Not Defined by the Heartbreak Years
I was given a story to write on an 80 year-old woman retiring from 45 years as a tax accountant and bookkeeper.
Why? I asked the editor. Why is this woman interesting? What is so fascinating that we need to write about her? What could I ask her that would make good copy?
I dragged my feet the whole way. I took two weeks to set up an interview. It was already June, she had retired in April. What’s the hurry?
And then I met her. I spent two hours in her home office. We cried and laughed and I wondered, “How … how did you get through that?”
Her daddy was a tall Texan in a 10-gallon hat whose family had struck oil in 1934 and made it rich. While on vacation — their life had become an extended vacation of traveling — her daddy fell in love with the town of Bonners Ferry, Idaho. He bought a farm and they elected him sheriff.
She suffered through one childhood disease after another, even spent a year in a sanatorium with TB. She wasn’t expected to live past the age of 18.
She married at 17. Eight years later, she had two small boys and was pregnant with another when her husband lost his mind and ended up holding her hostage at gunpoint for 18 hours.
She remarried and had 3 more children. Her second husband adopted the three from the first marriage. Twelve years into the marriage her husband and brother were both killed in one day in February. They shot each other over a woman. And it wasn’t her.
She was 47 years old. My age.
“How did you get through that? How did you survive?” I asked. I cried.
She shook her head, “It was tax season, I had work to do. I still had children at home.”
I’m not sure she knew how she got through it either. She did know, however, that within 3 years she met the love of her life, the man she has loved and been married to for 30 years now. And she’s happy.
“I adore him,” she said. “Oh, and he’s ten years younger than I am,” she added with a laugh and a sparkle in her eye.
“So there’s hope for me yet,” I said.
“Oh, yes, there’s hope for you.”
I struggled with the story. It’s a great story. A sad story. A story of hope and rebuilding and strength. But I can’t tell that story.
The story I wrote isn’t nearly as exciting and bold as the woman behind it. I’m very sorry for that. But I’m so very glad I met her. She will be with me for a long, long time.