Blue Girl. That’s all it said.

I was surprised to discover the inscription on the inside of my grandmother’s wedding band a couple of days ago. The little gold band I now wear on the first finger of my left hand.

The ring was mine now, passed to me by my mother a few years ago. Just in case her plane crashed, she’d said. She gave it to me to keep that time. I had safeguarded it for a short time once before when she and my step-Dad were off sailing for a few months in the Bahamas. Just in case their boat sunk, she’d said.

I’d lost it for a few months while they were sailing, but I hadn’t dared tell. I had worn it on a chain then. The clasp had broken, and the ring simply vanished. I carefully took off my clothes, right there in my living room, just in case it had caught in a fold, but it was not to be found. I crawled inch by inch across the floor becoming increasingly frantic. I searched for hours, and then tried to convince myself to have faith that it would eventually turn up. It wasn’t the first time the ring had gone missing. And turn up it did. But not for a few months; a few months of self-inflicted torture and visions that my irresponsibility was going to be discovered and I burned alive on a pyre like my Viking ancestors. And then just as suddenly, there it was on the laundry room / workshop floor, almost mistaken for a slice of cut copper piping. I couldn’t believe it! And just in the nick of time, too. I hadn’t seen my mother in months and we were to all have dinner the following night. I was so relieved I wasn’t going to have to go with my less than stellar backup plan to don a pair of gloves to cover a feigned, itchy and unsightly rash that had unexpectedly spread over my hands.

This time, a couple of days ago, the ring slipped off my finger as I was at the sink rinsing arugula. I snatched it up and carefully laid it on the table to slip back into when I was done with my preparations. My friend Garry was over and he picked it up and tried to slip it onto his pinky finger. I guessed aloud that it was a size 5, too big for me, but too small for Garry’s pinky. He was actually the first to spot the inscription.

“What does the engraving say?” he’d queried, not blessed with eagle-eye vision. But I hadn’t known it was there. And when I picked it up and squinted in just the right light, sure enough, I saw it. Blue Girl. That’s all it said.

“How enchanting!” I thought.

I e-mailed my mom the next day to hear the story of the Blue Girl. Unfortunately, she only found the inscription herself when the ring came to her after Grandma had died over 25 years ago. She did not know the story.

There had to have been a story; a romantic tale to unravel the mystery of the unsung and once-loved Blue Girl. His Blue Girl. You don’t put an inscription on a wedding ring without some sentimental significance.

How wonderful I imagined it would be to be somebody’s Blue Girl.

I’m a starry-eyed romantic, despite never having had a real romance. Maybe it’s because I started reading at such a young age. Having gone through all the Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and the Hardy Boys books, I started sneaking my mother’s Harlequin Romances by age 8, until Hitchcock caught my attention and lured me down a psychological path of suspense and voyeurism. I was too young for romance then, anyway.

I searched my memories for any tell-tale signs of romance or even tenderness between my grandparents, but none floated to the surface.  It was hard to imagine that Grandpa & Grandma had possibly shared a whirlwind romance or courtship, at least not with each other. I recall him having more affection for his pocket-watch than for Grandma. He would polish it smiling and loved to brandish it about.

“No wrist-watch for me, he would say, “that’s not classy enough.”

I can’t even remember Grandpa being nice to Grandma. Not really. But then I was a kid and all caught up in my own adventures: reading, climbing trees, building forts, playing sports and punching the boys I liked.

My sisters and I, and all the cousins, called him Grumpy behind his back. And I do recall thinking back then that he had the meanest face I’d ever seen. Wrinkled and carved like a totem, but with blackish bristles sticking out of his ears. Much more akin to Freddy Krueger than the face of a dashing suitor.

As young kids, we spent every day at their house while my mom worked. I don’t know how she did it. She had four baby girls before she turned twenty-two and was a widow by 27. My Dad was long gone before then – too much responsibility. Luckily, she had Grandma to help her.

I do have a few memories of Grandpa playing with us kids. His face seemed to soften just a little and he almost looked kind of ordinary then.

“Come on Grandpa, stand on your head! We know you can’t do it anymore. You’re too old!” we would taunt, somehow knowing when it would be okay to say so.

And stand on his head, he would, always letting us keep the change that fell from his pockets. We would scramble for the copper and tuck it away until we got the nod from Grandma and dashed off to the corner store to buy mojos and blackballs. We thought we were so clever tricking him.

And in those precious few moments, his scowl would almost turn to a smile. And when grandma was watching, she, too, would smile. But whenever their eyes would meet, she would turn her back and scurry back to the kitchen to busy herself with whatever strange goulash she had brewing on the stove. My mind conjures the savory scent of onion and caraway sautéing just thinking about it.

I never thought anything of it back then. She spent every waking moment in the kitchen or in her garden. Unless it was smelt season. Then the bathtub would be filled to the brim with those silvery pointy headed fish with their peculiar cucumbery smell, and she’d be back and forth with her pail until she filled the kitchen sink. Grandma must have dusted and fried close to three hundred smelts in a go. Everybody loved a good smelt fry. Head, guts, tail and all, even the bones. Well, everybody but the kids. We thought they were pretty gross. We would only eat real fish like in fish sticks.

Grandpa was always watching her, but I never remember him ever offering to help, even though he would down at least 50 smelts during a meal. He even liked the crunch of their soft bones. I thought that was pretty creepy.

Until his dinner was ready, he always sat in his armchair, his flask tucked into the corner behind the cushion, even when he was nursing his usual scotch and milk. He apparently had an ulcer and the milk was supposed to help relieve the burning.

Grandpa always had that flask with him. I snuck it once when I was a kid and he was asleep, but the juice inside burned as it ran down my throat and it made me feel sick.

I have a recollection of that flask falling from his pocket and plunging to the floor one time when he chased Grandma through our front, out our back door, and around the house a couple times.

“I want to play too!”  I’d shouted, excitedly, until I realised that nobody was laughing and it was not a game. We’d lived 2 blocks away and now I realise she must’ve run the whole way.

My mom had stepped in the middle and stopped him that time. She said nothing, but she flashed him a look of fury she’d clearly inherited from him. I’m not really sure why it stopped him. But it did.

“Just go home.” was all she’d said. And he just stared at her for a moment, and then turned on his heel, grabbed up his flask, and scuttled home down the street. Grandma had a sleepover with us that night.

I remember them playing chess some days. We’d watch. He would sit there, a frown glued to his face, sipping that flask as they made their moves. He never played nicely like we had been expected to, and I never understood why she played with him at all. If she won, he would roar and throw things, and ketchup always seemed to end up like a blood smear on the ceiling. If he won, he would roar again, accusing her of letting him win, and inevitably the ketchup would erupt just the same.

Grandpa usually came to dinner in his long underwear, sometimes even with the trap door actually buttoned. Definitely not the dress of a gentleman come to call on his Blue Girl.

If his plate was not served as soon as he sat down, he’d pound his fist on the table sending things flying and usually spilling the salt. It is an old English belief that you shed as many tears as as grains of salt spilled.  But in marrying him, it seems Grandma took on his penance, for she was the only one I ever saw shed a tear.

“Where’s my drink, Sophie? Where’s my goddamned dinner?” And she would serve him stoically and dutifully.

I never once heard him utter a thank you. He’d just grab up a jar of jam and slather it over his potatoes and stare at his plate the whole while he chawed his food.

Sometimes he came home from the tavern raging like a storm cloud. I remember one time, and I don’t know if he stole  it from kids playing in the park on his way by, but he rushed in with a bat in hand, and proceeded to play baseball with Grandma’s best dishes, whilst she tried to grab at his arms and pleaded with him  to stop.

We kids used to hide when he yelled at her. We’d run outside and stayed there until we could see through the window that he’d disappeared into the back bedroom. We would unhide when we saw the coast was clear.

Sometimes she had a black eye and sometimes Grandma was bleeding. It wasn’t ketchup. I wish now that I could have done something more than hug her. But I suppose those hugs were likely just what she needed.

After he’d ambled to the back bedroom to pass out, she would clean up the mess choking back her tears,

That’s the way it was. I’d assumed that’s how it had always been.

I do remember Grandpa rescuing her once after my cousin Michael threw Grandma in the pool. I guess that kind of counts as nice-ish or at least chivalrous. I was 9 at the time, and I remember standing there gob-smacked as Michael, then 8, grabbed her by the arm laughing, and tossed her like a frisbee into the deep end of the pool. Sputtering, she seemed to swallow half the pool as she frantically thrashed about in a panic despite the bright yellow life jacket she had wrapped around her. Her eyes were as big as the loop de loops on a roller coaster. Grandma couldn’t swim.

Then grandpa, replete in his white polyester suit, shiny patent leather white shoes, and straw hat with a black band and white polka-dots, went whipping past me, knocking me to the ground. And to my astonishment, he went sailing and flailing through the air, like a crazed cob, without any concern for his precious pocket watch, to come to the rescue of his lady.

“Sophie, breathe!” He ordered, as he dragged her out of the pool and settled her in a chair. Even then he seemed angry with her.

“You little bastard,” at my cousin Michael, “you almost killed your grandmother!” he thundered with a look of fury that would have turned my cousin to dust, had his mother not grabbed him up by his hair and dragged him in the house. Michael wailed the whole way, like a cat being shoved in a bucket of water. I had had absolutely no doubt that his mother had just saved his life.

That is the only time I remember thinking Grandpa cared about Grandma.

Finding that inscription and searching back through those years, is tragic to me.

I just don’t understand how you forget to remember to love.

Maybe Grandpa, soused with scotch, lost sight of his Blue Girl through the haze in his head. I don’t know.

Had I been Grandma I’d have been long gone. But Grandma was from a different generation. She was a stayer. Maybe it was because she didn’t take the Dale Carnegie course “How to Win Friends and Influence People” until after grandpa died.

One fateful New Year’s Eve, as Grandpa slid off his chair and passed out under the kitchen table, she sent me for her fur coat. The fur coat her sister had given her, and the only one luxury Grandma had ever had.

“He looks cold.” She’d  murmured as she covered the old ogre with her mink.

The next morning, I walked into the kitchen, and he lay there still. My little sister, Niki, her hair in its usual bird’s nest doo, was sitting, head in one hand, chomping on her puffed wheat, leg kicking at him because he was in the way of her foot swing. He didn’t budge. That should’ve been our first clue. But we’d seen him passed out so many times we paid him no never mind. I got my own bowl of cereal and made a hot cup of Postum.

An hour later from the top of the stairs the faces of 4 little girls watched as the stretcher was wheeled in and rolled back out with a body bag, apparently packed up with Grandpa.

Sitting here twirling my ring, a new old memory popped to mind. It was the time I walked in to find grandma going through some old boxes that she had dragged down from the attic.

Her eyes were brimming with tears at something she had found inside.

“Are you ok? Is there a dead mouse in the box?” I’d asked, curiously. I was only eleven and the boxes smelled pretty funky. At the thought of it now, my nose crinkles as the smell, kind of like a skunk, only sweeter, seems to permeate my own living room.

She had smiled, holding a pale pink plexi-glass frame close to her chest. “ It’s my wedding picture” she whispered as she sat down.

I had peered over her shoulder, surprised. “Is that beautiful lady really you?” I asked in astonishment. “You look like a beautiful angel!” And she smiled. It was almost the same smile she wore in the picture.

I had honestly never seen her look beautiful before. Her face was as bright as a child who has just spotted a rainbow on a soapy bubble for the first time. But I didn’t tell her that, because I remembered that Thumper said, “if you don’t got nothing nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

I didn’t know then that I was looking at the beautiful Blue Girl. But there she was, her dress was a silk crepe, with a guipure lace overlay on the bodice, and lined with luxurious silk. She wore a matching lace veil atop  her lustrous chestnut hair, and held a small bouquet of forget-me-nots in her hand.

“And those are forget-me not’s!” I’d testified smartly. I knew they were forget-me-nots because we put some on my Dad’s grave after he died. Our other grandmother hadn’t invited us to our Dad’s funeral, so my mom had taken us to the cemetery to plant the flowers afterwards.

“Yes,” Grandma whispered, as she twirled her ring. “Did you know that when your grandpa gave me this ring there were forget-me-nots painted all around it?”

“Really?” I’d peered closely. “They’re not there anymore.”

Maybe the flowers had worn off when the ring slid off her slender finger into its own plot in her garden.

Grandpa had whooped and hollered, “why did I bother wasting money on it if you weren’t going to take care of it! But he didn’t hit her. She was crying already.

A couple of years later, when I was out in the garden with her, she turned the soil, and there it was. Her eyes were bright and her face was beaming. I loved her smile even though she had no teeth; she didn’t look like Grandma at all when she wore her false teeth.  I smiled and raced along with her as she ran in the house to wash it off,  tears streaming down her face.

“Ross, look what I’ve found!” she’d cried. He came charging into the kitchen to see and stopped when he saw it. He said nothing but took it from her hand and slid it back onto her finger. She smiled and returned to the garden. There was no yelling in the house that night.

And as she stood there amongst those boxes that day, she whispered, “Doesn’t Grandpa look handsome?” as she brushed her hand gently over the glass.

I had peered over her shoulder, and in remembering, the adult me stood looking down too. He was tall and gangly, sporting a shiny grey Capone style zoot suit, the waist line of his pants reaching high, almost to his chest. A pair of spats, that he must have thought were spiffy, was buttoned oddly at his ankles. I thought it odd that he wore collars on his shoes.

It didn’t look like Grandpa to me.

“Not really,” I’d said. “He looks like he’s got a caterpillar crawling across his lip and this guy doesn’t look like Grandpa at all. This guy looks and happy and he’s smiling.”

She laughed then, squeezing my hand, “your grandpa Ross smiled plenty. And he never once forgot my birthday or our anniversary. He always brought me the most beautiful bouquets.” And she placed the treasure tenderly back in the box.

The love in her eyes was plain to see. I said nothing and I hugged her.

I’d forgotten that moment til now. I had never seen any of those tender moments between them.

But when I hold their wedding picture in my hands, there he stands, her gentleman, smiling lovingly at her.  And I see the hope there in her eyes. His Blue Girl, with big beautiful eyes as wide as a field of jasmine and clover.

The same big eyes, wide with hope, that I see looking back at me in the mirror.

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14 Responses to Blue Girl

  1. Pat says:

    My God how this story moved me….an I’m sure many people have lived this life….changes good loving people to act like monsters…but there is freedom from the bottle if they search an find a new way of life….thank-you for sharing with me xxx

    • Thank you, Pat. It is so sad to me when life gets in the way of love. When we let life get in the way. Nothing else matters. And yes, there is hope when people choose love and to find a new way to live. Thank YOU for sharing.

  2. Thank you Shelley. It is sad when we forget the joy and the love that brought us together. Thanks for shring.

    • Thank you, Martina. Yes, it is sad. People forget that love is an action and not just a word.
      “Love is a verb. It is an action. Love –
      the feeling – is the fruit of love the verb or our loving actions. So love her.
      Sacrifice.
      Listen to her. Be there for her.” ~ Steven Covey
      Goes both ways, of course. When we remember to take the time to love and honour one another every day, we build a glorious foundation to build our dreams on together.
      P.S. I still believe in happily ever after. :)

  3. Beautiful Shelley!

    That’s what true love must be like, and something we all need to do – it was a moving post and touched me somewhere too. :)

    Thanks for sharing. :)

    • Thank you, Harleena. I suppose my grandmother must’ve loved my grandfather. And maybe he loved her in his way. But I just can’t reconcile hurting those you love with true love.

      But yes, falling in love and putting all you have into it IS something we all need to do. :)

  4. Matt says:

    Shelly..Thank you for sharing this..wow. there is a love that bond us no matter our differences. God bless you.

  5. What a poignant memory collection. Growing up in such a family must have had quite an impact on your readiness for adulthood. I’m glad you have some good memories as well as the awful ones.

  6. This moved me. Through my tears I laughed at the absurdity of it all. Yet, you are right. She had a remarkable capacity for love that never left her. It’s really quite a legacy.

  7. dkzody says:

    Such a sad, sad story for two people who could have been so happy and yet weren’t. Life is funny that way, isn’t it? Makes one realize how good it is to be so happy in a marriage.

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