The Boy in the Silver Frame
I was popular in high school. Not because I was beautiful and rich. I was actually unattractive and poor. My popularity was for two reasons—one, I had a great personality. It’s not just something people said to me to try to compensate for the fact that I was overweight, I really did have a great personality. People gravitated toward me. Which was good, because I did need to compensate for my weight—something that had bothered me my entire life. The second reason I was popular was because, in my ’54 class at Pharoah High School, there were only eight graduates. Competition wasn’t exactly steep. I was liked by girls and boys, but most of the boys only liked me as a friend. When it came to dating, they went for the pretty girls, like my best friend Janice Anderson. I couldn’t hate her though, because she was as sweet as she was beautiful. One boy, however, did like me as a girlfriend. Freddie Cosper and I dated on and off but mostly, we just hung out in groups. He was handsome, and I considered myself lucky he was interested in me. Until the day I met Dean. After that, no boy in the world mattered.
My brother’s wife, Penny, was the one who set me up with Dean. He was older than me. I was seventeen, and he was twenty-eight. But I was mature for my age, and I trusted Penny, so I agreed to meet him. She introduced us at a café in Weleetka. He was the most handsome man I’d ever seen in my life, with black, curly hair, and dreamy brown eyes. He was attractive enough to be in Hollywood. He reminded me a little of Tyrone Power. Only Dean was even more handsome. Imagine my shock when he asked me out on a date.
When Dean came to pick me up for our first date, I nearly swooned at how good-looking he was. He wore brown pants and a tan shirt, and his dark hair gleamed like the sky at midnight. I could barely breathe…my legs felt like water was running through them. Was he really here for me?
I was certain I’d never see him again after that night. How could such a handsome, worldly man want anything to do with a fat, ugly, Oklahoma country girl like me? But he must have seen something in me I didn’t. Because we were together nearly every day from then on. Even my friends at school were shocked, and they didn’t keep it to themselves. I was asked more than once, “Eva, how on earth did you land a handsome guy like that?” I would just smile smugly. I didn’t care how…the fact was, I did. And they could eat their jealous hearts out. Besides, Dean often told me I was pretty…and sometimes I actually believed it was true.
I graduated in May, turned eighteen in July, and on December 8, 1954—the happiest day of my life—I married the man of my dreams.
He’d been married before. He’d fought in World War II and, behind those beautiful brown eyes, I sensed sadness. I knew he’d witnessed a lot of tragedy, but it hadn’t made him bitter. He was gentle, charming, kind, loving, intelligent, and funny.
He was also an alcoholic. He was not a mean drunk, but the bottle had a tight hold on him, and it would be a factor in our lives I could not have foreseen at the time. I realize alcoholism is a disease, and there doesn’t always have to be a reason for a person to develop a drinking problem. But for Dean, there were reasons aplenty. He’d not only had a rough childhood—with a cruel and abusive mother—and had gone to war at the age of sixteen, he’d also lost contact with his child, a boy named Eddie that he was crazy about. I seldom saw him cry during our marriage, but more than once, he broke down over missing his son.
When I became pregnant, I was worried, because of Dean’s drinking. But, it all turned out okay. We had some rough patches, but he was the best father in the world.
Finally, twelve years and four children into our marriage, Dean got sober. He joined AA, and that was when the happiest times of our marriage began. We had two more children. With each one, the love in our household magnified. And, what a blessing—we were reacquainted with Dean’s oldest son, Edward, when Edward was eighteen. Eddie was a fine young man, so much like his dad, it was spooky, considering Dean hadn’t been around while he was growing up.
During our marriage, I steadily gained more weight, but Dean didn’t seem to feel differently about me. He never looked at me as though I disgusted him. Over the years, we had our ups and down. But through it all, we had love—deep, forever, true, all-consuming love.
We had six children together and a handful of beautiful, precious grandchildren. If I thought Dean was a good father, I was blown away at what a wonderful grandfather he was. The babies adored him more than they did me, even though I was the one who did most of the feeding and diaper-changing when they were at our house. But I didn’t mind, because watching Dean with those babies was a true delight. And it made me love him even more, if that was possible.
Dean’s health declined over the years. When he was sixty-nine, he had hip replacement surgery. He developed complications, and a blood clot broke loose and hit his heart. On December 21, 1994, a few weeks after our fortieth wedding anniversary, Dean passed away. My universe crumbled. My heart, my world, the love of my life was gone. How would I survive?
With the help of my children and my grandchildren, I went on. But life was never the same. On the very day I lost him and every day after, even though I’d be leaving my children and grandchildren behind, my greatest wish was to join him in Heaven. I could not wait for that day.
But, wait, I did. I had many happy years after his passing, but never the soul-deep, ecstatic joy I had when he was alive.
Twenty years after his death, my mobility had gone drastically downhill. Between my weight, my arthritis, and my knee and back problems, I ended up in a nursing home. It wasn’t as bad as you’d think. My children and grandchildren visited me regularly, although I so desperately wanted to go home. What I truly wanted was to go to my heavenly home, but I’d have settled for my earthly home in the meantime. But that was not to be.
I lay in the nursing home bed and thought about Dean, nearly every minute of every day. My kids had hung pictures on the walls of my room. One of them was Dean’s military photo in a silver frame. He was probably seventeen in that picture, a beautiful, brown-eyed, smiling soldier. I treasured that photo, and it hung right in my line of sight where I could see it every waking moment.
One night, I struggled out of bed to go to the bathroom. I was barely able to get around on my own, but thank God, I had at least a little mobility left. I grabbed onto furniture the best I could and made the short trek to the bathroom. When I came out, it was as though I was plunged into a strange, scary world of blackness. I had no sense of direction. I didn’t know where my bed was. My legs were trembling and hurting, my back was giving out on me. I was in severe pain, terrified, sobbing. Then…I noticed a glow.
My gaze landed on the picture of Dean, the boy in the silver frame. The frame now shone so brightly that it illuminated the room enough for me to find my way to my bed. I took painful, trembling steps to the bed and collapsed onto it. I closed my eyes and thanked God for letting my sweetheart guide me to safety.
Time went on, and my mobility lessened, and my mental confusion increased. It seemed I couldn’t remember anything. I would get so frustrated with myself. I asked my children and grandchildren the same questions over and over again. I know it must have been annoying, but they tried to exercise patience. Once, when my daughter came to visit, I asked her where her dad was. She looked at me with concern creasing her brow. “Mom, Dad passed away years ago.”
I felt as though someone had stabbed me in the center of my chest. “What? He’s dead?”
“Yes, he’s been gone for more than twenty years.”
Then it came back to me. Of course he was gone. How could I forget?
One day several months later, I was lying in bed, waiting for Dean to come see me. I hadn’t seen him in hours. Where was he? What was keeping him? My daughter dropped by, and I asked her where he was. “Mom…don’t you remember? Dad passed away, years ago.”
“What?” For the first time I can recall, I was angry with her. “How is that possible?” I demanded. “He can’t be dead…what happened?”
Pain etched her features. “He…he died from a blood clot hitting his heart. He passed away twenty-three years ago.”
“No! That can’t be true.” My heart ached like it had never ached before. It wasn’t possible… Tears rose to my throat and spilled down my face. Fear gripped me. Could I really be slipping that much? I looked up at Dean’s photo and let out a sob. “How could I forget I lost my darling?”
“I’m so sorry.” My daughter hugged me, and we cried together.
Months later, I lay in my room, staring at the four walls. I missed Dean so much. I wanted to see him. He should have been by already. I’d been expecting him all morning. My daughter came to see me, and I asked her, “Where is your dad? He was supposed to be here by now.”
She smiled gently. “He had some errands to run, but he’ll be back soon.”
Something about her voice, her demeanor…wasn’t quite right. A niggle of fear worked its way through my chest. “Are you sure? Is he okay? He’s not…dead…is he?”
“No, no,” she quickly reassured me. “He’s fine. He was here this morning, and he’ll be back later, promise.”
I gave a relieved sigh, my fears allayed. I’d see my darling soon.
One evening in August of 2018, I lay in my bed, on the verge of dozing off. It was nothing unusual, I dozed a lot. What else was there to do during the long, long hours when I didn’t have visitors? But tonight felt…different. I had this odd sense of peace and exhilaration. I closed my eyes and drifted into a deep sleep, the deepest sleep I’d ever known.
And then I realized why tonight was different. My heart soared with excitement. Tonight, my sleep would be eternal. I was finally going home. And the boy in the silver frame was waiting for me.