May 19, 2007
In the new movie Georgia Rule, the stern mother played by Jane Fonda is confronted by her dysfunctional daughter (Felicity Hoffman).
"You never said you loved me."
Fonda's retort, "Well, my parents never said it."
"And you knew they did how?"
This must be as unfathomable to a person in his or her 40's as it would have been unfathomable to our parents that they should constantly reassure us with those three little words. I couldn't help but think Ms. Fonda connected with the line through experiences with her own father, whom she almost seemed to be channeling in her performance in this wonderful little film.
I have always been astonished to hear grown women choked up because their fathers never told them they loved them. My father never did. My mother never did either -- although I know she took it upon herself to reassure my little brother, and often, that my father loved him. I suppose he had confided in her that he suspected that our father didn't love him -- but I wonder how he could possibly have believed it, coming from her. Why didn't she tell Daddy to say it? Did she? Did he actually refuse? All those scenarios are possible.
The most loving person in my family, our surrogate grandmother (actually our mother's aunt), clearly loved all us children deeply. But I never heard her say it.
How did we know it, then?
When I remember that little lady with her long white hair wrapped neatly in a bun at the nape of her neck, when I remember the sparkle in her brown eyes and the sound of her solicitous and gentle voice, when I cherish the memory of her bringing stacks of comic books to us, those cast off by her younger brothers -- in their 70's -- her wicked smile when she said things like "I like Buck Jones, don't you?" -- even the minor memories of her make me feel enveloped in warmth. I remember her cooking, her generosity, her pleasant and optimistic way of embracing life, her old-fashioned, churchgoing ways, and I know the love I felt was going both ways.
I think you "know" love through other means than auditory. Saying "I love you" doesn't mean you never have to say you're sorry. It doesn't even mean you love. Hearing someone say it when it's clearly felt at the moment -- and it's the moment you want to hear it -- is a high point in life, unforgettable and even cataclysmic. It cannot be beckoned or begged into existence. But I have lived through enough relationships to promise you this: It does happen.
Parents today seem to tell their children they love them all the time. Maybe they overdo it; maybe they are right and our parents were wrong. I really don't know. But I do know that it's different.