by Dale Ricky
Remembering my wife and when I knew she is the one.
Ramona and I had gone to school together but never dated. Basic High School shenanigans one group of kids couldn't associate with another for whatever reason. Our circle of friends overlapped. However, I was a grade lower and heaven forbid if a girl dated down. I do remember we shared a few encounters during those high school days. She is a playful soul by nature and back then even more so. Those few encounters are on my High School experience highlight reel. I don't remember being dreamy about Ramona. However, I do remember she stood out. You know when you are looking at the stars? There are billions of them. Yet, your eye is drawn to one, that one star captures your attention. Ramona had caught my attention.
She graduated a year before I did and disappeared. I graduated and went to university until running out of money. I enlisted in the US Air Force to eat and stay dry when it rained. I was mistaken about the latter.
After two years. I decided to go home for a visit. I grew up in this small town of 2500 people on any given day. Two days before my deployment flight. I ran into Ramona. Our conversation came easy, talking as old friends, though we were never more than acquaintances. We learned neither of us was in a relationship. Soooo ... I asked her on a date my last night in town. She accepted.
A traveling carnival had set up for a 4th of July weekend. More easy conversation over burgers we went. It's the mid 80's, before smartphones, FaceBook, twitter, snapchat, or any need for being digitally connected. Picture it in black and white if that helps. Well, it was the 80's, so picture it in Kodachrome. People were selling popcorn and cotton candy. The smell of funnel cakes and greasy machinery filled the air. A field of unfolding trailers transforming into thrill rides. Neon lights, sounds of engines, turning gears, laughter, squeals and carny workers, a stereotypical scene repeated in movies.
We walked the midway. At each game, if you won multiple times consecutively, your prize upgraded. I played a game called "The Spot." The object is to cover a large red painted circle with three smaller yellow disks, $1 a try. No red showing won. The hype man demonstrated how easy it was. I tried a couple of times before getting the trick. Eventually, I won enough games Ramona picked out a large raccoon. The operator asked us to move on. The smile, joy, and giggling from my date were priceless.
Then it happened, while walking away she gave the raccoon an exaggerated hug, cradled it in her arm. Then weaved the fingers of her other hand into mine. We pulled closer together as we walked. She leaned her head on my shoulder and didn't say a word.
My mind exploded. I am holding her hand! I'm for real holding hands. I never knew there were different kinds of hand-holding. That evening, the Oklahoma sun going down reflecting blues, oranges and purples only God can create. The lights of the carnival glowed as day faded to night. The memory frozen in time permanently engraved in my mind. I took her home and held hands at the front door. I asked if I could write her. Her words, "Please do." Our arms extended as I moved back towards my car. Our fingers touching until distance broke the contact. A few hours later I caught a plane.
I wrote her a letter as soon as I figured out the postal service. If you have never waited in anticipation for a letter to arrive you are missing out on a true experience. The internet with e-mail wasn't a thing yet. Communication was a slow burn of anticipation, not an instant message. Long distance international phone calls were expensive and often unavailable. We exchanged letters several times over the next 18 months. Once back in town I asked her to marry me. We married two weeks later. She said goodbye to our small town to follow me around the world for the next 20 years. She held my hand on stage at my retirement ceremony some years ago. That day, like the carnival, is a day that stands out.
Our son arrived dramatically in 1988. Ramona had a difficult pregnancy with a traumatic delivery. I held her hand while an emergency C-section saved two lives. She held my hand as if hanging from a cliff, desperate not to fall. Both our knuckles white, hanging on for dear life. Thankfully, all ended well. Both baby and momma recovered.
On the day my grandmother passed away. That was my first experience losing a close family member. In my twenties, I had never lost anyone before. I never cried like that before. Grief was a new feeling for me. I lay on the bed sobbing, Ramona behind me. She cradled me gently holding my hand. She didn't say anything.
We attended a local church. We made friends and had the American dream, until 1997. We attended a couple's Sunday school class each week. I felt her touch my hand under the table. I opened my hand waiting for her perfectly fitting fingers to wrap into mine. But that didn't happen.
I felt trembling cold twigs instead. I turned to look, her eyes wide with fear. She didn't look at me. Speaking in a slurring whisper she could barely say, "Someth'en wrog." A single tear formed in the corner of her eye. It didn't fall it just welled up refracting light. Her hand wouldn't cooperate. A stoke battled inside her. We couldn't hold hands.
A couple of days later I sat in a chair close to her hospital bed. Yet, another stereotypical hospital scene depicted on many a TV show. Only, this time we were the unwitting players. I held her hand as she slept. I could feel her pulse under a warm touch. Our fingers laced together. A perfect fit. Then I felt a gentle squeeze. The rush of emotions many times more powerful than any time we held hands before. Two more squeezes. No words, just interlocking fingers communicating, "I'm here." The same message communicated when I was grieving for my grandmother, "I'm here." The message we shared when our son was born, "I'm here." Each instance is an echo from a time years earlier when two young people held hands for the first time. A touch, for real holding hands, "I'm here."
Ramona didn't suffer a full stroke. Instead, she suffered Transient Ischemic Attacks or TIAs for short. The TIAs weakened her physically. Fortunately, the paralysis side effects were temporary. A side effect that remained is "lazy balance"; at least that is what I call it. She can walk on her own. She doesn't use a cane. But, when changing vertical position she can get a little wobbly. Now, when we hold hands, it's not like we did at the carnival or the time when our son was born. Now, it's everything combined and more. The reasons are far more meaningful today than a couple of young people could have imagined all those years ago. We help hold each other steady. Whether for balance, emotional support or a romantic stroll we hold hands. While holding hands we are silently, saying, "I'm here."