“It was simple prophecy.” My mother used to say when describing both her vision and the prediction that she would marry my father the first time she laid eyes on him.
“I could see it…” her hand opened in front of her as if she were showing me a painting, then with eyes closed, her tone low enough to mistake for a whisper, she’d continue, “the pipe, the slippers, the lit fireplace. I saw it all, and I just knew.”
After, with a crinkle of her nose, her eyes would reopen and land on me. I loved their story. I could hear her tell it over and over again and never tire.
Today it makes me ache for missing her.
These past days have found me sifting through letters, correspondence between my parents that began in February of 1950, not long after their chance meeting in snow.
With World War II firmly planted behind them, the lives that the war had previously put on hold were as wide open as a clear blue sky. There they were, standing in line, waiting to catch the lift that would carry them to the top. I try to picture it—young men and women with their lives in front of them, rosy cheeks, long wood skis—a renewed sense of hope in their hearts.
Ten years earlier, in 1940, the single chairlift my parents waited for had made its debut and was billed as the longest and highest in the world. It reported to carry 200 skiers per hour; clearly, my mother had time to hatch a plan.
First to ascend the mountain, my dad in his oblivion, rode the single chair lift up, up, up, unaware he was the main character in a story not yet told. Chairs behind him, with the clarity that comes from knowing, sat mom.
With the wind at his back, he disembarked, a couple of pulls from his poles, and he was at the top turn of the nosedive in Stowe, Vermont. Maybe he leaned over and tightened his bindings or took a moment to warm his hands, whatever it was; she had time to spy him yet again. And as she pushed herself from the chair, eyes trained on him, she did not let him out of her sight.
Off he went with a racers speed and zero fear. Behind him, as if her very existence depended upon it, she tore after him, faster and faster until, well, until she could crash into him. And crash into him she did.
Over they tumbled, snow inside their boots, poles askew, bindings loosened.
“WOW! Where did you come from?” I imagine him asking her as he brushed himself clean.
The story goes that her response was this: “Have you a handkerchief?”
Even as I type, I find my eyes rolling. After all that?…‘Might you have a handkerchief?’ Only my mother.
He dug into his pocket and retrieved the now sodden cloth.
“Well, I’d offer it to you if it hadn’t just become useless!” he said with a boyish grin while holding it out to her as if proof that he’d just been run over and there was nothing dry to give.
From there, they admired each other’s skis.
“Say, I like the holly you painted on your skis. That’s just nifty!”
“Why, thanks, aren’t you swell to notice, what’s that you have written on yours? It looks to be German…”
I imagine him, in all of his splendor singing a bar to her, then, like the wind, he was gone.
When she returned home, she told her mother she’d met a guy. She knew his nickname was Steb, he was a student at MIT, and he was a member of their ski team.
A week or so later, my father placed #35 in a downhill race and # 36 as a jumper. My grandmother spotted the results in the newspaper. And that is how my mother came to know, Steb was short for Stebbins.
Without delay, she knit him a stocking hat adorned with a tassel and bell. She mailed it to: Stebbins, c/o MIT Ski Team, Cambridge, Massachusetts, with a note enclosed.
She provided her return address, to which he sent a two-page letter of thanks. And as I read the words, I hear him, albeit a much younger version, but he is there in all his youth and enthusiasm.
In the past, I had likened my dad to a percussion band instrument bellowing above the strings. When excited, his energy was purely contagious.
As I sit with all their letters around me, I find I am utterly grateful. Unfolded in the countless written pages is a story of courtship, falling in love, the beginnings of a marriage that would span over fifty years.
Theirs is a story that was knit together first by magic and later by love. To borrow one of my father’s many axioms: Lucky me, lucky us.