Skip Miller was the longtime maintenance man at the local church. That’s how he got his teenage daughter Jennifer a part-time job answering phones in its rectory. She was a pretty young lady, with no shortage of boys vying for her attention.
Most days on the job, she found herself telling callers the weekend mass schedule or taking messages for the pastor. But today was different. It was the first week of the month, which meant a parade of widows would be coming in with their checkbooks to arrange special masses for the people they’d loved and lost. To have a person’s name announced and remembered during mass required a $5 donation, money that was then used to buy flowers for the altar. The widows always made these requests during the first few days of the month, because that’s when their retirement checks arrived. Grocery stores, pharmacies and church rectories were always busy the first week of the month.
Most women would ask for one or two masses for their loved one, but not Molly Sullivan. Molly was the exception. She would arrive shortly after 9am on the second day of the month, sit patiently until it was her turn, then hand over a check for $50 dollars, just enough to have a mass every Saturday and Sunday in her husband Arthur’s name. By year’s end she’d spend $600 making sure the congregation remembered what a special man he’d been.
This was the fourth month in a row Molly handed Jennifer a check, prompting the girl to say to the normally quiet widow, “He must have been a real keeper for you to honor him this way. Flowers, candy, the whole nine yards.” Molly took a seat across from Jennifer in a mahogany chair with a soft red cushion and said, “Is that what you think love is, sweetheart? Flowers and candy and spending lots of money? That couldn’t be further from the truth. You’re right about one thing, though; he was a keeper.”
Jennifer sat up straight in her chair, looked the old woman dead in the eye and asked sincerely, “So, what is love?”
Molly rested her purse in her lap, smiled and responded: “Love isn’t a series of grand gestures, but the tiny things most of the world doesn’t even notice—only you. Love is having a husband who didn’t want a vegetable garden—because he could’ve bought cucumbers and tomatoes at the store—but was willing to kneel next to you on hard stones in the dirt to help you pull the weeds from yours. Love is a person who’d get up early, even though he’d worked late, to start your car on a bitter cold morning and clear the snow off your back window, so you wouldn’t get into an accident. Love is a person who, in all the years you’ve known him, has never driven a new car, because he’d rather spend the money on you and the kids. Love is someone who wouldn’t argue about visiting the in-laws, and ignored the slights and digs hurled his way, because he knew that this was your family, and he didn’t want to make you upset. Love is someone who calls in sick to work when you’re sick, so you can rest and never want for anything at that vulnerable time.”
Molly took a deep breath and continued: “Love certainly isn’t asking someone to marry you on the Jumbotron at a baseball game, showing off for everyone at such a private moment. Instead, it’s a person who will gently take your hand in his and say, ‘I can’t live this life without you.’”
Molly touched Jennifer’s hand now. “I was young, just like you, a long time ago, and I wasted time on boys who dressed the part of the perfect man but were more interested in pleasing themselves,” she said. “Then I met Arthur and I saw what real love looked and felt like. It’s not always pretty; sometimes it’s downright messy, but it’s always real. Look for authentic over athletic.”
Molly stood up now as if ready to leave, adding, “Anyone can say they love you, dear, but your true love will show it to you in a million little ways.”
As Molly turned to go, Jennifer’s phone buzzed on the desk in front of her. She glanced down and saw the name of a boy she’d been dating. “Boyfriend?” Molly inquired with a smile. Jennifer nodded yes, and before she could speak Molly added, “Tell him you’re working, and if he wants to see you, he should ride his bike over here and ask you out proper. And don’t chase him. He should chase you!”
Jennifer turned the phone over so she couldn’t see the screen any longer, then looked up at Molly and said, “The little things, right?”
Molly made her way to the rectory door, and before closing it behind her, said, without looking back, “The little things are the big things. Remember that, and you’re home free.”