My grandparents have a beautiful love story, and thanks to The Bentonville Film Festival and my partnership with them, I’m sharing that story here today.
It’s one you’ll want to share with friends.
I’ve done plenty of talking about love lately – love and how messy marriage can be, because let’s be honest, marriage IS messy. It’s never without difficulties, without obstacles, without arguments and sleepless nights and moments of weakness. It’s just, by nature, very messy.
Marriage is also beautiful, and when done right, it can last for years and years. Scratch that, it can last happily for years and years. I’m not talking about the people who have been married for eons and can’t stand one another, that’s not love, that’s tolerance (though successful love and marriage do have come with an enormous helping of tolerance). I’m specifically talking about the kind of love you just see in people’s eyes. The silver-haired people you see walking down the street, hand in hand, or dancing in a quiet courtyard somewhere. The kind of love that drives an 87 year old man to drive 40 minutes to see the love of his life in an Alzheimer’s Disease facility every day of his life.
Specifically, my grandparents – Grandma and Pop Rister.
Their love was beautiful, and messy, and full of turmoil, a rollercoaster of ups and downs, and memories, and a life worth living, even in the difficult times.
They went to high school together in Tavares, Florida. Grandma was a cheerleader, a basketball player, and the Homecoming Queen. Pop was the star football player, hated basketball, and the Homecoming King. They each had significant others during the Sadie Hawkins Day Race one year. Grandma’s boyfriend ran off and wouldn’t let her catch him, but Pop was caught by a bigger, faster woman who immediately handed him off to “Dottie”, my grandma. Apparently that girl had her eye on a different man.
Then went on their obligatory picnic date and realized they really, really liked one another. I don’t know the timing of it all, but they made it seem like they immediately broke the hearts of their current love interests and started dating shortly thereafter.
They had Pop’s daddy drive them to Georgia so they could get married as soon as they graduated high school but Grandma ended up chickening out. When they got back to Florida, she changed her mind again, so GreatPop drove them back to Georgia and they were wed in holy matrimony.
The story goes that Grandma was so scared of making love that Pop just held her every night for their first few nights as man and wife. That fear eventually subsided and they went on to have four kids – three boys and one girl – my mom.
Life was fun but hard. Grandma and Pop ran the dances at the VA and when I grew big enough to dance, she taught me to jitterbug. They were poor but Pop worked hard and was in the Army National Guard, away from home more often than not. He also worked as a revenuer with the State of Florida, which is just a fancy way of saying he busted moonshine stills, which is where he became a connoisseur of moonshine, at least that’s how the story goes.
Grandma got fed up with Pop’s antics at some point and she left him high and dry in Orlando when she moved to Tampa to live with her brother. Pop decided he wanted to choose his wife and kids and he chased her down and begged her home.
It was then that their love changed in a similar way to the way my marriage has changed recently. They began going to church together, they saved all they could for their future. They raised their children and saw them out into the world. They had grandchildren that they doted on and loved, and they were present for one another.
I watched arguments between them, but always laughed because as soon as Pop would turn around, Grandma would raise her pointer finger up to the air and give them her PG version of the good ol’ bird, with a look on her face that said, “Eat this, sucker!” Pretty soon they’d be working on some joint venture or frying up some catfish in the kitchen, nuzzling one another all the while.
They were affectionate, they had fun together, and their life never seemed stale or old to me. Right until Grandma went into the nursing home, they were always on the move volunteering, traveling in their RV, going to see a movie, or just driving around town in their Buick.
Pop’s devotion to Grandma never wavered. He drove the 17 miles through bad parts of town, slower than the speed limit, to see her every day. Even when his name couldn’t be called to her lips, he went and he kissed and nuzzled and held her hand. Every, single day.
At the end of October, we found out Pop had a terminal brain tumor. He declined rapidly. I spent much of November driving back and forth from Santa Rosa Beach to Orlando to see him, to be able to give him one last kiss before he died.
On the night of November 15, they expected him to pass. His blood pressure was undetectable, his heartbeat barely registering, but he continued breathing. The morning of November 16, Mom called Grandma’s home and had her brought to his bedside. She said, “Husband” when she got to his side in her wheelchair. She held his hand, much the way he had held hers the past several years. After a few minutes of silence between the two lovers, Grandma was moved to the sofa, and as she sat down, Pop registered his last breath and left this earth in an unceremonious last breath in the presence of his greatest, most true love.
That, my friends, that is what we fight for. That is the kind of love I hope to have with Kyle some day. A love that cannot leave without one last goodbye. A love that goes through tragedy and still comes out triumphant. Sometimes it’s hard to remember why we’re fighting the good fight, or why we’re fighting for the person we’ve chosen to spend our lives with, but their love is a testament to why we fight, and what can happen when we do.
I would love to see their love story turned into a movie some day, and maybe that can still happen if I find a good playwright. When it happens, I know immediately I will turn to the Bentonville Film Festival which was co-founded by Academy Award Winner® Geena Davis and entrepreneur Trevor Drinkwater (CEO, ARC Entertainment), in 2015. BFF’s mission is to encourage content creation in film and other forms of media that reflects the diverse — and half female — world we live in. BFF proactively supports content creation by minorities and women with a platform to showcase their work, and is the only film competition in the world to guarantee theatrical, television, digital and retail home entertainment distribution for its winners. This is huge. Small steps. Choosing love, choosing diversity, choosing to shed light on those of us whose voice is stifled because we are minorities.
The second annual Bentonville Film Festival will be held May 3-8, 2016 in partnership with founding sponsor, Walmart; presenting sponsor Coca-Cola; and distribution partners, AMC Theaters and Lifetime.