Louise and Charlie

August 16th, 2010

Louise and Charlie

He never had much to say. Mostly, he would utter quiet phrases like, “Well, I’ll be,” or, “Is that right?” often while shaking his head.

Those in his company wondered what more there was to him. “He sure doesn’t talk much,” they’d say.

She knew the truth, though. She knew that the way to measure a man is by his actions, not his words. And as far as action goes, Charlie spoke volumes.

To be fair, however, Louise didn’t know all that yet. Not when she met him on a blind date in April of 1946. They went to a movie. It was all rather uneventful. In fact, she wasn’t even sure she liked him. They went out a few more times, and then she went off to St. Louis for a week with a friend.

When she returned to Indiana, and got on a connecting bus to go home, her girlfriend tugged at her shirt. “I think you’d better get off this bus,” she urged. “Looks like there’s someone waiting for you outside.”

And sure enough, there was Charlie. He called her sister to see what time her bus came in, and he showed up. From that moment, until the day he died, he always showed up.

He was a good husband. He wasn’t too pushy. He was clean cut. Her family loved him. And, turns out, so did she.

“You have to know him to know how he was,” she says with a smile. “He was so easy going. Anything I wanted to do, it was all right with him.”

After a year of dating, Charlie popped the question. It was rather unromantic by Hollywood standards, but it was just fine for Louise.

“He had the ring, and gave it to me one evening, before he left,” she said. “He turned around and put the ring on my finger. I accepted it.”

When I asked her if she was in love with him, she looked at me like I was crazy. She said she wouldn’t have accepted the ring if she wasn’t. When I asked her how she knew, she said she was pretty sure anybody would know they’re in love. It’s easy to tell.

“The man was so nice to you,” she says. “He wasn’t pushy. He was easygoing. He’d come and see me. He’d call me. He’d leave my house and drive 27 miles back home.”

Love, for my aunt Louise, is a fairly simple equation. It makes me wonder how most of us got so off track. How we expect so much, and have all these unrealistic fantasies about what he should say or do or how he should make us feel. Maybe it’s enough that he treats us kindly. That he wants to make us happy. He listens. He shows up.

I guess you know you love him back when you want to show up, too. Like when you find out he has cancer.

“He had cancer for 15 years, but he didn’t know it,” she reveals. “When he was in the service, the doctors overseas told him he had hemmorhoids. One day he went to a doctor here, and they found out that’s not what it was. I was waiting outside and the doctor asked if I was his wife. I said yes. He said, ‘I want her to be here to hear what I have to say.’ We didn’t even make it make it across the parking lot after that. We were both crying.”

In 1951, Charlie was told he had just six months to live, but he toughed it out until 1971, even so he would be in the hospital off and on that entire time. The last few years of his life he was bedridden, and Louise took care of him. Charlie would’ve done the same.

It’s easy to do that sort of thing when you love someone. And even if Charlie was a quiet man who nodded a lot instead of expressing his feelings, the truth was pretty evident to Louise.

“One time his mother told me, ‘I miss all my kids, but I miss Charlie the worst,’” Louise remembers. “And I asked her if she wanted him back. She said, ‘Oh no, he’s too happy.’”

I take my aunt’s hand, removing the photo of Charlie when he was still healthy and smiling. I figure she might not want to keep talking about this. I tell her we can stop.

“I’d rather talk about him,” she laughs, as if he were in the next room and she was spilling a secret. “I don’t want to forget about him. You don’t forget about someone you love. Charlie was my true love. He died June 3, and our anniversary would’ve been June 22. He died just before our 23-year anniversary. I would’ve liked to have spent 25 years with him.”

I’m surprised you can love one person for so long, and still miss them after so much time has passed.

“You really miss him, huh?” I ask.

“Absolutely,” she says, giving my hand a tight squeeze. “I do miss him. I do. I do.”