Geezer's Journal: Dropping off the shirts
I was talking to a woman who lives alone and is approaching old age. Not there yet, but approaching. Like me. We were talking about what we most missed about being with someone—husband, wife, partner.
"Something got me the other day," she said. "I went to the dry cleaners to pick up something, and there was a woman in front of me. She was dropping off some shirts. They were a man's shirts. And right then I felt such a sinking feeling. It just got to me that this woman was doing what I couldn't do—dropping off the shirts of my husband or boyfriend. I couldn't drop off anyone's shirts at the dry cleaner."
Another woman I know finds it hard to see older couples walking together holding hands. By "older" I don't mean people who can hardly walk. Yes, could be, but I mean people in their sixties who are still vital, who still have that man-woman spark. Holding hands. "I can hardly look at them," she said. "I want what they have."
For me, it's the teamwork of the ordinary that sends the ache of yearning through me. I see it everywhere. At airports, department stores, restaurants. So many plays and movies have been written about older couples who hate each other. We've all see our share of older couples in the real world who can barely tolerate each other. That's not the world I'm talking about.
We try to be kind. We try to do good work. We try to provide. But most of us will not find fame and fortune. What we do have, though, is family. We have family to give us our fame, to make us feel indispensable. The idea that our contribution matters. And it does. Because we do not have to be convinced about the strength and worth of family. It's as certain as the sun. It's ours to find and to keep. To nurture or to sabotage. That unstinting effort and care allows us to give, and giving is what we should be doing. It aligns us with the great artists, and it nourishes the soul.
Sometimes we lose it because it's taken away from us. Sometimes we lose it because we're afraid.
It's a privilege to take his shirts to the dry cleaner. Or to pick up her medicine at the pharmacy. Take it from someone who watches. The accrued common language, the shorthand gained from years of living together. How two people function together. The pedestrian is poignant.
Richard Goodman is an assistant professor of creative nonfiction writing at the University of New Orleans. He’s the author of French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France.