“You had to be there!”

“During our lives, meaningful dates oft conjoin in the stars.” 

Every person I talk to says that 2020 was a memorable year. To be on lockdown meant home-confinement without a court-ordered leg-monitor. (I was shocked to learn that probationers have to pay a monthly ankle-bracelet fee, like cable TV—talk about double jeopardy!). Covid-19 is more virulent in its Delta form than last year’s Alpha strain. We’re living Groundhog Day: One after the other after the other. 

No fun, vaccinated or not, but I pray that you are. Dr. Francis Collins of The National Institutes of Health latest warning that the Delta variant is abroad ‘searching for the unvaccinated,’ is scary; hungry zombies will have trouble finding tasty brains among the UNs! 

Two-thousand-one started out to be a very good year. The year before, two partners and I were aging, so divided the family business. My sons were in charge, freeing us to travel for our September wedding anniversary. I had a promise to keep. A crossing: Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth 2 from New York to Southampton, England. 

Departure date, 9/15/2001. 

We met the ship in Beantown. Old friends Sean and Ann Dunphy drove us to Boston’s Black Falcon pier. Tight security forced us to walk a quarter-mile to a pre-boarding shed. Inside, we met passengers off Cunard’s ship Caronia; all return flights to the UK were canceled. We sailed amid the tears of 9/11, cocooned for five days, disembarking into a country mourning its sons and daughters lost in the World Trade Center towers. 

President, George W. Bush, repeated JFK & LBJ’S Vietnam debacle by invading Afghanistan to get bin Laden. America’s longest war has lasted 20-years, with a horrendous ending. Ironically, Kabul’s departing flights last month were filled with terror-stricken passengers—shades of 2001.

Before their flight was canceled, Ann and Sean had tickets to attend a wedding in London. We’d hoped to meet them, reprising a 1975 short-break holiday in Bermuda. Years later, I poured out my truth:

London Wedding 
It was a time of ordinary
Worries: 2001. A new chosen
Bush occupied the People’s
House. September’s anniversary
Was ours. The QEII was
In transit to NYC. We were
Booked on its outgoing voyage
To keep my promise: 
	         “Someday, love, I’ll sail you home to England.”

	Together this time to mark your 1955 passage to me 
	To marry. Too brave not to repay. “Love you” is said

In so many ways. I’ve failed so often,
But not this year! We sail on the 15th, come Hell or
High water! 
Hell came four days before we left from Boston.
My; our sons were doing there 
Best at running the family 
Business. We could leave; could 
We not? I was sixty-eight but going
In every day. America’s morn of sins

	Started with a Mass of Thanksgiving
	For two old lovers: She to home, me

To our dealership where chaos
		Reigned on the showroom’s TV.
			Down crashed a century before
						My eyes.
						Our friends never met us in London.

Lost is the dealership where chaos
		Reigned on the showroom floor.
			Down crashed a century before
						My eyes.
						Our friends seldom see us in London.

A lyric from the off-Broadway musical, ‘The Fantasticks,’’ sparks memories of its garden setting, where, against many odds, two people find true love. “Try to remember the kind of September when you were a tender and callow fellow.” Do you also wonder at the breath-taking mystery of, “Falling in love?” Do serious people ever say, ‘You had me at hello?’ 

Today’s far wiser opening line is, are you fully vaccinated?

Forty years ago, a reporter asked Prince Charles if he was “in love” with Diana. He answered with a question, “Whatever in love means?” The Prince of Wales had a princess bride, and a royal mistress in the wings.  

Fairy tale romances are rare. 

Maureen’s Notre Dame High School and my St. Michael’s shared a hometown name, Northampton. I recall her look, a foxtrot, our like faith, a love for sports and a sage mind for eighteen.  Coincidence, or God’s plan when I left for the United States Air Force because of Korea? 

We dated for eighteen months in England, split-up for six, filing tons of snail-mail immigration forms. In June, 1955 my fiancée sailed the North Atlantic on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth.  In September, we wed at St. Mary’s. Happily, our grandson, Alex, just proposed and was accepted by the love of his life, Stephanie, which is heartening.

In 2005, for our 50th, I combined a group of Prayers, Life lessons and Salutations as a gift for family and friends. Steve Strimer designed the book, “A Winter Offering”. Thanks to Steve, it won a Writer’s Digest International award for self-published poetry. Its bookmark reads: 

In September;
I always feel secure,
Always feel loved,
In September

One secret to aging well is being blessed with a partner who knows your faults, sharing highs and lows. The tried-and-true morning kiss, also at bedtime. May poets continue to create songs of life, love and hope. St. Paul: Three things remain: Faith, Hope and Love: The greatest of these is love.

“No islanders, we. You had to be there!”

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