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August 9 – 16
Boompsy Daisy: An Untold Love Story
by Mac Perry
My grandfather, Bill McLaughlin, lied about his age and enlisted in the army when he was sixteen. He was tall, and we were at war, so they didn’t ask too many questions before putting a gun in his hand and telling him to go kill some Japanese. By the time he came back, he’d collected a silver star and an untranslatable silk flag off a dead Japanese soldier (post-war, McArthur eliminated 4,000 characters from the Japanese alphabet). He also contracted malaria and had lost most of his hair, body weight, and hearing.
Growing up, Bill always entertained me with stories from his time in the Philippines. While I would slay him at gin rummy, my grandmother, Patricia, would chide him from her perch by the stove. Slowly sipping his red wine, he’d chuckle at her admonishments, wondering out loud what I had in my hand. “I know you like those aces,” he would say, “So I’m not giving you any.” Still, I would manage to work at least one ace into a run and lay down my cards at a choice moment, usually as a grand finale at the end of one of his stories. Crystal blue eyes rung with cataracts sparkled with pride, as he’d raise his shaggy eyebrows, causing his big ears to wiggle on either side of a bald, patchy head. Then his mouth would open wide on a wheezing exhalation, before laughter finally escaped with a deep resonating sound.
“She’s done it again, Pat! The Queen of Rummy reigns.” Pat would reply, “Of course, she did. What were you expecting from a granddaughter of mine?” Inevitably, the night would wrap up with a tipsy argument about the accurate definition of a word, before one of them gave in and pulled out the old, oversized, leather bound Webster’s Dictionary.
There are a lot of stories I could tell you about my grandfather. But the one I want to share, is the story of how he met my grandmother, a woman he would remain happily married to for over fifty years.
When my grandfather came back from the war, he went home with his buddy, Francis; “Red,” they called him, because of the color of his hair. According to Bill, it was late afternoon when they arrived at Red’s house, his sisters and his parents waiting on them. As Bill crossed the threshold of the front door, he looked up the staircase to see my grandmother, Red’s oldest sibling, standing on the landing.
“She was a vision,” he’d tell me, selecting a card from the discard pile. “Raven black hair, dark brown eyes, tall…She was an exotic beauty.” Without a word of introduction, Pat descended the stairs, threw her arms around his neck, and kissed him on the lips. “The tips of his ears turned red” Pat would add, clanging pots over the stove. “He just looked so skinny and pathetic standing in the door like that. I felt sorry for him.”
Later that night, they went to a dance. They grooved to a song called “Boompsy Daisy,” which required bumping hip to hip. Bill said Pat “boomped” him across the room, and he was officially smitten after that.
My grandmother, on the other hand, eased into their love. She’d graduated with honors from Girl’s Latin School and was debating college when she became an office manager at the Navy shipyard, standing in for a man off fighting the war. Being the oldest, her wages went to paying for the college tuition of her younger brother and sister instead.
According to Bill, Pat was never short on admirers, and he had steep competition. Pat would roll her eyes and claim he was exaggerating, then shoot him a jealous remark about a blond girl with “big beautiful doe eyes,” as Bill described them.
“More like big dumb cow eyes,” Pat would mutter, sipping her chardonnay. Then she’d lean back against the kitchen counter in her orange apron, the words, “Leave me alone, I’m having a crisis,” printed across the front. The look she would give Bill over the rim of her glass would be one of both reproach and adoration; she never quite forgave him for making her love him so much.
Bill worked second shift on the railroad while he applied to colleges on the G.I. Bill. Pat would wait for him in the living room with tea and cookies, watching the tall grandfather clock tick the hours away until midnight, when he would come visit her after work. Then they’d talk until two in the morning about everything from politics to religion.
“But mostly, we argued about words,” Bill would say, as he tapped the leather bound volume in front of him. They would get into especially spirited debates about the definition of “wind-sucker.”
Pat realized she was in love with Bill, when he had to go out of town for little over a week. “I don’t know how it happened exactly,” she’d say, “but midnight rolled around, and I would be pacing back and forth, watching the clock. One of the days he was gone, I’d even gone so far as to prepare the tea before I remembered he wasn’t coming. I guess I just realized I missed him. And that must have meant I loved him.”
Bill’s proposal was as romantic as my grandmother’s revelations. Walking her to the door after a date, he said in passing, “Well, I guess we can address that once we are married.”
“We are getting married, aren’t we?”
“Oh, oh, oh, well…I guess so.”
At this point in the story, Pat would slam her glass on the counter-top and wipe her hands on her apron. “I never, in all my life, have said, ‘Oh, oh, oh.’ You made that up. I said, ‘I guess so.’” Then she’d gesture at me, “Can you imagine me saying such a thing? Like a fainting lady; ‘Oh, oh, oh.’ In your dreams pal.”
Bill’s nose and cheeks would be red with intoxication at this point, his face alight with amusement. He’d raise his hand to his mouth and lean into me, “She said, ‘oh, oh, oh.”’
Pat wore a white business suit to their wedding with a small, pinned hat. She was two years older than Bill. They had eight healthy children. On his deathbed, (to paraphrase) Bill swore to Pat it had always been her, only her, and he still loved her as much as he ever had.
After Bill died, and Pat had descended into Alzheimer’s/dementia, I was her caretaker for a period of time. Every night, I’d lay awake listening to her cry for him, “How could you have left me alone like this? Why did you leave me? I’m so alone. You could have at least had the decency to take me with you. I love you, you bastard. I love you so much.”
Before that, I’d had my doubts. I’d wondered if she’d been roped into marriage as a result of circumstances. I wondered if Bill had ever had affairs, having ended up a traveling salesman for most their marriage. I don’t think either of those things anymore.
I was with my grandmother the night she died, on Halloween. It was me and my aunt, Mary. Before we accepted the night shift, the room had been filled with family members including children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. My grandmother struggled to yank out the morphine drip, her eyes half open and unseeing, her mind all but gone. My aunt, Tricia, started singing, “Bye Bye Blackbird,” Pat’s favorite song. We all chimed in. The sound resonated down the hallway, and nurses and orderlies crowded the door to watch us sing goodbye.
After everyone left, and Mary went to the bathroom for a minute, I whispered in my grandmother’s ear. “Everyone will be fine,” I said. “You can go to him now. It’s okay to let go.” She died shortly thereafter.
The next morning, at the break of dawn, a swarm of ladybugs nearly curtained the windows, to the point where nurses and family members commented on the oddity. I looked up Ladybugs as an animal totem. They represent an opportunity to release your fears and return to feeling trusting and happy. They also indicate that something you thought you lost, would be making its way back into your life. I like to think the ladybugs were humming a tune to “Boompsy Daisy.”♥
Mac Perry is a Creative Arts Therapist, adjunct professor, and aspiring author of urban fantasy. When she is not corralling her three-year-old son, she is blogging and working on her passion’s pursuit. To learn more, check out her web site at www.macperry.com, or her blog at www.macperrysblog.blogspot.com. This article first appeared on Mac’s blog on October 4th, 2013.