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Man in a Blue Shirt

Dan Lyksett

I’ve haven’t been a big fan of Valentine’s Day since 1961, fourth grade, when I didn’t get a card from Pammy Ritchie, crushing my budding crush.

And managing a card and gift shop during the Valentine’s Day frenzy of February 1979 didn’t help one bit. Picture my store as any Hallmark-type shop squeezed in the far corner of the mall between a Kinney Shoe store and a Radio Shack, it’s center isle of card racks crowded on three sides by wall displays of collectable ceramic dolls and assorted knick knacks, fancy chocolates and framed inspirational posters like a seal with a fish in its mouth encouraging you to “Seize the Day.”

And tucked in the corner are novelty items like the “Underwear That’s Funtawear.” Truth. You can Google that.

You run a card and gift shop and you spend January recovering from the marathon of the Christmas season and gearing up for the tribal tumult that is Valentine’s Day. Shoppers may plan for Christmas, but they panic over Valentine’s Day, desperate to find the perfect, well, something, to express, well, something. It isn’t pretty.

My wife will testify I’m not a Valentine’s Day hero. The only real score I ever made was sending flowers to her office rather than just giving them to her. There is such a thing as bragging rights.

And anyway, humans are mortal, so what’s this deal about pledging eternal love? Even the marriage vows say “Until Death do us part.” Love is a human emotion, and humans don’t live forever, so it would seem love like any good story has a beginning, a middle and an end.

That is, unless eternal love exists in another dimension visible only to a lucky few.

My mother has been in a nursing home for three years. Her body is breaking down, but her mind is still pretty sharp. She suspected her great-granddaughter’s marriage was in trouble before anyone else in the family; my mother saw it in her eyes.

So when she told us last year there was a man coming in her room at night, we listened. She said the man would come in and just stand over her bed. She would ask him what he wanted, but he never spoke. He would just stand there for several minutes and then turn and walk out the door. She couldn’t see his face.

Of course we checked with the nursing home right away. They said it was impossible. There are no men working nights, and none of the male patients can walk. She must be dreaming. So that’s what we told her. She didn’t argue, but over the next couple weeks she kept telling us it happened again, and again.

One day I drove down to visit her and sat down in the one chair in her little room. She scooted her wheelchair up close, took hold of my hands and said she had something to tell me.

“I figured out whose been coming into my room at night,” she said. “Last night I recognized the shirt he was wearing. It’s a blue shirt, and it’s your Dad’s blue shirt.” She smiled and shook her head. “And I couldn’t figure out why he was wearing it because your Dad never liked that shirt.”

My dad has been dead for 18 years.

Then my mother said, “I asked him if he’d come to take me with him.”

She said this with the same tone and voice as if she’d asked me to pass the sugar. No fear. No anxiety. She’s just telling me what happened, what she said.

“But he just turned around and walked back out of the room.”

She sat back in her wheelchair, shrugged and gave me another little smile. “So I guess not yet.”

Dan Lyksett spent 34-plus years as a newspaper reporter, columnist, and editor. He's enjoying the next act. More from Dan here.