A Valentine’s Day Story
Valentine’s Day may not seem a likely match for a 3D printing company blog post. Most people would think a chocolatier, a flower company, or a national restaurant chain would be a more likely candidate to trumpet this often over-commercialized holiday of love and romance. However, I was recently told a very true love story that in part reminded me of why I’m so excited about 3D printing, and I cannot think of a better day to share it than today.
Last Friday I visited my 91-year-old grandmother in her assisted living home in Santa Cruz, California. She moved there in December, so she is still getting settled in. I could tell immediately upon seeing her that having a visitor and a familiar face in this new community of strangers meant the world to her, and I was happy to have made the four-hour drive to be there. We walked around the facility, I introduced her to my new puppy, and we ate two meals together. Her hearing is intermittent, and sometimes so is the logic of her sentences, so much of the time I found myself simply listening to her talk about everything from the lack of butter in the dining hall to the history of her blue china dishes to the habits of her cat (who is always hiding under the bed, in case you were curious).
Yet close to the end of my visit, my grandmother surprised me with a clarity of thought and emotion that I had not seen from her in years, and one that made my entire trip worth while ten times over. I had just returned to her room from my car, where I had retrieved a red, heart-shaped box of chocolates and a card to give her as an early Valentine. She was sitting on the side of her bed so I sat down next to her. She took the box and read the card, and then she pointed to the top of the dresser in front of her and the three objects sitting on top. Two of them I had seen many times: a photograph of her in an Army uniform during World War II and an adjacent photograph of my late grandfather wearing his Navy uniform from the same era. My grandparents met under a palm tree on the island of Guam in 1945, and so these two pictures always remind me of their story. In front of these two photos, though, was something I had never seen before. My grandmother reached out and grabbed it – a piece of 8 ½ by 11 paper in a clear zip lock bag – and brought it close to show it to me.
It was a black and white printed graphic of a large heart surrounded by a border of many smaller hearts, and across the middle it said in ornamented text Let Me Count the Ways. Without prompting, my grandmother explained the significance. “A while back your grandfather purchased a computer and a printer. You know, I had no idea what it would be used for, but he liked to tinker and figure it out. On the first day he got the printer working, he printed this out and gave it to me. I thought it was wonderful, so I put it in a plastic bag and I have kept it ever since.”
She paused, took a deep breath, and then continued. Holding the paper between her frail, boney fingers, she spoke about my grandfather, who died after a long bout with Alzheimer’s more than a decade ago, in a way more personally than I had ever heard her speak before. Slowly, emotionally, but without any confusion in her voice, she spoke about how she had never expected to grow old alone. She spoke about how even in the midst of his disease, my grandfather had never given up. She spoke about how she has never and could never love anyone else beside him. I just sat there, rubbed her back, and, I’ll admit, fought back tears from coming to my eyes.
Eventually she stopped talking and put the plastic bag and the relic within it back on the dresser, and we both just sat there for a moment together in silence. And that’s about when it hit me: looking around her small studio apartment filled with the hundred or so knickknacks, pictures, and paintings that she brought with her to her new and potentially final home, these three objects may just be the most important possessions left in my grandmother’s life: two old photos, and a simple black and white printed sheet of paper given to her by her late husband decades ago.
Much can be said, and will be said in due time, about the relative value people give to high quality vs. personally created products. In due time, I will offer my own opinion on the subject too. But for now, today, this Valentine’s Day, I will simply be thinking of the great love my grandmother shared for over fifty years with my grandfather, and how an otherwise simple sheet of paper helped reveal to me that this love continues as strong as ever, even to the present day.
Happy Valentine’s Day