry in May, then circle the globe, starting our own adventure.
Seven years after their wedding, at the age of 87, Dale sends their final travel update. “We are halfway through our tour of Antarctica. Sally loves the penguins. This will be our last big trip. We are settling down to quieter pursuits. But first, we will go out in the Zodiac to see the glaciers calve in the morning.”
I read the email as I cradle my infant son in my arms and watch the sunrise over the Danube River. My husband wraps his arms around me and kisses the top of my head, standing with me at the tall window of our elegantly shabby apartment in Budapest. “What are you thinking about?” he asks.
“Grandma Sally,” I reply, feeling a swell of gratitude and affection for my grandmother. “She was right. Love is unexpected in the best possible way.”
I stop, marveling at this single moment of my life, and at the thousands of moments that led up to it. I’m suffused with a sense of wonder at the child I hold in my arms, at the man who is holding me in his, at the path my life has taken. “You never know where it will lead you.”
*Note from the author. Grandma Sally and Dale turned 92 this spring and are still in love and having adventures, albeit at a slower pace. They claim they’ve been on a 12-year honeymoon and continue to celebrate each day together.
Rachel Linden is the author of novels including her newest release The Enlightenment of Bees, as well as an international aid worker whose adventures in over fifty countries around the world provide excellent grist for her writing. Visit her online at rachellinden.com; Instagram: rachellinden_writer; Facebook: authorRachellinden.