Kissing Leads to “YES!”

by Kelly Salasin

With the temptations so great for the young these days, I hope that your husband will not find you second hand…”

These were the words received in a letter from my great-grandmother during my freshman year at college! Reading them again, twenty years later, I still find myself gasping in surprise. How bold my “Nana Burrows” was!

Born Helen Mildred Jefferson in 1898, my great-grandmother went to college in the days when women didn’t. Nana had always wanted to be a teacher and began her career, at sixteen, in a one-room school house. She boarded with a family in town, drove a horse-drawn carriage to work, sewed her own dresses (ordering fabrics from the Sears and Roebuck catalogue), and filled the pot-bellied stove with wood to keep the students warm. Naughty children were sent to clean the outhouse.

Nana’s beloved work as teacher ended shortly after her marriage to my great-grandfather, Amos Allen Burrows. (Respectable married woman did not work.) Amos was a merchant marine and was away at sea most of the time, as he was on on the day the new school year began. Nana remembers hanging her clothes out on the line that morning when she heard the school bells ring. “Tears rolled down my cheeks,” she said.

I too studied to be a teacher at college, and during my senior year came to visit my great grandmother over the winter break. I was struggling at the time with the desire for independence and with my affections for a very possessive boyfriend who wanted to get married.

I know how hard it is…” Nana whispered, assuming that my troubles were around the question of sex.

Before your great-grandfather and I were married, we met each other for the day when his ship came into New York. By accident, we got on the wrong train and ended up needing a place to stay- overnight… so we got married. The ceremony was conducted by a minister in an empty church with his cleaning ladies as witnesses. Afterwards Amos took me to a hotel, and I lost my cherry!

GASP!! Honestly, it wasn’t as if my great-grandmother spoke like this all the time. She was a church-going woman her whole life, and never drank or smoked or even cursed. The extent of her admonishments were things like “Landsakes!” and“Fiddlesticks!” or my favorite, “Hot diggity-dog!” At ninety-two she still had all her faculties about her, but somehow had come to consider me a confidante– despite the the sixty year gulf between us.

Nana always said she liked me because I was “ornery.” She’d say that with a smile and wink and add, “Me too!” Early on I learned of her bold spirit.

When I was just a child of five and spending summers at my Grandmother Lila’s house (who was Nana’s oldest daughter), Nana and I would sneak down to the corner store to buy bubble gum. Gum was not allowed in my Grandmother Lila’s house. “Ladies should not chew like cows!” she’d scold with the strength of her large stature (she took after her father).

And so my little Nana and I would return from Anderson’s Novelty store with contraband deep in our pockets. Together we’d crouch down behind the book shelf in the great room and chew like cows! I even taught her to blow bubbles. I can still feel our smiles.

After being widowed for ten years, Nana Burrows married a man who became my beloved “Poppop Davidson.” He’d tease me when I’d refuse to call her by his name, but neither of them made me.

Their autumn love story was a sweet one. As a beautiful young woman, my Nana had many suitors, including the affections of my great-grandfather Amos, the merchant marine. To brag, Mildred would leave Amoses letters around so that others might see their overseas’ postmarks.

But he was out at sea the afternoon when his highschool classmate, Norman Davidson, asked my Nana out for a date.   To his delight, she accepted.

But Norman hadn’t arrived on her front porch when who should unexpectedly come strolling down the street… Amos!  Returned home from the sea a month early!

Norman bowed out gracefully, and Amos became the great-grandfather I never met (dying just before I was born). Poppop Norman moved south to Lousiana, married another woman, and began his own family. The two never saw each other again until they were both widowed and in their seventies.

They met at church, and as Nana likes to complain (winking while she does), “He wouldn’t stop pestering me until I said, ‘Yes!” And thus began a marriage of almost twenty years- seeing them both into their nineties.

After Poppop Norman’s death, much of Nana’s spunk dampened. She had seen so many pass- two husbands, my grandmother Lila, several siblings, almost all of her friends, and even most of her students- that was the hardest, she’d tell me.

I’m ready whenever the Lord wants to take me,” she’d say often, seeming depressed, and then the moment would pass and she’d giggle, telling me some story, “You know what I did last night? I slept with my glasses on!”

He never kissed me you know…” she volunteered one afternoon when I’d come to visit with my own husband. She was speaking of Poppop Norman who had passed away a handful of years before.

He had had an operation… He said that kissing led to sex, and he couldn’t do that anymore. So, I’ve only had sex with one man.

Please Nana, Stop! I wanted to yell. I didn’t want to hear about my great-grandmother’s sex life (or lack of one), or think about my Poppop in that way; but I just swallowed my discomfort and attempted to act as casually as she had.

I had trouble fathoming a marriage without sex— twenty years without so much as a kiss! But then I recalled sweet Poppop Norman Davidson, who patted my hands and told that new boyfriend of mine to take good care of me. “I like her,“ he always said, “Even if she still calls her great-grandmother, Nana Burrows.”

Poppop Davidson was the one who finished all of Nana’s stories- even all the ones that took place before he was around. He was the one who “remembered” for her, and filled in all the forgotten details of her cherished life– that’s how well he listened, that’s how well he loved and waited- fifty years for that first date to come around again, and not giving up the second time until she said “Yes.”

“That’s My Daddy” from 4 to 40

by Kelly Salasin

That’s my daddy! That’s my daddy!”
A four-year old girl stands with a tiny suitcase in hand as a passenger ferry pulls into dock. When she spies her father on the second-story deck, she jumps up and down, shouting, “That’s my daddy! That’s my daddy!”

Surprisingly, that little girl is me (almost forty years ago). I can still remember the smell of the docks warmed by the summer sun, and the sounds of gulls flanking the ship as her stern squeezed itself into the tight embrace of the piers.

That’s my daddy! That’s my daddy!” I hollered, tugging my Nana’s arm into the air with each leap. I had come to spend my first overnight at my Nana’s house in Rehoboth, Delaware, and we had a wonderful day. We picked berries, walked along the boardwalk, visited the beach. I plucked ripe tomatoes from her garden and met the frog who visited her there.

But when the call came late that afternoon to check in on me, it was all over. As soon as I heard my father’s voice over the phone, I fell to pieces, saying that I wanted to go home… right then.

His reply?

“Yes.”

Decades later this response seems a minor miracle–given my father’s lifetime indifference to the emotional aspects of parenting; and the increasingly challenging relationship we shared as I aged.

Even more amazing is the fact that I wasn’t down the street or across town, I was in another state–and a couple hours away–including a ferry trip across the Delaware Bay.  

The story grows even more climatic, as my penny-wise, pragmatic father, forgoes his plans to have my Nana board me (so that he doesn’t have to pay for the return trip)–and crosses the ramp himself to lift me into his arms, unable to resist my excitement.

That’s my daddy! That’s my daddy!”

This phrase has taken on mythical qualities in the legacy of family, but you’d have to hear like I do with the twang of my Nana’s Delaware accent. She retold that story on each visit we made to her beachside town so that by the time that I was in my twenties, I no longer knew if I recalled any of it from experience, or if it was simply her telling that I knew so well.

But it doesn’t matter, because it served the same purpose: it anchored the affection between my father and me–for a lifetime. Perhaps, Nana, in her grandmotherly wisdom, knew that we would need to draw upon this for many years to come.

As I grew up, it was my mother whom I found easier to love. She and I had more in common and easily became friends as I entered adulthood. With my father, things grew increasingly difficult, particularly as I began to spread my wings, and even more so after my parents divorced and my father remarried.

My dad had been the one prone to anger and erratic discipline, and increasingly absent from our lives. He had always provided for our family, and we were proud of his work as a surgeon, but what we really wanted was his time and affection–something he never seemed able or comfortable enough to give in any large doses.

And yet, strangely enough, it is his shining moments of devotion that are strung along in my mind’s history of our dance together. At eight years old, I remember the day when I discovered that my mother had disposed of my beloved “blankies,” telling me once and for all that I had grown too old for them. This triggered an episode of hysteria that typically my father would dismiss with a fury, but instead it was he who listened to my tears when he arrived home from the hospital. Like a knight in shining armor, he rescued my blankies and returned them to me– pleasantly amused at my passion–and the simplicity with which he could be my hero.

In looking back, perhaps it was my father who was the more tender-hearted one of my parents after all. He certainly was more prone to the range of emotions that accompany one who lives from the heart. Or maybe it was simply that his moments of grace were so few and far apart that they took on larger-than-life proportions. Whatever it was that possessed him to sudden strokes of fatherly greatness, the memory of his heroic acts last to this day.

My favorite story is not the “That’s my Daddy” tale that my great-grandmother loved to retell, but another precious moment that occurred just between the two of us. It is a moment that has been forever etched into my heart because of the unforgettable intimacy that it held.

It was a snowy day in downtown Philadelphia, 1969. I had just turned five and was waiting outside in the cold for my daddy to pick me up from kindergarten. He was in his third year of medical school at Jefferson. He forgot me.

Schools were different in those days. They didn’t keep track of every child and there wasn’t someone “on duty” who sent me inside to wait. In fact, when I trudged through the unexpected snow back to the school entrance, I found the janitor locking the doors, and learned that my only option was to re-enter this imposing stone building from around the back–which seemed frighteningly far away to a little girl who was certain that her father would not find her there and that she’d be left forever.

Because I was told to wait out front, I did, shivering as the snow fell upon me.

My father never did remember me until he arrived home that afternoon an hour late and my mother asked “Where’s Kelly Ann!?” By the time he sped up to the curb, my teeth were chattering uncontrollably and tears were frozen on my cheeks. My young father quickly lifted me into his arms, turned the heat all the way up in his car, took my hands in his and warmed them with his breath. Then he removed my socks and shoes and placed my frozen feet– and this is the best part–under his shirt, snug against his belly.   We rode home like that, our bodies touching, his warming mine.

To this day, that act stands out as one of the most loving moments of my life. In fact, I repeatedly challenge my husband’s devotion by insisting he warm my cold feet against his belly each winter night.

Sometimes, when I find myself filled with resentment for my father’s failure to strive for any of the “Hallmark” standards of parenting, I see that little girl with the suitcase in hand,

And I decide to give this love story another chance…

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