This is usually the monthly post in which I chronicle snippets of conversations I have overheard in the month (last month’s post can he found here). Today my post is going to be about just one conversation. It touched me. It deserved its own post and not to be scattered amongst sillier conversations.
The other day I went to Costco (it seems like every time I go there something profound happens). I had not gotten out much in the month of September due to me being a blubbering mess. But we were quickly running out of paper towels and toilet paper (see blubbering mess). I could live without those. But then we ran out of butter. And things got real. So we made our way to the human zoo.
I sat in the food court while my husband went to purchase our food. I am not going to lie. Part of the reason was to people watch and people listen. I sat down but quickly realized that my back was to the action. I got up and moved so that my back was against the wall and I settled down to watch the people coming in and out of Costco. I like to see what people have in their carts. The carts tell so much more about the person’s story than the person would probably ever tell you themselves. One time we saw a man come out with nothing but Sensodyne Toothpaste and a watermelon (now that is probably a fun story).
“I like to watch the people coming out of Costco, too,” a friendly gravelly voice said to me from my left.
I looked over and the robust elderly man sitting at the table next to me smiled.
“It always scares me to realize that these people could be a jury of my peers,” he continued. I laughed. I had never thought of who would be my jury before. I just assumed I would
not get caught never do something to warrant a jury.
We spoke a little bit about that. About the weather. He informed me that he was going to turn eighty one in a few days.
“Eighty one just doesn’t have the same ring to it as eighty does,” he said. “I have been blessed with good health. I would love to live, with a good quality of life, mind you, to see ninety three so that I could watch my oldest great grandson graduate high school. Now wouldn’t that be something?”
It only occurred to me later, as I contemplated this conversation on the way home, that my grandmother also would have turned eighty one this year. I was all ready crying from what will come further down in the conversation, but that realization broke my heart a little more.
He spoke with great pride about his grandson, whom he was meeting later that day, because he was borrowing his truck. Without going into detail, the grandson is following his dream and will be making it a reality later this year.
Then he said, “My wife would have loved to see all of this. She passed away last June. We had been married for fifty eight years.”
My eyes filled with tears at the depth of love I could feel coming from the tremors of his voice.
He proceeded to tell me their love story. They had been happily married. Their home was full of books. “Over a thousand,” he said with pride, “and all of them, hers. Back in our day, women did not continue their education. It was her biggest regret. So, what she did not learn in a school, she taught herself in books. We had books by so many different philosophers. I cannot even pronounce some of their names.”
My husband had joined me at this point in the conversation. The man looked at us and asked if we were married (I had made meatloaf the night before and had forgotten to put my rings back on). We explained that we were and he said, “I hope that you two have the same longevity of love that my wife and I had.”
He continued, “My friend’s wife passed away a month before J. He is all ready dating. I could never date again. I am afraid no one will ever compare to J. She was beautiful, smart… She knew everything. I would never find someone as amazing as her. Would you like to see her picture?”
“Yes, of course,” my husband and I both said.
He fumbled in his wallet. He was grinning wildly at this point. “When you get to be my age, you can carry whatever picture you want in your wallet and nobody can tell you any different. This is the picture I choose to carry around.”
He pulled out a wallet-sized black and white laminated photo probably taken in the 1950s of a young woman in her early twenties. Her blonde hair was piled high atop her head in short curls. Luscious lips grinned into the camera. A voluptuous bosom spilled demurely from a satin dress. She was beautiful. Even though the picture was laminated, it was obviously handled a lot. I held it gingerly in my hands. You learn something every day. On this day I learned that an elderly man had been walking around my town with an old photo laminated in his wallet more cherished than any other possession. And now I was holding it. You learn something everyday and sometimes life gives you a gift. Having someone entrust you with their most sacred item is the biggest gift of all.
I handed the photo back to him.
“She was so beautiful,” I whispered to him through my tears.
We sat and listened to the man’s life story. It was impressive. We spoke to him for over an hour. He talked of buying a leather recliner at Costco when his wife got sick so that he could sleep by her side and be with her at every moment. He has not gone up to the second story in their home in years. There was no need, because his wife could not take the stairs. When she first got sick, he redid the entire downstairs with his best friend who was a contractor. It was a great surprise to his wife and she loved it.
He has continued to sleep in the recliner even after his wife’s passing.
“I do not think I will go back upstairs. I need to redo my bathroom downstairs and put a shower in it. If my friend were still alive, we could do it together.” Then he chuckled, “Of course, I would have to remember that he would be eighty one, too. I am not sure what kind of team we would make.”
I did not get the man’s name. He sat and enjoyed a hot dog. The only thing on the table that he had purchased from the store was a bag filled with prescription medication.
We stood up to say good bye, “come back any time. I have a room here. I’ll be here all week,” joked the man.
I swept him up in a hug. This is rather hard to do to a man much taller than yourself. He felt solid to my body. He felt soft to my soul.
I feel fuller from my meeting with the man. I had no idea that there was love like that in the world. So often you hear the stories of long marriages, but you do not know the quality of the life that they led. But this man and his wife… They had it. They found the magic and they kept it. Alive. Even after death.
We left and my husband whispered in my ear, “I love you that much.”
My heart overflowed. But now my thoughts are filled with an elderly man grieving. Sleeping in a leather recliner. In an empty house. Holding a photo. Taken so long ago.
It is a gift. And I want to share it. Spread the word. True love really exists. Magic really exists. And it can be found
at Costco everywhere, if you take the time to listen.