Biff America: When ‘married’ meant more
VAIL CO, Colorado
“That’s us in 20 years.”
“God, I hope not,” my mate, Ellen, replied. “If you ever get that bowlegged, I’m leaving you.”
We were bicycling up a steep dirt road in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana. We passed what looked to be a ranch with a long driveway, which paralleled the road for about a quarter mile. From a distance, we saw an old couple walking up the driveway toward the road; they were holding hands.
We were too far away to get a good look, but we could see that they both wore cowboy hats and overalls; the man had bowed legs and had his pants tucked into his boots.
I assumed their destination was the mailbox located at the end of their drive, but they still had a ways to go to get to it, as did we.
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They arrived first.
The box was a substantial structure, a steel replica of a barn hanging from a metal post by chains. They divided up their mail into their respective pockets. Just before they turned to head back toward their home, they noticed our approach; they nodded and smiled.
We pedaled past their driveway, still heading up the road. I looked over to see them shuffling toward home, still holding hands.
I don’t know if the gentleman knew that I was watching; I imagine he did not. Whatever the case, he let go of his wife’s hand, reached over and placed his hand on her butt. Without taking my eyes away, I said quietly, “Are you seeing this?” Almost as if on cue, the old lady pushed his hand away and gave him a nudge with her shoulder. They continued walking as the old man reached over and rested his arm on his wife’s shoulder.
I’ve always had an overactive imagination. When I was younger, my family and teachers called it lying, but for the past 30 years, it has paid the rent.
Not burdened by facts, I imagined the history of that old couple. I imagined them young, hopeful and innocent. I imagined an adolescent strapping boy with straight legs and a shy ranch girl who was more comfortable with horses than young men.
If they were anything like me as a teen, the boy was the aggressor, pursuer and braggart; the girl was stronger, more wise and honest.
This was fairly rural Montana, so my assumption was that there were not a lot of choices for either of them.
I’m guessing after dating they married. I wonder if either of them had competition or had doubts when they committed to each other. Those were the days and that was a place where “married” meant more than it sometimes does today.
From the quick glimpse I had of them, there was still a remnant of beauty quite visible on the old lady’s face and her posture and carriage suggested a former pride. Perhaps this is just my male blindness, but I saw little of that in the old dude. I fantasized that there was a time when he couldn’t keep his hands to himself.
They walked slowly back toward their home with the old man’s arm still resting on his mate’s shoulder.
There is a certain comfort in a relationship (or, perhaps, sense of inevitability) that comes with the years. A sense of “this person, with all certainty, is my future; it is the two of us until there is only one.” Certainly, there will always be things about any mate that drives their spouse crazy, but those perceived quirks are blanketed by all that we love, like and respect – and then there are the memories.
The memories of a young body and nimble joints of passion, fright and uncertainty –the passion making the fear and doubt easier to bare. All that, and the comfort of knowing someone as well as you know yourself, knowing that they, like you, won’t or can’t change, and with that predictability comes ease.
Both Ellen and I looked once more at the old couple as they walked toward their house. Just as we did, the old dude slid his arm off his wife’s shoulder and patted her bottom; this time, she didn’t push his hand away.
“Men,” Ellen said, “you are all alike.”
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on TV8 Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at email@example.com.