CARLTON FLETCHER: Love can often be found in the simplest gesture

OPINION: We’re never too old to learn … or teach

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

Here I stand with my everlasting love.

Carl Carlton

I’ve seen the couple together on several occasions. They’re the kind of folks who tend to fade into the background if you happen not to be paying attention, and a few hours later you’re hard-pressed to recall having seen them at all.

That’s not to take anything away from the couple. They just never did the kinds of things people do to draw attention to themselves … you know, the loud talking, the flashy clothes, the wild gesticulating.

I’ve only seen them walk deliberately from Point A to Point B, go wherever it is they’re going. The thing that made me remember them, though, is that I don’t remember ever seeing them when they weren’t holding hands.

I heard a comedian say once that it’s only young people who hold hands out of love … once couples get married they hold their partner’s hand to keep them from hitting them or throwing something.

These two defied that observation. They were easily in their late 60s or early 70s — I’d make a lousy witness; I’m terrible at guessing ages — and their hand-holding never appeared to be a hedge against violent confrontation.

When I saw the couple again the other day, my curiosity got the better of me. I walked up and introduced myself. And though they initially seemed wary at being interrupted, I think when they saw I meant them no ill will, they warmed to the opportunity to talk with a stranger.

We sat on convenient benches, gradually feeling each other out as we ran through the typical chitchat: where everyone was from, the couple’s history together, the jobs they’d retired from, the weather. When I told them what I did for a living, they said they knew me and admitted that they had issues at times with some of my observations. When I told them they weren’t alone, the man said, “Folks don’t mind giving you a little hell, do they son?”

We shared a laugh over that one.

The lady had photos of their grown children and their six grandchildren in the small purse she held in her right hand, the one her husband didn’t hold. When they talked about their kids and grandkids, their faces lit up. You would have to be blind not to see the pride.

When the conversation lagged, I dared to get a little more personal with my questions. I found out they’d been married 47 years, that they “fell in love not long after they met” and that neither “had ever had eyes for any other man or woman.” When they offered those observations, they shared a look of such naked love and devotion, I felt like an interloper having witnessed it.

Emboldened by the couple’s openness and my curiosity piqued, I asked them how they’d managed to hold onto their love for all those years when so many people — even people of their generation — found it hard to stay together. They shared a smile.

“Son, I don’t want you to think it hasn’t been hard,” the man said. “Anyone who tells you they’ve been through a lifetime together without going through rough patches is either lying or they’re the luckiest sons of guns on earth. But no matter what kind of argument or disagreement we ever had, we never let it stand in the way of the love we have for each other. I guess you could say our love has always been stronger than any of our problems.”

The man looked down, apparently embarrassed at having shared such intimate details with a stranger. His wife patted him on the hand, and I started to feel more like an intruder. But that didn’t stop me from asking one more question.

What would y’all suggest to couples just starting out or to ones who have some of those rough patches along the way?

The couple shared another one of those looks.

“What’s worked for us might not work for anybody else; we’re all different,” the man said. “But our marriage has always been about more than love. It’s been about commitment, too. We took a vow to love each other forever, and we both take that vow very seriously.

“This woman has always been my best friend, and I’ve never kept a secret from her. She makes me laugh and she makes me happy, and she tells me that I do the same for her. There’s nothing better in the world than that.”

I thanked the couple — actually gave them each a little hug — and told them they had inspired me. When I suggested that I might write about our encounter, they both looked flustered and the lady said, “No one wants to hear about some old coots like us.”

We laughed again, and I started away. I’d taken maybe 10 or 12 steps when the man called out to me. I turned back.

“This is important, too,” he said, and they held their entwined hands — his right, her left — up in the air. And they walked away, as always, hand-in-hand.