Saturday, February 22, 2014

a love story

A year and a half since I've posted on this neglected blog! This story, too long for the replacement Facebook, needed to be told.

Thursday night before bookclub, Goat and I attended the funeral of Evelyn Gilmartin, a member of our church. Neither of us had interacted past the "good morning" level with Sister Gilmartin, whose poor health often kept her home, but we went in support of her widower, Frankie, an iconic presence every Sunday.  Frankie passes out the programs, reaches past three or four people to adjust your hymnal if you put it away "wrong" (it's firm tradition in our particular congregation--something I've never seen before--that hymnals must be put in place spine down; they're even stamped "this side up" along the outer margin), and is always prompt with his after-meeting task of wheeling in the chalkboard for the Sunday School class that meets in the chapel after our main devotional services. Frankie will need the support of his church without Evelyn. She was quiet but bright, efficient with her church calling (sending the women's organization e-newsletter), and definitely took care of the adult world for their household. Frankie, officious but kind, has the mind of a child. He's difficult to understand, and will not be able to live on his own without her. Their marriage was a happy mystery to us.

The glowing spot in the simple service was their love story. When we arrived and stopped to sign the guest book, Evelyn's sister Jessie was setting out a few items to represent her sister--the bracelets she enjoyed making, a small sampling of her proudly complete Dark Shadows collection, family photos, and a plain black-and-white dollar store composition book. "She wrote the things she wasn't able to say." Jessie's husband gave the eulogy, with both his words and a written memorial from his wife, who was feeling too emotional to speak. He explained that the Gilmartins' marriage was Evelyn's third. Her first husband was physically abusive, and her second "had plenty of issues of his own." When she met Frankie while living for a time with a friend in Florida, she was in another abusive relationship, which he, entranced by Evelyn, stepped into. Frankie spent half of his few words at the service describing their beginning: "I said to him, 'If you want to hit her, you're going to have to get past ME FIRST.'" Jessie said of Frankie, "He treated her like a queen." 

Jessie asked Mary Ellen Moore, a friend of Evelyn, to read a poem from that composition book I saw on entrance. It is titled simply "To Frankie", and was written four years ago. He had never heard it.

Thank you for being a part of my life;
for being my partner and friend;
for sharing my life, the good and the bad,
through all of the thick and thin.
Thank you for being my anchor,
for your shoulder whenever I cried;
for being that one special someone,
in whom I can always confide,
for staying when I'm at my worst, 
and praising when I'm at my best;
for listening quietly to me,
when I have things to get off of my chest.
Thank you for not criticizing, 
or pointing out all of my flaws;
for being supportive and caring, 
and loving me just because.
Thank you for not ever hitting, 
but helping wherever you can;
and when I am struggling and falling,
for offering me your hand.
For being my strength and my guidepost,
my joy and the love of my life;
Thank you for all that you've given, 
and especially for making me your wife.
For all that you are, for all that you give,
for all you have helped me to be;
for all of the people to choose from,
I thank you for choosing me.
I love you my darling Frankie,
you're my heart, my soul and my life.
In all of the things I could have done,
I'm proudest that I am your wife.
I love you!

My favorite moment of the evening was watching Frankie mouth clearly to his sister-in-law, sitting closely and protectively nearby, "She wrote that for ME?" A breathtaking gift for a heartbroken new widower.

The Gilmartins' kindness to each other continued for the rest of their twenty-year marriage. A dear friend's marriage hit a move-out-and-begin-again crisis this week, which has led me to think a lot about my own. My marriage moanings are usually of the "we don't have the same goals" variety [fear not, reader: we mostly do, veering sharply at leisure time activities]. Frankie and Evelyn's love story is a beautiful example of the right marriage goals: unfailing support, the audacity of love in the face of difference, and the eminence of kindness in every relationship. May we all be so lucky and so wise.

 A memorial with a beautiful lesson--please share it in honor of Evelyn and Frankie Gilmartin and L-O-V-E (it's still February, after all!)

A happy portrait of Frankie and Evelyn Gilmartin. The photo to the right is on their sealing day in the Washington, D.C. temple.