As of the middle of this month, I will have presented some 492 pieces of chocolate to the former Susan Carol Richtman, mainly because, prior to our exchange of vows, she swore that she had never received a box of candy on Valentine’s Day.
“Not even the crummy hard ones with mushy writing on them?” I asked, in the early days, when I really wanted to experience a second Valentine’s Day with her and really didn’t want to purchase a dud. Ironically, that’s just what I did – she said her favorite kind of candy was Milk Duds.
I added a box of Russell Stover, a thoughtful card and some nice flowers for good measure, and a year and a half later, I was bound to a ritual that has now spanned more than four decades.
The journey began with the words, “I do.” I am fairly certain I exclaimed them. And I know for a fact that “I still do!”
Here’s why: Susan is the most well-intentioned person I’ve ever known. As a wife, she has consistently striven to sustain a flourishing marriage. That’s no small feat, given that her parents couldn’t (and given who her husband is). As a mother, she has sacrificed, not just occasionally, in order to put her children in a better way than she experienced. She had a good life; they have great ones.
As a teacher of pre- and young teens, she has been relentless in her pursuit to make them understand that a grade on a paper isn’t the true measure of a young person’s worth. Much more important is the process of learning – how to work hard, how to get along, how to overcome adversity, how to laugh every so often.
She has been advocating all those things for more than three decades, and a year doesn’t go by that she doesn’t hear from a former student who says, in essence, “You, Mrs. Youngblood, never gave up on my like the other teachers did. Thank you for believing in me.”
Susan and I now have three grandchildren, the youngest of whom lives but a few miles away. We see him a lot. Pretty much every visit goes like this: He arrives at the house. I say, “Who’s at my house?” He says, “Where’s Grams?” She is clearly his favorite person in all the world. I would like to be tied for that honor, but the truth is that he would rather spend an evening playing Candyland with his paternal grandmother even more than he would like to eat pizza.
That’s true love from a 5-year-old. The best this 65-year-old can offer is not another box of candy, but rather another exclamation point, offered here for all of my little world to see.
I hope she likes it.