My father was a strange man. The word unique doesn’t even come close to describing him—eccentric—much better. In fact, the word was probably invented just for him. Dad taught me a lot about life. One day, in his own strange way, he showed me the level of love needed to make a marriage succeed.
Dad used handkerchiefs, as opposed to tissue. “Real men” just didn’t use tissues—at least not those who had been soldiers in World War II. Shortly after we were married, we spent a weekend at our mountain cabin with my family. My husband made the horrible mistake of using a tissue and burning it in the woodstove. Dad shook his head in disapproval and said something about men and handkerchiefs. As a newlywed, I felt I had to defend my husband.
I explained to Dad that I preferred my husband use tissues because it was more sanitary. I rolled my eyes and moaned about having to do laundry as a teenager, and how Dad’s white hankies had to be washed with my white underwear. At this point, my little sister (always very animated) chimed in remembering having to hang laundry on the clothesline and getting “slimed” with residual “stuff” that didn’t properly wash out of the hankies. By this time the two of us were laughing hysterically. Ironing was my job, so I explained having to take my fingernails and “flick off” the dried “slime” prior to ironing the hankies. We continued to laugh as we told my husband he was welcome to use all the tissues he wanted. Dad was a great sport and took this all in good spirit. He had a wonderful sense of humor, and loved to laugh. Afterwards, I never gave it another thought.Years later on a visit with my parents in their home, I walked past the open bathroom door and caught a glimpse of my Dad flicking “stuff” off his handkerchief into the toilet. Odd that I didn’t ask him what he was doing—but then again, this was my incredibly eccentric father. I shrugged my shoulders and moved on.
A couple of months later, my Dad died. Mom and I were talking about Dad, and I mentioned Dad’s “flicking” incident. Mom went into a tirade about how that was my fault and reminded me of the hankie versus tissue discussion at the cabin. Apparently, Dad took the discussion to heart. While he couldn’t bring himself to use tissues, he didn’t want my mother to have to launder his handkerchiefs with the same disgust that his daughters experienced. After leaving the cabin that weekend, he went to a department store and bought a boatload of handkerchiefs. When a hankie was soiled, he placed it in a little canvas bag until it had adequate time to “dry out.” “Dry” hankies were then carefully “flicked” into the toilet before being put into the laundry hamper for Mom to wash.
As I listened to Mom fill me in on how I’d made my father even more weird than “normal” for him, it became starkly apparent to me how much Dad loved Mom. Think about it for a second. Would you go to that much trouble for your spouse? My Dad has been gone for 27 years, and I’m still thinking about this. What kind of love do I have for my husband? Would I be willing to go to that much trouble in order to make his life more pleasant? Would I be willing to subject myself to doing something that gross to spare him the unpleasantness?
I suppose I could shrug this off and say that loving Mom that much was just another example of Dad’s eccentricity, but that wouldn’t be right. Everything in my parents’ lives was a testament of their love for each other. My husband and I celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary last month, and I’m still learning about the depth of love one should have in a marriage. Each time I think we’ve achieved the “ultimate” of marital love, I think back long ago to a tissue thrown in a woodstove and realize I need to keep working. There is yet much to do.
Tudie Rose is a mother of four and grandmother of ten in Sacramento, California. You can find her on Twitter as @TudieRose. She blogs as Tudie Rose at http://potrackrose.wordpress.com. She has written articles for Familius. You will find a Tudie Rose essay in Lessons from My Parents, Michele Robbins, Familius 2013, at http://www.familius.com/lessons-from-my-parents.