Wednesday, June 22, 2011

These Happy Golden Years

Today I sat in the sun on a boardwalk right by Old Faithful helping two girls--seven and eight years old--and their sixty-eight year old grandpa complete their Junior Ranger packets.  As we discussed the super volcano and why national parks are important a part of me reflected on how unique my work is.  Truthfully, I'm not out teaching much anymore.  I sort of sold out: I traded the outdoors and exhausting fifteen hour days for stability and a life in middle management.  But I spent the past two days out in the field with the grandchildren of a participant from this winter.  It is strange to be invited to a part of a stranger's family vacation.  I negotiate with parents about ice cream cones, movies in the visitor centers, and hikes.  I listen to children bicker and see how adults handle it.  In the course of several long days together no one, including the adults, is on his or her best behavior at all times.  I get the chance not only to see long term pair bonds in animals, but also in humans.  Many of those who come to take programs have retired and are vacationing with their partner.  Most of us see many of the marital relationships around us ending.  However, I am encouraged and learn much from watching these couples who have made it through many hard times to enjoy these "golden years" together.  Here are some things I've seen in the past six months from where I stand:

- I didn't know that so many people still call each other "sweetheart" 
- I also didn't know that people say "my love" to each while discussing who ordered the roast beef and who ordered the turkey sandwich
- I kept asking one man to stay out of the middle of the road while taking pictures.  At one point his wife walked over and said with a smile, "Good luck.  I've been trying to keep him off the road for 50 years."
- We often exchange e-mail addresses.  Many read like this: bobcindy@.... or jimandsusan@....  There's something wonderful about these couples who read each other's mail.  
- There is a sense of quiet confidence in each other.  A sense of history and consistency.
- Couples often sit beside each other in the bus, even though there are lots of other empty seats.  If they would just split up they could both sit by a window.
- One husband was a die hard athlete.  Yet, for the whole week I found him going slow at the back of the pack.  He was keeping an eye on his wife who was recovering from chemotherapy, had no hair under her winter cap, and had surgery on a spine tumor in a week.

In a time when family seems to be an uncertain institution, I take great hope in society by seeing these happy couples.  This afternoon I caught an old man coaxing a little kissing out of his wife on the sidewalk at Old Faithful when he thought no one was looking.  Afterwards, they both laughed and looked a little sheepish.


Meg said...

Rach, I love your insights. It's amazing what you learn from people-watching, isn't it. I love to do it. In fact, I sometimes find that I'm not paying attention to my own conversation because I get distracted by observing someone else. But, there's so much to be learned!

Emily Sue said...

This post gave me goosebumps, Rach. I love what you're able to see in life. I firmly believe still in the beauty of happy marriages. I feel so bad for those who do not. :)