Another in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the life of our mother:
In this week’s edition of The Karen Files, we’re offering contrasting photos of Mom. The first is a professionally done, nicely lit portait, taken on Karen’s wedding day. She looks lovely and happy as can be.
The other is a casual snapshot of Karen and Lloyd. We’re not sure where or when the picture was taken (the mid-late 1950s, probably, as Mom’s not yet blonde, but Dad has his crewcut), and there’s arguably not that much to recommend this photo. But we’re suckers for candid photographs of people we know and love. In a very real sense, they’re so much more accurate in capturing the person as we remember them than the most adept and skilled of professional portraits.
We like that Lloyd is tending to Karen, perhaps removing a bit of lint or a small twig caught on the fabric of her coat, as she turns her attention toward the photographer, whoever he or she is.
It’s a telling detail, as Lloyd lovingly tended to Karen (and she to him) for more than 55 years, but never so much as over the final decade of her life, as Alzheimer’s slowly robbed us all of the wife and mother we loved. Lloyd cared for Karen almost singlehandly until the very end—Karen spent only a few short months in fulltime care when her condition worsened beyond the point that allowed Lloyd—or any nonprofessional—to deal with it.
Those final ten years of loving care and devotion on Lloyd’s part qualify him for sainthood in our eyes.
But it’s worth remembering—and sharing—that even this wonderful marriage that was such an inspiration to all who knew Lloyd and Karen was not without its rough patches.
We were in our twenties or thirties when Lloyd shared with us for the first time that there had been a period relatively early in their marriage when Karen wasn’t sure she’d done the right thing in settling down with Lloyd.
Dad and Mom were 25 and 21, respectively, when they married, and in those early years, Mom worked the night shift at the newspaper. We can remember her coming home in the middle of the night (or so it seemed to us at that toddler stage—it may well have only been 10 or 11 p.m.). She would slip into our bedroom and wake us gently, in order to kiss us goodnight. One might well view this practice as counterproductive, but those brief late-night encounters have long been a treasured memory for us.
There was a woman who worked with Mom at the newspaper, a young divorcee who was living the high life—handsome men taking her to fancy resturants, parties, cocktails, the whole shebang—and she relished regaling the gang at the paper with (perhaps embellished) accounts of her nights on the town.
Karen, now in her mid-twenties and with two or three (it might even have been four) kids at home, began to feel that she was missing out, that the days of her youth were rapidly dwindling and she hadn’t made the most of them. She even told Lloyd that she wasn’t sure she loved him any more.
There was no separation; they spent no time apart. Lloyd and Karen went about the business of watching over us kids and putting in their time at their respective jobs, but there was suddenly a wall between them. They were in limbo, and neither could be certain how the situation might work itself out.
We can only assume that Karen spent those weeks trying to decide what sort of life she wanted, and how—and whether—a husband and children fit into it. The tension grew between Mom and Dad, though they were never prone to fight. Things finally came to a head, and Lloyd used the word “divorce” in one of their discussions. It was the last thing he wanted, but he knew they couldn’t go on as they were.
Dad taking that stand somehow snapped Mom out of her fog. Her priorities were suddenly clarified, and as Dad tells it, things were quickly back to normal. And from that day forward, for the next half-century, they remained devoted to one another.
It was a jarring tale to hear when Lloyd first shared it with us, and perhaps it’s unsettling for you, gentle reader, to encounter it here. But it’s also heartening to realize that even a marriage widely viewed as ideal wasn’t without its difficulties, its bumps in the road. But Lloyd and Karen found their way past those early obstacles (and would make their way around or over a few others still to come in the ensuing decades) to forge the strongest of bonds, one that ended only when death did part them, as that familiar nuptial phrase describes.
So while I’m very fond of that wedding portrait of Karen, it’s the candid snapshoot that really tells the tale of what was a great life partnership, not because Lloyd and Karen experienced only smooth sailing, but because they weathered their share of storms, always finding a way to see other through them safely.