I saw the elderly couple approaching the counter as I was diagnosing a beat down Hoover Windtunnel vacuum on my workbench. First of all, let me say that I’m unsure of the confidentiality agreements that tie vac repairmen and customers together. I don’t think I’ll breach any if they exist. Secondly, I only refer to the couple as “elderly” because, as you’ll soon see, they were – even though their enthusiasm and zest for life indicated otherwise.
He wore a neatly formed “NK” seed hat perched lightly on his head. A windbreaker covered his plaid shirt, which was tucked neatly into his bluejeans. She was pulling at her sweater unconsciously, as if any interaction at a service desk made her feel somewhat out of place. She looked around at the fabric just across the aisle as if to betray her heart’s true desires. Both faces were pleasantly weathered, with laugh-lines creasing outward from their eyes and mouths. I was with another customer who arrived at the back of the store just seconds before they had, but caught his eye as if to let him know that I would be with him momentarily. His smile relayed that he was perfectly willing to wait patiently until I was finished.
An old, stretched and broken vacuum belt lay on the counter. As we chit-chatted about the vac while I pulled a new replacement off the wall peg, he indicated that the “ol’ vac” had inadvertently sucked in an object that caused the brushroll to stop spinning and, as a result, “smoked the belt”. Then he offered up a broken light bulb, pulled gently from a neatly folded plastic baggie. I found a replacement and proceeded to ring up the sale. His wife, at this time, checked over the belt & bulb as if to ensure he had received the correct items. I thought to myself that she had probably “worried” over her husband in tens of thousands of ways over the years.
And that thought is what prompted me to ask the question.
How long have you all been married?
Now, rarely do I delve into people’s personal lives while at work, but this seemed to be a safe time and couple to speak with. His head snapped up from its bent position as he had been gazing at his gnarled hand fingering his change, and his eyes twinkled brightly. He didn’t at first respond verbally, but he had made sort of a chuckle. At this point she leaned in closer to him and it was as if I saw them transported back decades. Her eyes were smiling from behind her pinkishly framed bifocals. He bantered back, “How long do you think?”. Now, at this point, I have learned to proceed carefully. He never let me venture a guess. “Fifty-six years”, he proudly exclaimed. “Fifty-six!”, I repeated. At that point we began a conversation that revealed some personal, familial anecdotes that, while happy & sad, are best left to the confines of our memories. The conversation lasted only a couple of minutes.
I indicated that my wife & I were approaching 25 years of wedded bliss and asked them if they had any tips for us. At first, she thought I had asked them about being married another 25 years and her response was beautiful and humorous. When they realized what I was requesting, both replied:
You just need to learn to give a little.
That little phrase had kept them happily married for well-over half a century. He stated, while she dreamily looked on shaking her head affirmatively, that “Sometimes she does things I don’t like, and sometimes I do things she don’t like…but you just need to learn to give a little.” And, after providing me with that decades old, proven wisdom, they began to make their way out of the store. She was clucking over him as they turned, making sure he had his new belt & bulb, and I stood at the counter watching them until they left the store.
I can’t think of a better definition of love than, “just learn to give a little”. See, giving to your spouse is not a natural bent or desire. It is a learned process. And love, and giving, isn’t best dosed all in gargantuan events that only come periodically. Typically it is best received and enjoyed as it is meted out “a little” at a time, over years and decades of doing life together. I don’t know if I’ll ever see this couple again. Chances are that I won’t, unless that belt or bulb wears out. I do know that I will carry their advice in my mind, and hopefully demonstrated in my marriage, for a long time to come.
Thanks for coming in, friends. You’ve no idea how much sharing a little advice is going to help this “youngster” love into his next 25 years of marriage.