May 6, 2013
You Don't Have to Be Young
Steve had been divorced after a very brief marriage. His devout Catholic mother considered him still married in the eyes of the church and in her eyes as well, even though many years had passed.
Sixty years ago, divorce had a powerful social stigma that is nearly forgotten today. Ruth's staunchly Protestant father would have been very uncomfortable to see her marry a Catholic, and marrying a divorced Catholic made it more than a double whammy.
So they eloped.
All this happened before I was born. I never had the chance to know Steve well, but when I was a small child I thought of him as a kind, gentle person. As Undersheriff, he had a lot of adventure in his career. He was sometimes the first officer at a crime scene, and had arrested a number of suspects in sensational murders. He often had the responsibility of escorting prisoners who were being transported across state lines. But the really big adventure he was looking forward to was traveling the world with his beloved wife after his retirement.
Sadly, that was a dream that never came true. Steve died at age 68, after just eleven years of marriage. Ruth took the trip without him, touring Europe for a year with her best friend, Pearl.
I was very fond of Ruth, but I saw her from a child's perspective. As a teenager or a young adult, people in their fifties and sixties seemed incredibly old to me. Gray, wrinkled, a bit stodgy. Certainly not romantic. It didn't even occur to me that people of such advanced age might be sexual.
One day when I was in my late twenties I stopped by Ruth's house for a visit. She was nearly eighty, slow and bent with various ailments, walking with a cane. The discomforts of her failing health made her a bit grumpy. As we talked, I commented on a nice photograph of Steve that was on her mantle. She smiled and immediately began to look brighter. Reminiscing about their life together, she told me that his job sometimes took him away from home for two or three days. When he returned, he would drive his car all the way to the end of the driveway behind the house and then come in through the back door. He would tease her by saying that he always came in the back way so that she would have plenty of time to let her boyfriend out the front.
As she told me this, she had a big grin on her face and her eyes were sparkling. She was sitting up straight, and her energy level seemed to have doubled.
That was when I got it. They weren't "old" at all. They were romantic. They were playful. They were sexy.
Ruth lived to the age of 86. She was laid to rest in the plot she had purchased for herself 27 years earlier, the only Methodist in the Catholic cemetery, next to the man she had always loved.