The Last Word

Well, It Sounded Romantic

Another Valentine’s Day, and the newspaper, magazines and bulletin boards are full of messages of love. The TV reveals that most of our roses are imported, grown and quickly packaged in China, Brazil and Mexico, flown in by FedEx and sold in the U.S. before the dew is off the plants.

My late husband, Tom Bennett, always went into The Chocolate Shop on Burdick Street on his way home from work and bought me a half-pound of caramel-pecan-roll nuggets. Sweet man.

One year I saw an ad in the Kalamazoo Gazette for a romantic sleigh ride through the pine forest near South Haven. I called and made arrangements for a ride at 3 o’clock that Sunday at the Warmouth Blueberry Farm.

Tom and I had planned a wonderful adventure at our Lake Michigan cottage, near Fennville, on Valentine’s Day. Adventure, because we had to haul in everything — our toboggan laden with food, clothes and 5-gallon water jugs — to a cottage that had only a large space heater and electric wall heaters and no water. We skied in from the plowed county road in deep snow and laughter. Then we carried in wood, lit a fire, turned on the heat and in about 12 hours were very snug and warm.

I told Tom I had a surprise for him and that we must be in South Haven by 3 p.m. Sunday. On Sunday, we closed up the cottage, skied back out to our car and drove south to Warmouth’s farm. George Warmouth came out of a modest farmhouse, told Tom where to park and directed us to the barn. He then brought out the oldest sway-backed horse I had ever seen. His name was Blackie, and he was pulling a two-seater sleigh and turning longingly to look at his warm barn.

I said, “Surprise, lover, and happy Valentine’s Day.” Tom smiled weakly and helped me into the sleigh. The wind was picking up, the snow coming down heavily and the wind chill bracing, at around 10 degrees. We had one thin summer beach blanket to cover us, and off we went. Not exactly the picture of Dr. Zhivago – no deep fur hats or even deeper fur robes to cover us. The scenery was not lovely pine forest but acres of blueberries covered in snow and looking as cold as we felt. It was not quite the sleigh ride I had imagined, but I laughed and cuddled closer to Tom, more for warmth than romance, and he kept grabbing the thin blanket and shivering.

“Isn’t this fun?” I asked. He did not reply. Blackie had to stop often to rest, and I was tempted to get out and lead him back to the barn. An hour later we did happily see the farmhouse and the barn once again. Our adventure was over … well, almost.

I told Tom I would be only a minute and went into the farmhouse to pay George. Tom thought it would be wise if he started the car engine and warmed up the station wagon. Then he came to the farmhouse to tell me he was ready to go home. We ducked through the increasingly heavy snowstorm to find the motor running, the car doors locked and the key in the ignition. In great anger at himself, Tom went back to the farmhouse to phone AAA. An hour later someone came and unlocked the car. We drove to Kalamazoo in chilly silence.

The pillow talk that night was a little frigid too. Tom’s final words to me were, “Where do you get your information? If it’s the Kalamazoo Gazette, cancel it.”

The next day I phoned my mother to tell her of our adventure. “Ann,” she replied, “it is a miracle Tom didn’t leave you years ago.” And we laughed.

Ann Garrett Bennett

Ann Garrett Bennett is a lifelong resident of Kalamazoo. She attended Kalamazoo College and Wells College in Aurora, N.Y. She and her late husband, Tom (pictured with her above), raised four children: Kathryn Bennett Solley and Betsy, Charles and Tim Bennett, the last three of whom still live in Southwest Michigan. Ann turns 91 this month and has been a member of the Reminiscence Writing Group at the Fountains of Bronson Place for more than a decade.