All the best love stories are about new love, the sweet exciting beginning. And the beginnings are all the same. The heightened feelings. The need to be with each other constantly. The belief that no one before has ever felt this way. The breathless, obsessive craziness of desire.
Romeo and Juliet. Lancelot and Guinevere. Jack and Rose, Edward and Bella. Change the names, the centuries; you can even throw in a brooding vampire, and new love is still predictable.
Old love is the unpredictable rest of the story. Love that has matured and survived ordinary, wonderful, terrifying, soul-filling and soul-gutting life. But old love is seldom celebrated in fiction or in real life.
Where are the tender sonnets and movies and songs about couples who have lived 40, 50, 60, 70 years together? Raised children together or tried to have children and couldn’t? Won and lost and achieved and failed. Been bent and broken and even defeated.
But never alone. Never, ever without the other.
Betty and Joe Curran were married for 62 years. They met at a Norwood High School dance in 1947. She was a sophomore and he was a senior, and it was love at first sight, and over the years Joe told this story many times and he never lost his passion for it.
He told it in such great detail so I could remember the color of Betty’s button-down sweater and the style of her skirt. And the shoes she wore and what month it was when they first fell in love. But I don’t. All I remember is watching him and thinking, “Wow, he loves her so much.”
It was the same with Bets. Forty years into her marriage, she stood in my kitchen while we were having a party, and she talked about how she still got a thrill every time they were out somewhere and she’d look up and see Joe across a room. He was across the room that night and Bets looked his way and smiled.
After he retired, they went to Hawaii every year. They stayed in the same hotel, in the same room. Walked the beachevery day. Lounged by the pool. Had cocktails and dinner every night. They stayed a month. Just the two of them. And every year they came home talking about how they couldn’t wait to go back again.
When Joe died three weeks ago, he was 83. When you’re young and you hear that someone 83 has died and that a couple has been married for 62 years, you think, well, they had a long life together. You think that a long life, that numbers, are solace.
But what you learn as you live and grow and watch the numbers pile up, is that long-married couples are like trees planted next to each other. Some grow in unison. Some grow at different rates. Some are dwarfed by the other. And some grow together and become part of each other, pink flowers and white flowers mingling, oak and maple permanently intertwined, azalea and dogwood making a beautiful tree of their own.
Joe and Betty grew together. They were young together. They had children together. They buried a child together. They buried a grandchild together. They spent their lives together.
Their song when they were dating was Vaughn Monroe’s “How Soon?” “How soon will I be seeing you? How soon, I wish I really knew. And when will you be saying words I want to hear?”
Young love is always so eager to begin.
Their song in recent years was Vince Gill’s “Look at Us.”
“Look at us, after all these years together. Look at us, after all that we’ve been through. Look at us still leaning on each other. If you want to see how true love should be then just look at us.”
I looked at them for years. I saw true love. And I will never forget.