In honor of Valentine’s Day this past Sunday, I decided to ask my grandmother to tell her love story — which to me is one of the greatest stories I’ve ever heard.
My maternal grandparents had 45 years together before my grandfather passed away from cancer when I was in high school. Their love story is unique, touching and I’m honored she is allowing me to tell it. Their story begins in 1945.
“We saw each other walking down the street,” my grandma, Frances, said. “He was walking with my best friend’s younger brother. He asked her brother to arrange a date for the four of us, which turned out to be horseback riding.”
That first date was a successful one, because my grandfather, Warren Ashen, asked her out again.
“The next day he called for a movie date,” she said. “We were both 17. My girlfriend told me he was younger than me. I said ‘What? I’m not going to marry him.’”
My grandmother was joking of course. It’s an ongoing joke in our family that he was always younger than her. The rest, as she says, is history.
“By June when I was 18, we got engaged,” Grandma said. “But we had to wait until December when he was 18.”
My grandparents got married in January 1946.
“We were married 45 wonderful years,” she said. “I called him Mr. Wonderful after the song Peggy Lee sang and he was wonderful.”
Some of the words to Mr. Wonderful read like this:
“Why this feeling? Why this glow?
Why the thrill when you say hello?
It’s a strange and tender magic.
Mister Wonderful, that’s you.”
The song is melodic, touching and so tender. And such a testament to my grandmother’s love for my grandfather. I will admit, it made me tear up listening to the words as I type this column.
My grandfather had his own name for my grandmother.
“He called me ‘My Funny Valentine’ after a song because he said he never knew what I would do next,” she said.
The words to that song read like this:
“You’re my funny valentine.
“Sweet, comic valentine,
“You make me smile with my heart.”
This song also embodies the love my grandfather had for her. My grandmother is funny, witty, and indeed those three lyrics expresses how deeply he loved her. My grandmother has a funny story she tells about my grandfather in regard to these songs.
“Your Grandpa would sing both songs to me,” she said. “Because once Peggy Lee when he was in Las Vegas sat down on the stage and sang right to him and touched his cheek when it came up in the song. He always thought of it as his song and he said ‘sorry honey, you just don’t compare,’ but of course I knew that I did (compare). I was so glad that happened to him, even though I wasn’t there. And she was his favorite singer especially after that.”
My Grandmother has many memories of my Grandfather, she said.
“He was so great,” she said. “I only have great memories and that’s what I think God wants me to remember.”
I too have so many wonderful memories of my grandparents. I loved to write letters back and forth to them as a child. Grandma always wrote me back and at the end of each letter she’d write “Grandpa says hi.” I have every single letter to this day tucked away in a box. Grandma and I still exchange special letters, presents and we just started mailing a plastic pigeon back and forth (the “wandering” pigeon, my blog’s namesake) — yes, you can mail a plastic pigeon as-is. This is the type of relationship I’ve always had with my grandparents.
My grandparents have four children — three girls and one boy. Today they have numerous grandchildren, great and great-great grandchildren. I remember looking around at a family reunion last summer and just soaking in the glory of being with my extended family. I was listening to the chatter, watching her youngest descendents run around and someone said to my grandmother “You started all this.”
Indeed they did.
I hope everyone had a wonderful Valentine’s Day.