Biff America: Smoldering driveway passion (column)
September 1, 2018
"That's us in 20 years."
"God I hope not," my mate Ellen replied. "If you ever get that old, I'm leaving you."
We were bicycling up a steep dirt road north of Laramie. We passed a home with some acreage and a long driveway paralleling the road for about a quarter mile. From a distance we saw an old couple (perhaps in their 80s) walking up the driveway toward the road; they were holding hands.
They 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. We passed their box just as they approached it; we smiled, they waved.
The box was a substantial structure; a steel replica of a barn hanging from a metal post by chains.
We paralleled their driveway still heading up the road. I looked over to see them shuffling back towards home still holding hands.
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I have no idea if the old dude knew I was watching. I'm guessing he did not. Whatever the case he let go of his wife's hand reached over and placed his hand on her bottom.
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. We heard laughter. They continued walking as the old guy 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 over 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 livestock than with young men.
If they were anything like me as a teen, the boy was the aggressor, pursuer and braggart; the girl stronger, wiser and honest. This was fairly rural Wyoming 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 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 power and pride. Perhaps this is just my male bias, but I fantasized that there was a time when that old dude couldn't keep his hands to himself.
It reminded me of a poem called "Touch me" by Stanley Kunitz. I memorized it years ago to bond with my poetry-reciting mother-in-law whose first choice for her daughter's husband was not a felon.
The poem reads, "Summer is late, my heart. / Words plucked out of the air / some 40 years ago / when I was wild with love / and torn almost in two."
The couple 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 which drives the other crazy, but those perceived quirks are muffled by all that we love, like and respect; and then there are the memories.
The memories of a young body, nimble joints, passion and uncertainty.
Kunitz's poem continues, "What makes the engine go? / Desire, desire, desire. / The longing for the dance stirs in the buried life. / One season only, and it's done."
Both Ellen and I looked once more at the old couple as they approached 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 …
Kunitz's poem ends, "Darling, do you remember the man you married? / Touch me, remind me who I am."…
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at email@example.com. Biff's new book "Mind, Body, Soul." is available at local shops and bookstores or Shop.holpublications.com/products/biff-america-mind-body-soul