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"Love is not for cowards."
Rose Shapiro whispered the words with conviction as she sewed another row of sequins onto the new ivory silk jacket she'd wear the following evening. Ivory silk. Appropriate for celebrating a sixtieth wedding anniversary, and so different from the plain navy suit she'd worn to the wedding. She closed her eyes, shutting out that memory, shutting out the pain and confusion that accompanied her second marriage. Her marriage to Charlie.
Love is not for cowards. She understood that now, but she hadn't in the beginning when Joe had been the love of her life, and cotton-candy dreams beckoned them as they said their I do's. She'd grown up a lot since then.
She sighed and opened her eyes, once again stitching carefully. Not many couples reached sixty years of marriage. But she and Charlie had. She knotted and cut her thread, then viewed her efforts with a critical eye.
Cataract surgery last year had turned out to be a boon to her sewing skills, not that she'd thought of sewing as an art form. Using a needle had been a measure of economy during her girlhood, and she hadn't been able to break the habit later on when her pockets were fuller. Especially not with the prices of manufactured goods. In amused tones, her three children had blamed her "Depression mentality."
"The jacket is beautiful, Rosie mine," came a warm voice from the bedroom doorway. "But not as beautiful as you."
"Maybe it's your turn to have a cataract removed." She glanced playfully at Charlie's sparkling green eyes, also noting his recent haircut. Her man of sixty years was ready to party.
"There's nothing wrong with my vision," he replied, reaching for her hand. "Come on, sweetheart. It's time to practice our moves. Don't want to make fools of ourselves on the dance floor tomorrow night."
No chance of thatat least not when she was wrapped in Charlie's armsbut she didn't argue. She replaced the jacket on the padded hanger and stepped toward him.
"Ah, Rosie " He held her close and began to hum "La Vie En Rose." Her song. He'd been singing it to her in two languages ever since they got married after the war. In fact, Charlie had been romancing her since he'd met her. She hadn't always appreciated it; he wasn't Joe.
But they'd gotten past that, although not easily and not quickly. Which was why she'd planned a special surprise for Charlie tomorrow.
She kissed him on the cheek, inhaling his woodsy cologne. "Mmm I've always loved that fragrance."
"You think I don't know?" His laughter was deep and carefree. "Life is good, Rosie, huh?"
"As good as possible for a couple of creaky octogenarians," she replied. She had no complaints, except
Love is not for cowards.
Her heart lurched. If she was blinking rapidly now to stave off tears, they were not for herself, but for her beloved granddaughter and the young husband who adored her. Pregnant Elizabeth. Devoted Matthew. Matthewwho was about to be deployed to Iraq.
She inhaled deeply. Gathered her thoughts. The children would have to find their own way, of course, but the irony struck Rose, who'd been in the same positionpregnant with Susan, Elizabeth's mother, when Joe shipped out.
Keeping silent would kill Rose now. But she would not turn Liz's phantom worries into concrete reality. When Joe died, Rose had fallen apart; Liz didn't need to hear the details. Matthew would not die. At least, he probably wouldn't.
She would not have Liz thinking Charlie was second best in Rose's eyes. He didn't deserve that. War was war. Some returned and some didn't, and life had to begin again. God help them all.
She smiled up at Charlie and reaffirmed her original answer. "Life is good, Charlie. Very good."
Her voice quivered this time, and he squeezed her hand. "Matt's a doctor. He won't be on the front lines."
"You a mind reader?"
"Only with you." He kissed her quickly and added, "Paul drove over. He and I are going for a walk. Want to join us?"
A leisurely stroll with Charlie and their son-inlaw tempted Rose, but she hesitated.
"It's a gorgeous autumn day," Charlie cajoled.
"I need to press my fancy-schmancy suit. Can't show up with more wrinkles than I have to!"
But that wasn't the real reason she stayed behind. The past had taken hold. Visual memories. Sense memories. Battles. Letters. Tears. Weddings. Children. And laughter, too. A kaleidoscope of her eighty-five years. Maybe preparations for the anniversary party had evoked them. Maybe Matthew's looming deployment She'd certainly been maudlin since the day Liz and Matthew had announced their pregnancy last month right in the living room of Rose's Long Island home.
"We're very happy," Liz had said to the assembled family. "We both want children, and the timing's lousy, but " She lifted her chin, her dark eyes burning.
Fear turned her granddaughter inside out. Rose saw it, heard it, and took a shaky breath. Pregnant! Rose's head pounded, and her heartbeat ricocheted. Been there, done that, my darling girl. And survived. But she didn't want her sweet Lizzy to suffer that same heartache.
Keep your wits about you, Rosie. The children need you. But the children had been focused only on each other at that moment, just as she and Joe had been lost in each other before he went off to war.
She'd glanced at her daughter. Pale, too pale. Susan had never met Joe, her natural father, and although she loved Charlie deeply, she'd never forgotten that fact. Her eyes had flashed with angerher daughter pregnant and Matt deployedbut Susan had merely shifted closer to Paul and remained quiet.
"Nothing will happen to me," Matthew had declared, placing a serious kiss on his wife's mouth.
"I love you, Liz, with everything I've got, but I owe Uncle Sam for my education, and after a year in the Middle East, I'll be stateside again."
"I know," Liz had whispered, snuggling closer to Matt.
"God willing," Rose had uttered at the same time. She repeated the words silently now as she smoothed her long skirt before going to her walk-in closet. She turned on the light, hung the new suit and reached overhead for a familiar, large rosewood box. Carefully wrapped in plastic, it was a six-sided piece with a silver filagree knob in the center of the cover and a garland of roses inlaid around the edge. Rose polished the wood as regularly as she did her furniture; the rich patina glowed.
The Dream Box. Originally intended as a kind of hope chest, it now held her personal historyreminders of her joy and pain. Even sixty years with a good man couldn't erase all the pain. In the end, however, it didn't matter because somehow, together, she and Charlie had become one.
She carried the Dream Box to the desk she'd brought from her parents' house, and carefully set it down. With a trembling hand, she lifted the lid and reached inside.
Rose had written every single invitation by hand. Enough for the whole family, enough for the whole neighborhood. Her papa and mama had no money to splurge on printed invitationsno one she knew didbut Rose had the energy and desire to mark the once-in-a-lifetime occasion. So, with her fine-pointed fountain pen, a supply of India ink and plain white paper, she'd become a scribe for her own wedding. Then she'd personally delivered every one of the invitations to the aunts, uncles, cousinsthe whole mishpochain Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
And now they were all here, gathering downstairs in the big living room and in the hallway anywhere space allowed on the street-level floor of her family's brownstone.
She hadn't seen Joe yet and wouldn't before the ceremony, not that she was superstitious. Not really. But on her wedding day, she'd do nothing to invite bad luck, and remained out of sight in the upstairs bedroom she shared with her sisters.
She started to hum, then sway, then waltz around the bedroom. "'You'd be so easy to love '" Not a great voice, but today she would sing.
Joe! Her heart raced as she thought about him. She loved that man, so thankful her friend Sarah had an older brother. So delighted that Joe had finally viewed her in that special way girls dreamed about.
Rose had noticed him years before. He was everything a girl could wantwell educated, handsome, funny and respected. A professional man steady and reliable. Teaching high-school English meant a paycheck they could count onand neededbecause Rose, at twenty, had two more years of college ahead of her before she could contribute. Rose's family was as poor as everyone else's in the neighborhood, but all the Kaufman kids went to college. "For a good future," her papa would say, "not like now." The City University was free, a bonus for living in New York and earning good grades in high school.
"Dum dee dum dum all others above " She grasped the bedpost and continued to sway and hum "So Easy to Love." So right! Joe and Rose. Rose and Joe. Mrs. Joseph Abraham Rabinowitz. Lucky, lucky A lifetime together wouldn't be enough. She'd fix up their small apartment, make it special.
"Dum dum to waken with " she sang softly.
Footsteps sounded in the hall. The door opened and her sister Edith stood there, apron tied around her waist, her face flushed from the heat of the kitchen. Her eyes sparkled, however, as she took charge.
"Mama sent me to help you. It's almost time." Edith walked to the closet where Rose's wedding dress hung on the door.
"Is Joe here yet?" Rose whispered, suddenly finding it difficult to speak.
Edith nodded. "The rabbi's here, too, and every-one's making their way upstairs now." She waved toward the front of the house. "We were smart to take all the beds apart and clear out the other rooms up here. There's lots more space than downstairs, especially now when it's too cold to use the backyard."
Her sister kept chatting, but her hands were busy as usual. Edith was the oldest, their mother's first in line to assist and maybe the one most like Annie. A real baleboosteh, Edith could do anything, not that Rose and Gertie were left idle. In Annie Kaufman's house, everyone had jobs to do.
"Thank you, Edith." Rose reached for her sister.
"So much cooking and cleaning " Suddenly her eyes filled with tears, and Edith had a handkerchief ready to blot them.