Does Love Need Prompting? Love Prompts!

In 2014 I wrote a post called “Brown-Chicken-Brown-Cow” (say it like you’re imitating the soundtrack to a ’70s porn film) in which I exposed my first sexual encounter, one that could have ended in disaster. I was lucky.

Many decades later and with 33+ years of marriage to the same guy, I’m pleased to say my luck has not run out. I’ll soon publish a novella called The Hare, Raising Truth about love and lust and lucky charms, and I’ve dedicated it to my husband. He is, truly, my lucky charm (oh, stop your gagging. It’s true). It’s a creepy story, but Mike said it’s my best writing yet. Yeah, he read it under sedation awaiting surgery, but I’m quite certain it didn’t affect his judgment at all. (read more for quick writing prompts about love!) Continue reading

SuperMum!

I jotted notes about my Mum’s major life transition shortly after Dad died just two years ago, but never got around to finishing my story. After my phone call with her on September 10th, however, I knew it was time to brush off and finish what I started.

Patricia and Charles "Pat and Charlie" Bernier

Patricia and Charles–“Pat and Charlie” Bernier

I don’t believe Mum ever made the transition into retirement when Dad hit the magic number most men in his generation aimed for and stopped working. Theirs was a different generation, one in which women were transitioning into the workplace more frequently, though they were never treated as equals with their male peers. I don’t think it’s particularly funny that we’re still debating the merits of equal pay for equal work in 2015, but I’m certain it was never an issue Mum complained about.

She worked as a Main Office secretary at my high school, and from what I can gather, she was the best. She could type 120 accurate words per minute on a clickity-clackity typewriter and didn’t need to be told how to punctuate. She was home by 4 p.m. and never failed to put a scrumptious dinner on the table for her five daughters.

Susan, Laurel, Charlene, Carol, and Christine

Susan, Laurel, Charlene, Carol, and Christine, the Bernier 5! Too bad we didn’t sing…

Dad worked for AT&T and was home by 5:30 p.m., ready for his scotch and newspaper.

LTC Charles Bernier

LTC Charles Bernier

He and Mum would sit in the living room together, Mum with her glass of Sherry, Dad with his Dewars, and they would catch up, I suppose, on their day’s events. I say “I suppose” because we kids either knew enough to respect their time together, or we were likely more interested in ourselves. In any case, it was their routine.

After 40 years of working both in the corporate world and in the Army Reserves—retiring as a full Colonel—Dad officially retired, a word that doesn’t mean the same thing today as it did then. And Mum finally retired from her still-full bottle of Wite-Out. But while Dad transitioned into a life of leisure, spending more time watching news and completing crossword puzzles, Mum transitioned from taking care of the school’s principal to taking care of Dad.

Mum is a nurturer and thrives on being needed. Dad had no reason to complain about his status as numero uno in the household once they married off daughter #5, so a new routine was established quickly.

From my perspective, Dad got the better end of the deal, he being the one who would be cared for and pampered—willing and lovingly by Mum—until his last day, over 20 years after his retirement from the workplace. When Dad died, Mum was faced with reevaluating her decades-long routine.

Theirs was a love and devotion that spanned 65 years.

Theirs was a love and devotion that spanned 65 years.

Watching her as she has transitioned over the past two years as a widow has taught me much about this woman, 30 years my elder, who is as much a part of me as my own sagging skin.

I will share more observations, and the phone call, in my next post.

Laurel McHargue / Laurel’s email / Leadville Laurel Facebook page / Laurel’s Twitter

Tribute to our Dad

When I look out to all of you gathered here to honor Dad, I wonder if there is really anything I could say that you wouldn’t already know. My family decided that the favorite daughter should speak today, however, and so I am here . . . speaking on behalf of all five of Dad’s favorite daughters and his most favorite girl of all, our Mom. They didn’t tell me how much time I had to speak, but as Dad is in no hurry today, I hope that you will bear with me.

Time is such a nebulous thing. We spend it, pass it, curse it, measure it, share it, and yet it remains something we can never grasp.

My sisters and I have spent a lifetime hearing how lucky we are to have the kind of family that people wanted to be adopted into, and whenever I hear the word “lucky” now, I remember Dad’s instant response.

“It’s not luck,” he would say, joking about much hard work it took to raise five daughters, however perfect we were. No, not luck. He would call it a blessing . . . and lots of hard work!

From the time we were all very young, Dad was a stern disciplinarian, a trait that would soften as he became confident that each of us would be well cared for by the men who would eventually claim us as their wives. At times he was even feared, not in a frightened way, but in a respectful way. His standards were high and no one wanted to disappoint him. He and Mom taught us how to be acceptable in public, from having us cater the many neighborhood parties they would host to sitting up straight at the dinner table. I know that those lessons made eating my meals at West Point that first year far attention-provoking, and that was a good thing!

I’m pretty sure that although we never wanted to, we all might have done things to disappoint him along the way. But there was never a time that we felt he did not love us.

“Good morning, beautiful,” I remember him saying on many occasions, perhaps because he couldn’t remember our name or even our “daughter number” first thing in the morning. I like to think he only said that to me, but even though I know that wasn’t the case, it always made me feel special.

We daughters know that he loved us and that he loved his bride of 65 years even more. His devotion as a husband, and Mom’s as a wife, made the two of them role models for many and inspired each of us to believe that the same could be possible for us. Michelle, who wishes she could be here this weekend, mentioned how Nana and Grandpa were always inseparable. There was never a Nana without Grandpa, a Mom without Dad, a Pat without Charlie.

Dad was a man of few words, no doubt because he could never get a word in edgewise with his chatty women and all the friends we would bring home, but he sure did love to laugh; and even more, he loved to make others laugh. He had a joke or funny story for every occasion and could time a zinger so flawlessly that his audience might never see it coming!

Dad was a selfless man who sacrificed much for those he loved. He worked for over 42 years at AT&T while sticking with his Army Reserve training which ultimately ensured a comfortable retirement for Mom and allowed them both the time and means to travel the world with friends and family, and to be there for whichever daughter needed them the most. I don’t believe they missed a birth of a grandchild, and were there to help several us more than once with major relocations. I cannot imagine that any of you in the audience haven’t been the beneficiary of Dad’s generosity in one form or another.

In addition to his host of loyal friends, Dad leaves behind a wife and woman stronger than any of us had ever anticipated, five nearly perfect daughters—each of us his favorite—with our husbands and our twelve children, five great-grand-children with a sixth due on what would be Mom and Dad’s 65th anniversary week (that would be why Michelle could not make it here this weekend), two sisters-in-law, six nieces, two nephews, some cousins, and a partridge in a pear tree.

We each will have our own unique “remember whens” to share in years to come, even though many of us have shared the same experiences. Family trips to Florida, to the Cape, to Nantasket . . . 7 of us in a station wagon with no seat belts! Mealtimes with him telling us in what order to eat the items on our plates—I’ll bet every child and grandchild remembers that!

“Eat some peas next, and then some potatoes, and then have some meat!”

I will remember him kicking my butt on the tennis courts in my high school days, offering his retirement savings so I could attend an exclusive school, visiting me wherever I happened to be in the world—be it Korea or Leadville, rocking my children to sleep, driving us to exotic places, dancing with mom on the cruise to Bermuda, feeding the men at the shelter, reading the names of his fallen peers at Memorial Day services, bowling with his candlepin buddies—and occasionally even winning $2, waiting to win the Lotto—probably with the goal of being even more generous to those in need, breakfasting with his friends at Easter’s, completing crossword puzzles with his Dewar’s close by, almost never missing his other favorite girls on “The Five,” and belly-chuckling over Mom’s dance routine story, even though he’d probably heard it a dozen times.

Dad wasn’t perfect—none of us is—yet his intentions always were, and certainly his love for his God, his family and his friends. He was a man of unshakable faith, unquestionable integrity, unbounded love, and in his own words, he wanted people to remember him as “serious, but humorous.”

A couple of years ago when I asked him how he felt about dying someday—I’m the reporter in the family—he smiled and told me that he would be happy to see his Mom, Dad, and little sister again, not knowing that he would also outlive his younger brother. He said he wasn’t afraid of death, but that he hoped it wasn’t time yet because he wasn’t quite ready to go. Recently he added that he’ll be happy to meet the son he never had and the older brother who spent only two days on this earth.

Ever the good soldier, Dad did what his doctors recommended, probably wanting more time—to attend the next wedding, to hold the next great-grandchild, to learn just one more word, and to share one more dance with Mom.

When Dad found out that the cancer had returned, though, and there was nothing more to be done, he stopped winding his favorite clock.

Although each of us may interpret his act in different ways (I, of course, want to think he was giving me a theme for tying together this tribute), I would like to believe that Dad finally decided it was time to live entirely in the present and to stop measuring what was passing. I even witnessed—and this may shock some of you—when he tuned out “The Five” on Fox News to spend time with a visitor!

I believe that we were all blessed with time to prepare for Dad’s next journey. Yes, we will still mourn—when we’re spending time together and waiting for his next joke, when our phone rings and we see “Mom and Dad” on the screen, when we attend the next Memorial Day service—but we will also share time rejoicing that each of us was influenced in some great way by our relationships with this generous man.

And how could any of us be sad for very long having experienced the gift of a transition time in Carol and Michael’s beautiful home where visitors and family could gaze upon the setting sun while Dad, not as interested in the scenery, could gaze upon each of us in the light of those setting rays?

Dave Sargent, Dad’s Aide-de-Camp and our adopted brother, observed that Dad was doing as much for us in his last days as we were for him, acting as if nothing were wrong, greeting everyone with a “Good Morning” whenever he woke up, regardless of the time of day, and thanking everyone for even the slightest kindness . . . a pillow fluff, a cup of tea, a gentle foot massage. He did his best to help the wonderful nurses and Hospice folks who came to help him during his last weeks.

I wonder why it is that we want to cling to the last words uttered by those we love, as if they will somehow be more significant than the lifetime of words leading up to them? In any case, I remember some of Dad’s last words when I asked him how we should celebrate his upcoming 90th birthday. A bit confused at first, remembering the joyful combined celebration we shared with family and friends just this last June at Carol and Michael’s, he said that if he makes it to his actual 90th birthday, he would like to have angel cake and dance to WJIB.

Now that Dad has left us, the time has come for those he left behind to sit up straight, to celebrate his life, to treasure his memory and to continue creating more of our own memories. Thank you all for the time and the love you have shared with our Dad.

Happy Birthday to America’s Hottest Husband

Mike at Delicate Arch

Sure, I wrote this a few years ago, but I’ll share again why I believe Mike should have won that contest! Happy Birthday, Darlin’!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In a doctor’s office waiting room with my Mom and Dad last week and wondering what to do for my hubby’s 53rd birthday (which is today), I came across a contest in Redbook Magazine: America’s Hottest Husband 2014. All I had to do was write an essay of 500 words or fewer and provide three photos. Perfect! I submitted my essay today:

                        (photo: End of Leadville’s Silver Rush mountain bike race in 2011)

Thirty years ago I said “Yes!” to a hunky young stud I had known for less than a year. Not long after, I also agreed to marry him! Although I thought Mike was hot before I knew where life would lead us, when I look at him now, I feel a heat that can only come from years of smoldering companionship, and no, that’s not just menopause talking!

What makes my man hot outside of his obvious anatomical attractiveness? His strength—the kind that says, “I will keep you safe,” even when I know I can take care of myself; his kindness—which expresses the depth of his character that is even more important than his muscles; his sense of humor—even though it sometimes makes me shake my head and roll my eyes, I know that he would stand on his head for me if it would cheer me up when I’m feeling down (because he has!); his trust in me—that comes from respect and encourages me to do things like attend school reunions alone because he knows that I’ll have more fun chatting with my friends without him pretending to enjoy himself; his patience—he will never say no when I want to open our home for friends and strays alike because he knows how happy it makes me; his generosity—the kind that lets me know I come first (unless I don’t want to!) and does not begrudge a frivolous purchase I might “have to have”; his adventuresome nature—that spirit of bold goal-setting which first caught my interest and continually reminds me that there will always be exciting times ahead; and most importantly, his brain—his constant quest for knowledge has made him a person I love to be with, and even after 30 years of marriage, we still have stimulating things to discuss! I not only love this man, I honestly like him, too!

Mike has always respected my individuality and my dreams, and has recently encouraged me to leave a paying job to pursue my lifelong desire to write books. He helped me create and raise two remarkable sons. He thinks nothing of being called in the middle of the night to rescue lost hikers in our Colorado mountains. He left a soul-sucking corporate job to work as a public servant in our small community. He works—and works out—with a passion that inspires me, and he’s neater than I am around the house. He still wears the same size as when I met him, and still looks smokin’ in his camouflage hunting attire. My husband not only brings home the bacon, he also builds the fire and cooks it, sizzling hot and crispy, just like I want it. Now that’s hot!

My man possesses all of the traits I find desirable in a man, and I will follow his hot little butt to the ends of the earth. He will always be America’s Hottest Husband in my eyes!