Standing at the window, high above the busy street, I watched them.
The elderly couple walked slowly down the sidewalk. He was tall. His head was bent low over the woman at his side, and strands of his thin white hair lifted in the wind. Faded, shapeless, corduroy pants, a size too big, hung loosely on his spare frame.
The woman was small. Her head was no higher than the man’s shoulder and her open coat flapped around her thin legs and billowed behind her.
His arm was wrapped protectively around her slight shoulders as she clutched his sweater, and they clung together against the onslaught of the gusts of wintry wind.
There was something about the way they walked, fitted into and against one another, that hinted of a long history as a couple.
I imagined them as they had awakened that morning. Bodies that had lost the softness of youth, grown lean and sharp with age, spooned together in the bed they had shared for many years. They rose to greet the day in a room full of photographs, the smiling faces of mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, newborn babies and fresh-scrubbed children, looking down from the walls.
Their own wedding portrait—perhaps he was wearing a uniform—on the table beside the bed.
I imagined a room and two lives that had seen passion, heartache, tears and laughter. And love.
For weeks we’ve seen Valentine’s Day ads for chocolate and diamonds and all the trappings of romance.
For some reason, in the midst of the sentimental spiel about expensive jewelry and sexy lingerie, the image of the old man and woman popped into my mind.
The idea of love as it is fed to us by greeting cards, movies and best-selling novels is luscious, soft and sweet. Like ripe fruit.
But what I saw in the language of the bodies that moved so slowly down the sidewalk was something else. It was older and mellowed, more mature.
It was real love. Love that has been tempered and forged. Love that, like wine, has opened and breathed. Love that has bloomed.
Forget the candy and the roses. I want what they have.
I’m not naïve. I know there must have been days, weeks, months and even years when the feeling between them waned. When the bonds felt more like chains, and desire cooled. When life was too hard and unforgiving to foster romance.
But love endured. I could see it in every move they made.
As I watched, the man and woman rounded the corner and disappeared from view. Impulsively, I hurried down the stairs and out the door to the corner. But they were gone.
On Valentine’s Day, somewhere in this town, in a room filled with memories, the morning light will fall on the man and the woman.
I can’t help but believe that when they stir, each feeling the comforting presence of the other before their eyes even open; without a word, without flowers or diamonds, they will quietly share what the rest of us will wrap in poetry and pretty paper: Love.
Real love. This essay appears in Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s book Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons which is available at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane.