Frances and Benjamin (far right) with Bertie and friend, 1945
What do I know for sure? There is a strong possibility that I may have made this statement some time ago. I can say, indisputably, that my grandparent’s love each other. The love that I witness them share is one that continues to transcend time. Recently, with the death of Nancy Reagan, although they discussed her life, I noticed that the thread of the news coverage was predominantly about her love for Ronald Reagan. While I watched one news report after the other describe the long lasting love affair between Nancy and Ronald Reagan, I immediately thought about my grandparents and their own epic love story. One of the statements that made me think of the Grahams specifically during the news broadcasts was one made by the Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, during the eulogy: “And then there was the circle of their own private world, as clear as if it had been traced around them, indestructible, impenetrable, an island for two.”
Frances and Benjamin at home, 1970
Benjamin and Frances Graham are indeed on an island for two. Hence the title of the documentary, “Everyone But Two: The Life, Love & Travel of Benjamin and Frances Graham.” The play on the word everyone was a way to encapsulate both the idea of it being the two of them against the world and that they had been to every one of the states except Hawaii and Alaska. As for the remainder of the title, not one of those pieces of their lives would exist without the other. They are the reason that I have never given up on my inner hopeless romantic. In a day and age where people are getting “Married at First Sight,” or are receiving a rose on the “Bachelor,” with the hopes of a marriage proposal by season’s end, yet and still we are never without the idea of finding love, no matter how unconventional. The underlying fact remains, it is something we all want.
Benjamin and Frances at surprise 70th birthday party for Frances, 1995
Times are for sure, for whatever reason, more complicated for the younger generations. As we have become more self-reliant, I think for some, that shift has found its way into the needs and wants of our love lives. I never purposely want to cast such a wide net, but a lot of generation x-ers and millennials may have backed themselves into a lonely corner of being fiercely independent. Obviously, folks are still getting married, but the times have changed along with the threshold for commitment. Even I am a divorce statistic. I have been asked before, if I knew what I knew now about the outcome of my marriage, would I have still gone through with it? Of course I would. How could I not? At that time, I believed in that love and I had nothing but the best intentions. Ultimately, we all do what we think is the best for us at any particular moment. As Stella, a character from my favorite movie Rear Window stated so profoundly, “When two people love each other, they come together - WHAM - like two taxis on Broadway.” The trick is to stay together (and with the right person).
Frances with necklace, 2016
That is where chemistry, compromise and commitment have to join forces. This compound of characteristics is something my grandparents are not short of. The reason for this post was a simple gesture by my grandfather. Last month, he purchased a necklace for my grandmother and had it engraved. It is an oval with 3 hearts stacked in the middle. On the back, one name is at the top, the other at the bottom and in the middle, on the back of the hearts, “ I Love You.” After 25,029 days of marriage and counting, 12 presidents and one on the way and 69 Valentines Days, Benjamin loves Frances. She still laughs at his shenanigans, he still holds her hand every night before they drift off to sleep, and they finish each other’s stories spanning the decades of their relationship. At 89 and 91 (in a few months), in sickness and in health, they are every bit of star-crossed lovers as anyone a quarter of their age. Maybe it is naive to think that every relationship has that potential of success and longevity. Life alone is complicated; let alone having to share two complicated lives with each other. But the way I see it, if I am fortunate enough to have someone at my side for 69 years, I have already kicked life’s ass. Every day I pray for them and for an island of two of my own. I love them and I love that they love each other and I love that I am in love.