To have and to hold, from this day forward ... truly?

Jul. 31, 2013 @ 09:52 PM

I hate going to Walmart. Not that I hate Walmart itself; honestly, Walmart employees are usually the nicest, happiest, friendliest folks around. Especially that man or woman who greets shoppers when they come in, and bids them farewell when they leave. They really love their jobs!

Wouldn’t work for me. The people who come to Walmart can be rude, dismissive jerks, and they tend to look right through the sweet older guy or gal who’s just trying to make their day a little brighter. After an hour or two of scorn in return for a welcoming smile, I’d probably sock someone, or get in one of those automated carts and run them over ... I have anger issues.
So I had to go to Walmart yesterday for a prescription, a new shower curtain, paper towels and a six-pack of Hershey bars ... we have guests coming who like Hershey bars ... shut up. 
But I hate going to Walmart because it’s so freakin’ big it’s like shopping on a freakin’ football field! I donned my most comfortable shoes and the shorts with the expandable waist, took two Aleve, packed a little lunch and headed out.
My first stop was in the paper towel department, and that was where I saw them: an older couple, perhaps in their mid-80s, shopping together and completely oblivious to everyone around them. 
He was somewhat bent, white-haired, slow-moving, but dressed in a nice pair of trousers with a button-down shirt tucked in, sporting a handsome brown belt and a twinkle in his eye. He pushed the cart while the lady scoured the shelves for what she needed. Every time she bent or reached to get something, he said, “Here, let me get that” or, “That’s too heavy, give it to me.”
She was smaller, although not quite as stooped, and she moved just a tad quicker than her husband. Dressed in a subdued pink floral smock and pale pink, loose, comfortable slacks and sneakers (she’s been to Walmart before), she was silver-haired, with flattering waves done by those curlers my mom uses. Her face -- and his -- were lined with the story of their lives: worry, fear, weariness, old anger, and lots and lots of smiles.
Each time she put something in their cart, he questioned her: Is it necessary? Don’t we already have some of that at home? Why not get the smaller package? Do we like this flavor? How about that other color?
And, each time he did this, she smiled calmly and answered patiently and quietly; as I said, she’s “been here/done that” before. She knows her husband. (He is likely the source of many of those lines for her.) She sometimes discusses some item or other with him: Do you think this might be better? Would you rather have this kind? Are you going to eat this if I make it? And, sometimes, she just chuckles, murmurs something to him, and moves on down the aisle. She knows how to do it. He knows, too.
And, as I watched them, I began wondering: Where are all the other couples like this?  Why don’t I see them everywhere? 
When did marriage become ... well ... disposable? When did this powerfully sacred and principled union of fierce and faithful love -- the absolute bedrock of family life -- begin to be an object of derision and late-night-show wisecracks? Was it a celebrity who was the first to say, “’Til death do us part”, but mean “’Til I find someone else who laughs at my jokes ... or has more money ... or is skinnier ... or helps me around the house ... or tells me I’m wonderful...”
When did the kind of love and commitment that this couple had begin to disappear from our world? 
Ask a young couple today, “Will you take him/her forever - through struggle and fear? In hopelessness and resentment? When she gains ‘baby’ weight, when he loses his job? When she cries all day, when he drinks all night? When days of routine, one indistinguishable from another, stretch out endlessly before you? When the laughter and money and passion begin to recede, along with his hairline; when he forgets to bring home milk, and she forgets to pick up the cleaning; when he lies or devastates; when she finds a lump? Will you cling to each other and ride it out?
Forever. It’s a frightening and thrilling and awe-inspiring word. And, it should only be said when it is meant ... from the soul. Through anything ... through everything ... forever ...
I followed that couple for quite a while, just listening, smiling, even tearing up a little. I left them eventually to go to the prescription counter, but a bit later I found myself leaving the store right behind them, he carrying one bag, she carrying another as they shuffled slowly through the door. They were holding hands.

Vicki Wentz is a local writer, teacher and speaker.  Readers may contact her at chh@heraldsun.com, or visit her website, www.vickiwentz.com.