Saturday December 8, 2012

We oftentimes hear of people talking about true love, but just what does it mean to experience true love?

True love is not unlike the fog that you can clearly see, but is impossible to grab and hold on to. Is it an emotion or something more tangible? Is it something you say you have or something that you really do have? What kind of power does true love have over us?

Within the past couple of months I have lost two of the most important people of my life; my mother- and father-in-law. My mother-in-law, Gloria Vickery, passed away on Sept. 24 and my father-in-law, Norman Vickery passed away this past Monday, Nov. 26; a scant two months and two days after his bride. They would have been married 70 years this Jan. 14, which is coincidentally the due date of my son and his wife's first child. Gloria was 89. Norman was 90. Both were from Mansfield, Mass. Gloria was born in Winthrop, Mass., and moved to Mansfield when she was very young. They met in high school while skating on Fulton's Pond. It was love at first sight.

At the age of 19, Norman proposed to Gloria. The following is from the Feb. 14, 2003 edition of the Mansfield News: Valentine's Day 10 years ago:

Gloria and Norman Vickery of Mansfield were married 60 years in January, and she recalls her most romantic moment with the clarity of yesterday.

"It was when he gave me my engagement ring," she said.

World War II was upon them, and Gloria was 19. The couple had met on a frozen Fulton's Pond in the middle of town several years before and had been more or less together since, even though Gloria had spent her high school years at Northfield in the western part of the state. But the engagement ring was a surprise.

"I was just shocked," she said. "I was overwhelmed -- it was very exciting.

"I was just 19, and it was the summer before he went off to pilot school in Texas. He received his wings in December, in Albuquerque, and I flew down to be there."

Norman proposed to her on Grove Street in Foxboro, while they were sitting in his dark blue Ford Phaeton convertible.

"It had a tan top, and brown leather seats," she recalled.

The ring came from Long's Jewelers in Boston, and it came at a price worthy of an O. Henry short story.

"He sold his Model A pickup to get the money," she said, "And he still wonders what happened to it."

Norman, a nervous 21-year-old, sought counsel from his aunt in Brookline before shopping for an engagement ring, and stopped off to pick her up as he drove into Boston to get it.

Later that winter, when he was home for a week, they were married and shortly after, they returned to the west for the rest of his training. Months after their wedding, he was off to war. Their first child, a boy, was born a little more than a year after their marriage, and his father didn't see him until he was 2 years old.

The Vickerys hung onto the Phaeton for years -- in fact, the son spent many happy hours as a teenager, polishing it and tuning the engine as it sat in the family garage.

As the telephone interview ends, Norman can be heard in the background, over Gloria's laughter.

"I still want my truck back," he says.

***

Thanksgiving this year was hard. It was our first Thanksgiving without Gloria. We sprung Norman from the assisted living facility, which was to be his new home, so he could be with us for Thanksgiving. He hated his new home.

"It's too expensive," he said.

The next day Alison and I joined Norman for lunch at his new home. His major attribute had always been his mind. He was very sharp. During lunch he said that he had another home; another different address, but it was on the same street of his real home. After all this time it appeared as though he might be losing it. He was so adamant that he had another home. He seemed confused, but very sincere in his beliefs. We didn't know what to make of it.

It was only when he died three days later that it became clear that he may very well have been given a glimpse into his new home; a home where he would once again be united with the only woman he had ever loved and the one with whom he could not live without.

He was not fatally ill and was scheduled to leave the hospital the next day. Had he left it would have meant that he would have had to go through Christmas without Gloria. This was not an acceptable option, so it appears as though he just decided it was time to go back home to the other address; through the other door and back to be with his Sweetie Pie for the holidays. That, for me, is true love.

Bob Stannard is a Banner columnist who lives in Manchester.