This from one of my scribble books, the Winter of 2003; sorry for its length folks, it is a tad longer than my normal... three lines.
The day was cold, bitter and biting; it drilled into my marrow and burned the edges of my ears as they listened to the snow growling under my feet. This noontime activity was an adjustment for my comfort, I, forced to take lunch away from home. Errands, needing to be done, have a way of becoming annoying interruptions to comfortable... life patterns.
I needed to escape cold and snow, and stepped into a market’s deli, a rest, a sandwich and coffee, I thought. There, there is an area set aside with tables and chairs and an open view of the hustle and bustle in this up-scale, food mart. My grand plan was to gain some warmth, enjoy my lunch as I rested, and to remain hidden away... unseen by the other warmers and eaters.
Two sorts of chair are available to the diner, the first, an attractive but very uncomfortable iron chair, common to gardens, patios and lawns. “Occasional,” describes these chairs. My choice would be to use one of these waffle bottom torturers, on only the most rare “occasions.” The second sort, though institutionally bland and boring, featured a deep cushion and proved to be a support much more kind to the sitter’s physical details and comfort. I, of course, chose that softer chair.
At first bite of my sandwich, an old man tottered my way. He very deliberately stabbing the rubber tip of his cane into the terra-cotta tiles on the deli’s floor, he carefully choose where to place each of his purposeful, and painful footsteps. A Boston tabloid was stuffed under his right arm, and in that hand, as free as it was, a cup of coffee sloshed about. Grimacing, frowning, and assuming an overall look of displeased intensity, he surveyed the tables and chairs, searching for the perfect spot to sit... and not enjoy... whatever it was he seemed determined to... not enjoy.
Finding an appropriate table, the old man claimed possession by plopping down his coffee and newspaper. Then he plodded off toward the condiments; his lips pursed, and wrinkled into a rigid bunch like a tightened tobacco pouch. As I watched, the old man gathered up packets of sugar and a wad of napkins, turning, he retraced his steps toward his chosen table but stopped at an empty padded chair. Stuffing the napkins between his left hand and the cane’s grip, he captured the softer chair’s backrest with his gnarled right hand. The old man resumed his task, while dragging the chair, and stabbing his cane.
At his return, the old man quickly brushed the table clear with the bunched-up napkins, and stooping as low as he could, with remarkable vigor, he scoured clean the softer seat, and adjusted the chair to a precise angle that only his experience would have known. Then, against what I had assumed was his plan, he sat himself on an iron chair. As he sipped his coffee, and mouthed the words while he read, I wondered about the dance I had seen. His reasoning, soon became clear.
Above the rasping clatter and the squealing market-cart wheels, a melodic voice carved through the din, “There, there you are, Love!” Singing out her words, she deftly carried a tray of soup and sandwiches toward her life’s mate, happily, anticipating their reunion.
Clear now, the softer chair was for her, not him. But in a way it was for him, satisfying his innate need… his desire to care for her… just as she cared for him.
As they sat and talked, she spoke about the winter of forty-six, the first full winter they had after the war, and the winter of sixty-five, with Billy came home from college to spend the season’s holidays.
“Oh boy, it was cold those winters,” she said, and agreed by the shiver of his memory, displayed by the shudder of his shoulders.
“And how we laughed,” he chuckled, “durin’ Christmas, of fifty-two, I think it was, when Billy an’ his hound…. What was his name?”
“Homer. It was Homer,” she offered.
“Yup, that was it… Homer. When Billy took Homer down the hill on his sled, an’ they plowed into that snowdrift… gosh, I never saw a dog carry on so… slippin’, an’ a slidin’, an’ fallin’, an’ shakin’. Runnin’ for the house! I recall it took a week or more before we stopped havin’ to drag Homer outside for his walks!”
“And oh boy, didn’t Homer avoid goin’ near that sled for the rest of the winter,” she, speaking through her thrilled laugh, of that pleasant memory.
“The coldest though, was in sixty eight,” he stuttered, “ the da day we said goodbye to Billy when he left for Vietnam…” A malignant silence occupied the air; quickly, she pulled him back to today, and the morning's breakfast they had shared.
“ Duh! I wish ya could have seen the, stupid look on your face when you spilled your tea on my toast and eggs this mornin’_!”
“Hah-hah!” he jousted, aware of her ploy, and he squirmed in his iron chair, in a valiant but loosing effort to convince some of his circulation to return.
I sat, listening to their love’s stories, unashamed of my intrusion into this snapshot of their shared lifetime, I became richer; without guilt, I absorbed their memories.
Bundled up in thought, I stepped out into a day... far warmer now than it was... just moments before. Or, perhaps, was it a lifetime before?
I called my wife… just to say hello, just to let her know… .