At our North Carolina cabin we Illinoisans enjoy all things southern: a mountain stream outside our bedroom window, reading on a screened-in porch in the rain, trout fishing, produce straight out of the fields, lake water that doesn’t freeze your marrow, a French restaurant inside a still-operating gas station, the we-belong-here-greeting of casually lifting a couple of fingers off the steering wheel as we pass locals on our winding country road, the slamming of a screen door, warm summer days and blanket nights.
Sometimes we go way native and eat at the Waffle House. At breakfast there recently we sat across the aisle from an older couple. Picture American Gothic, but mountain-style. Both wore John Deere mesh baseball caps, blue for him, and red (over shoulder-length grey hair) for her. She sported work boots with her long skirt. Suspenders criss-crossed his plaid shirt. Their leathered faces mirrored the crags of the mountains.
Nothing new here, but there was something notable about these two. They sat on the same side of their booth like dating teenagers. Sitting shoulder to shoulder was undoubtedly an old sweet habit they had never surrendered to the passing of time or the aging of their relationship. When I passed their table after breakfast I stopped. “My husband and I think you two look pretty cute sitting together on the same side of the table like kids.”
Without missing a beat he smiled gap-toothed, “Well, it’s the only way I can keep her from escaping!”
Ha! He’s quick, I thought.
“Well sir, how long have you been holding this woman prisoner?” I asked.
“We been married 62 years.”
“Well, we celebrated our 42nd anniversary a couple of days ago. You two are an inspiration!”
When we paid our bill we asked the waitress for their check as well. “We would like to pay for that older couple’s breakfast.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. You can’t do that.”
“No, I’m sorry. That couple over there has already picked up their tab.”
Apparently we weren’t the only ones touched by the same-side-of-the-bench closeness two booths back.
We took away something about marriage that morning. It’s not really the years that measure a marriage. Not the miles involved in getting long-toothed together. What is telling are the small things . . . holding on to the sweetness of love with gestures that say, “We’re still best friends, still close, still into each other.” It’s refusing to “escape” when it seems the only sane alternative, believing God will show up and help heal the inevitable wounds of a long-term marriage. It’s sitting on the same side of the booth even when mad, or feeling so done with each other. Small gestures are marriage glue.
As we celebrate our 43rd anniversary with so many others in this anniversary season, maybe it’s time to resurrect our sweetest selves. Let’s do ourselves (and everyone else) a big favor and get over the other stuff. Officially and finally. Consider it your greatest anniversary gift ever. Then who knows? Maybe a young couple will even treat us to breakfast sometime.
So sing me to sleep, Stevie. I’ll cook you those creamed onions you love just like your mother used to make (Really???!!!) Keep lighting up the room when you enter. I hope to remember how to make you laugh ‘til we say goodbye. Thank you for the personally-delivered coffee every morning and all the other small gestures that we alone share.
Yes, it’s Happy Anniversary to us and to all other celebrating couples. Like they say in the mountains, God bless y’all! Stay sweet and on the same side of the booth.