Three Little Words

A friend recently reminded me of Gordon Lightfoot, which reminded me of one of my favorite guitarists, Tony Rice, and one of my favorite albums of his, Tony Rice Sings Gordon Lightfoot. To share this with my friend I pulled up YouTube to pick a song from that album, and settled on I’m Not Saying.

My sister and I often listened to the double record set Gord’s Gold in high school, and this song was one of our favorites. For quite a few years we borrowed from it when we wrote letters to each other (remember letters?) – one of us would sign “I’m not saying that I love you” and the other would reply in the next letter by signing “I’m not saying that I care if you love me.”

“I love you” is not something we said in our family. It wasn’t until I went to college and heard other people talking to their parents on the phone that I realized that many – perhaps most – people I knew ended phone calls to their parents by saying “I love you.” The Gordon Lightfoot song was both a joke and the closest we came to actually saying the words within our own family.

My grandmother had a dresser drawer filled with drawings we made when visiting her, and letters or cards we wrote when we were young. Almost all were just signed “From” and then our name. Often our whole name, as in “From Tessa Pagones” in penmanship one step away from writing half the letters backwards. My whole family has always talked easily about literature, politics, movies. We have not ever been given to talking about personal things, closely held thoughts and beliefs, or feelings. Especially feelings.

When I started, at age 19, to say “I love you” when getting off the phone with my parents, my father started to begin his conversations with me by picking up the phone and saying “Love me!” It would be another 19 years and my mother would be dead before I heard him say “I love you.”

When my sisters and I we were kids we never had a Christmas tree, and one thing we all agreed on was that as soon as we had our own places, we would have our own Christmas trees. The three of us had varied ideas about what “normal” kid things our kids should get that we did not have: piano lessons, swimming lessons, band or orchestra practice, the chance to fill up on bread at a restaurant if they wanted to, and definitely a Christmas tree. I don’t know, if anyone had asked, that any of us would have said “A house where people say “I love you,” but it was something we all created. Probably in all cases (certainly in mine) with the help of one or more other parents who say it more easily.

My kids say “I love you” easily, even to each other. There are a lot of moments as a parent that make you marvel at your kids for how like you they are, how different from you or each other they are, how they have some talent that seems to have come out of thin air and is unique to them. Hearing my kids say “I love you” to their siblings is something that will always make me feel a little bit of awe.

4 thoughts on “Three Little Words

  1. I didn’t hear it until I was in my 40’s. Not even sure how we got that ball rolling, but I’m fairly certain it came from one of us kids. Ditto, the shock at the realization that other families said it. To each other, that is. It still (mostly) feels weird. And I’m still shocked when I hear others say it so freely, so easily.

    • Chalk another one up to “I thought it was only my family”! I still remember the first time I noticed hearing a little kid exchanging I love yous with his grandma – it seemed like magic to me.

      • Yup. Well, we also called our grandparents by their proper last names. As in Grandma and Grandpa Vaughan (dad’s folks) or Meyer (Mom’s). No Nana or Poppa for us. Nope, that was too informal. And I don’t ever recall saying or hearing “I love you” from any of them, though I’m (fairly) certain they did. Love us, that is. Nobody ever spoke of it though. Not ever. Nor did we hug and kiss. I married an Italian. That was some serious culture shock. To this day I warn new friends that my husband is going to hug and kiss them upon being introduced. I still cringe ever so slightly when that happens.

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