Wednesday, August 13, 2008


While at the Mennonite grocery store today, I did quite a bit of shameless people-watching:

There was a heavy old woman who I saw only from the rear as she selected a cart outside the store, pushed it in front of the entrance door, and stopped there to read the specials listing—blocking my way for several seconds (very unhealthy seconds for a former Bostonian). When finally she started walking, it was with a slow limp, so I felt not only impatient, but also guilty about being impatient.

There was a late-middle-aged mother with her twenty-something son. He seemed nervous and awkward. She also seemed nervous. She was helping with his grocery shopping, and they were carrying on as if they’d both gotten their first own apartment and they were stocking the larder for the very first time.

There was a very pleasant young-looking older gentleman with a full head of white hair. We did a little shuffle dance in front of the deli counter as I bounced from end-to-end selecting lunch meat and cheeses while he held position awaiting service. We chuckled together several times.

There was a young couple who seemed exasperated with each other as he repeatedly asked her whether she wanted the item he held. Later I saw him pushing the cart alone and dropping in items; she was nowhere near.

There was a woman only a little older than I, dressed modestly and meticulously. She smiled warmly each time we passed, and she filled her cart with supplies for pickling and making jams, jellies, and preserves. I guessed she ran a tight and very happy Mennonite household.

The moment that made all this so memorable was the one that took place between an impossibly old couple. She sat in a wheelchair, and he somehow pushed her around, though looking frail enough to qualify himself for a wheelchair. Estimating forward from my dad’s 88 years, these folks must both have been in their late 90s.

He doted over her, including her in every moment of their shopping trip. At the tomato bin, he leaned in for a tomato and held it close so she could reject it, sending him back for another to judge.

I thought hard about the idle inattention that is so common among married couples: how easy it would be to leave the wife home—or simply to push her along while loading the cart to your own whim. To see this couple completely involved both with their chore, and with each other, infused me with hope for the long-term health of my marriage. Wouldn’t it be sweet to reach 90 with my wife, and still find ways to spend quality time with her?

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