Long shadows fall all around the empty bench. No footsteps mar the glistening snow that blankets the ground. Only sun and shadows touch the cushion of snow on the seat. The bitter Alaska wind has dashed the layer of snow completely off one wooden arm rest, while it gently draped the snow over the opposite arm rest, like a scarf left behind.
She did leave her maroon silk scarf behind on the bench, one cool spring day, and he walked all the way back to retrieve it. The round trip was only about a quarter of a mile from their nursing home, but if you saw his painful gait, you would know what it had cost him. I knew. I had watched the elderly couple make their afternoon pilgrimage to the bench, at least four times a week, for almost eight years. The weather rarely stopped them. How many dishes had I washed gazing at them out the garden window from my kitchen sink? On that first afternoon that I saw them, right after I moved into my condo, I slid my pots of African Violets aside to get a better view. I was hooked. Their tender love for each other showed in every gesture they made.
And now I knew why the scarf was precious enough for him to retrieve it, despite his obvious pain. I stood at the sink staring at the empty, snow-covered bench, while I held the story of their lives in my hands. The carefully handwritten book, wrapped in the same maroon silk scarf, was delivered to me this morning. I had just finished reading their obituaries in the morning newspaper. I cried when I opened it and realized what they had left me. I cried most of the way through it; sometimes happy tears, sometimes bittersweet or sad tears.The scarf was very much a part of the beginning, middle, and now the end, of their love story.
Our lives only touched once during the eight years that I witnessed them visiting the park bench. A stately clock tower stood sentinel behind the bench . Both were in the middle of the postage-stamp sized park across from my condo. It must have been about the fifth year, because I had just sold the first copy of my first book, a memoir about my parents meeting and marrying during World War Two. That day, the old couple had been sitting on the bench, snuggled close and smiling as they talked. It was late spring and the sun was playing chase with the clouds in the sky. I was rinsing my lunch plate when the rain started.
The couple were drenched by the time I grabbed my umbrella, ran down two flights of stairs and across the street to the park. I was drenched too. They laughed when I tried to hand them the umbrella and then they both scooted to the side and pulled me down between them. By now we were all laughing and wet, the umbrella was no use to any of us. Seconds later the downpour ended and the sun came out. I started to get up, but they each held an arm, to keep me between them, as they introduced themselves.
We didn’t talk long, but I managed to tell them how much I had enjoyed watching their trek to the park bench all these years, from my kitchen window. They asked what I did for a living and I proudly told them about my book. She asked me a lot of questions about it, while he sat back and smiled, just watching her talk. Those were worshiping eyes. Hers were the same when they glanced his way. I hadn’t seen this kind of love since I last visited my parents in Washington.
She dug around in her purse and pulled out a paper and pen and asked if I wouldn’t mind writing down my name and the name of my book. I happily complied. We said our goodbyes and walked out of the park together. I stood on the sidewalk and watched them walk away, hand-in-hand, until they were out of sight. Four days later I received a sweet thank-you note. Five weeks later they sent me a note about how much they both loved my book. I still have that note slipped between the pages of my original manuscript of the memoir.
When their handwritten book was first delivered I couldn’t grasp why they sent it to me. I wasn’t a relative or even a close friend. Then I remembered the last line of their long-ago note to me, “We have almost finished writing our own love story and we would be honored if you would help us publish it when we are finished.” I admit that I didn’t take the request too seriously and completely forgot about it as the months and years went by.
Through the following years, I rarely missed seeing them walking to or from the park, and they always looked up and waved, and often he would blow me a kiss. She would raise two fingers to her mouth and giggle at his antics. I felt I would be intruding, so I never went down to visit them. However, watching them and sharing waves with them, was almost always the best part of my day.
Although I’m writing this with tears in my eyes, because they are both now gone, I also have the years of happy moments that they left me. And their story! And the scarf! Their story began with her wearing the scarf on their first date, when she was 15 and he was 16. They lived to be 89 and 90, but they only had 40 years together. I know, the numbers don’t add up. That’s where the bittersweet comes in.
Read the end of the story in tomorrow’s A-Z April Challenge; C is for Continued…
Patti Hall 2014