Sweet nothings, set in stone

Some men have boats. Some men have jet skis or motorcycles. My husband's the kind of guy who always likes to have a cement mixer around the house. "You never know when it'll come in handy," he says whenever I begrudge the space the orange monster consumes in our half-a-car garage.

I have to admit the mixer has come in handy on occasion, for building planters, augmenting foundations, and patching driveways. Not to mention the writing of love letters.

"Come see the fence foundation," Craig said proudly, soon after he bought the mixer. He'd been dying to use it on something, anything.

Frankly, it didn't seem worth the trouble to slip out of my slippers and into my shoes. "Maybe later," I said, thinking much, much later.

"No," he said. "Come now. Please?"

So, sighing, I changed shoes and grudgingly trudged on out. I stopped short, my cheeks heating with equal parts startled pleasure and sheer humiliation.

"Well, what do you think?"

I stared at the words carved into the concrete - the kind of words normally found within an envelope or imprinted inside a wedding ring.

"You can't do that, can you?" I blurted. "I mean, I LIKE it ... I think it's sweet ... I love the sentiment ... but what if someone sees it?"

Craig shrugged, obviously disappointed by my reaction. "So someone sees it. They can probably guess I love you. It's not going to be headline news or anything. Besides, there's going to be a fence on top of it soon."

"So it's just temporary?"

"Not temporary, but it'll be hidden. Only you and I will know it's there."

"Great," I thought, kissing him.

Now, don't get me wrong. I absolutely adore my husband, and he knows it. But I am not a public-displayer of affections. He, on the opposite end of the let-the-world-know-we're-in-love spectrum, has seen fit to declare his feelings on television (!!!!), but that's another story - and one I would just as soon forget.

The fence foundation was not the end of my romantic cement artist's work. The next house we lived in sports some initials in a big heart in the piling under the deck, an endearment or two in the basement floor, along with a few heartfelt dedications to our romance under the gatepost.

None of these messages were obvious once the project was finished, to my intense relief.

"They're kind of a time-capsule," Craig said dreamily. "Way in the future, someone will have to replace that deck and they'll see what I wrote to you ... how I feel about you."

"Yikes," I thought. And changed the subject.

We moved one more time, to the house we live in today. The old cement mixer has been arumbling as Craig, happier than a hog in mud, remodels.

When I saw what he'd inscribed in the new retaining walls around the basement windows, I said (mentally purchasing the very large, leafy shrubs that would conceal the endearments), "So sweet - thanks!"

Sitting in front of a blazing fire, Craig reminded me that under the brick hearth is a concrete base that reads, "Craig loves Terry! Oct. 12, 1991."

"When we light the fire," he mused, "my words heat up. It's like I'm saying it all over again."

"That's a lovely thought," I said. Then, "What did the bricklayer have to say about that, again?"

"He thought it was great! He'd never seen anything like that before."

"Oh, Craig."

"Oh, Terry. I just like my love notes to be permanent."

"I know. I know."

After he poured a patch smack dab in the middle of the driveway, Craig said eagerly, "Shall I write in it?"

"No!" I snapped. Then, softer, "Couldn't you just whisper those sweet nothings into my ear?"

"It just wouldn't be the same."

"You're telling me," I sighed.

When he poured the cement for the garden wall, I wasn't present to veto the eternal tribute to our union in enormous capital letters along the driveway. I'm sure you've heard the saying, "Can you read the writing on the wall?"

In this case, the answer is a resounding affirmative. No one can miss this missive - the electric meter reader, salespeople, friends, acquaintances. There's no way to hide, disguise, or ignore it. And it's personal.

OK, I have to confess. I do still squirm when the chimney sweep says, "Hey, that's some message on the garden wall!"

But I've changed my mind. The message, like the concrete mixer himself (the man, not the gadget) has proven entirely irresistible. That Craig should want to say these words to me - and be proud enough to let everyone know - after all these years is worth a few blushing moments.

In this particular marital battle, I happily surrender.

Which all goes to prove that my opinions, unlike Craig's love notes, are not set in concrete.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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