Arthur Woodruff was, by all accounts, an austere man. He and Nana lived in the family homestead right next door to the house where the four of us boys grew up, and because Dad married at age 37, the paternal grandparents were already at an advanced age by the time we showed up.
In fact, one of my brothers has an old painting of Grandpa hanging in his Connecticut home, looking down from his frame with a joy-suppressing expression on his weathered face, and we’d always joke about the somber stare of Arthur, ever-present and vigilant just in case someone, somewhere, was having fun.
My middle name, in fact, is Arthur, which makes one tidbit of family lore all the more memorable – Grandpa once called me “Stuart” instead of “Steven,” a transgression for which there has been absolution but no burial in the abyss of forgetfulness, many decades hence. I will take the high road and blame it on advancing age, especially now when the affliction of diminishing bandwidth has settled into my memory circuits.
But I recently ran into an older couple with a much more poignant memory, and lest my (middle) namesake’s life record be forever painted in dark shades of faded grey, I want to share a story about two bucks. And a kiss.
This story came my way at the recent funeral of my Uncle Franklin, the last surviving of Arthur’s three boys (who was predeceased by oldest brother Harvey, and by my Dad, Willis). While seated in a restaurant after the burial, a long-married couple in their 70′s, town fixtures (I went to high school with one of their sons), joined us, and added this bright brushstroke of color to the fading portrait.
Arthur Woodruff, oft-remembered for riding his bicycle up and down Worthington Ridge to work, was best known as the town clerk of Berlin, CT in his day. As such, those couples who were to be married in town came to him for the official marriage license. The charge, in those long-ago days, was two dollars, a pittance now of course, but a more significant sum for a young pair of lovebirds in the 1950′s.
And Grandpa had a tradition – after the license was signed and paid for, he’d give the two bucks back to the groom, and plant a congratulatory kiss on the bride.
Reminiscing at the table about Franklin, and about the patriarch preceding him who had paved the way for this couple to get married, the wife, by now a grandmother to her own tribe, proudly stated that she still had that two dollars squirreled away. She had kept it all these years, in remembrance of that joyous occasion. And with a fond memory of Arthur.
I kinda wish I could archive those 2 bucks somewhere as an enduring legacy, but far more important, I can archive the story, which is far more valuable to me than two hundred dollars.
In my little-boy memories, Grandpa is a distant figure, a visage and a figurehead, with little warmth attached. But for couples getting ready to marry in Berlin, Arthur’s heart made its way to the surface – and he was remembered for two bucks and a kiss.
Pretty cool, Grandpa. Now I can recall my middle name as I interact with others and be reminded to try to leave a warm memory behind.
Oh, and Grandpa? Speaking of reminders – it’s Steven (not Stuart). Steven Arthur. For the record…