A post by writer Doreen Frick
My neighbor, no young man, ran out of his house after his wife. His wife was in their car, backing it out into the road, he chasing after her, crying. I don’t think either of them saw me; they were in their own private drama, and now I’d become part of it. I seriously did not know old people had arguments that led to stuff like this. As she drove off, I watched him trudge back to the house, head down, and heart on his sleeve.
This was none of my business. I only knew these folks because he walked his dog and talked to us when we passed on the sidewalk walking ours, or when we chatted small-talk as the two of them sat on their porch on a summer afternoon. Their age I would guess was late seventies. I never asked what he did for a living. I think they had a son. She wore a lot of makeup and seemed the boss. That was my opinion but judging by the tiff I watched from my driveway, it was pretty obvious she wore the pants. He looked like a broken man and my heart ached for him.
I wasn’t about to go over and see what I could do for the poor guy, and I assume she made her way home and there was hell to pay, but that’s conjecture. Looking back on it these thirty-something years later, maybe she had a legitimate beef and maybe they worked on it, but the way their private matters played out in public has left a searing image in my mind.
Old people fight. Old women drive off in a huff. Old men sometimes run after them in tears. I’d never considered such a thing before.
Thinking back on this couple I seem to remember they had a son, and he died when he was a grown man. I know the old man took a liking to our youngest boy and nicknamed him Jo-Jo. I think he was the only one who called Joey that after age five and by age ten, Joey preferred being called Joe even though his given name was Joel. But whenever our dog-walking neighbor saw Joey and friends outside playing football, his old eyes would light up, and he’d call out a grand hello to his buddy, Jo-Jo.
My son Joe grew up and so did his parents, and eventually we all moved away one by one to college and other adventures on the far corners of the country, leaving our neighbors with the dog and the porch they used to sit on far behind. Joey got married, and so did his sisters and brother. Once in a while we all congregated back in the general vicinity of the old homestead, but it never occurred to any of us, I guess, to ask about the old neighbors we used to see when we played outside or walked our dogs.
I could google them, but they’re long gone I’m sure. I could ask their next-door neighbor what became of them; she kept in contact with the whole Avenue no doubt and could fill me in, but then I’d have to tell her why I’m asking, and in perfect honesty, I’m not sure why I would be.
Maybe I want to know if they were happy. Was old age kind to them? Was that little incident in the driveway an anomaly? Was she given to outbursts? What did he do for a living?
But the questions aren’t as important as the memory they gave me: this picture of older people struggling just like young marrieds do, like a movie in my mind that keeps playing that one scene and then stops there with the sad man walking back to the house and the mad woman racing off to God knows where.
Somewhere in that scene I see myself. And sometimes when emotions get the better of me; it’s not the prettiest of pictures. When the smoke clears and my logic returns, there’s a very real part of me that’s thankful for that scene that played out on my watch one summer afternoon.
I don’t know how their story ended, but perhaps that’s just part of the cycle. We live together, breathe the same air, come to a crossroads, let it out in the open, learn to listen after it’s all been said ten times over, agree to disagree.
And sometimes the beauty of this cycle is the aftermath, the time put in to the marriage weaves its magic like the clicking of Dorothy’s heels in the land of Oz, and we truly believe There’s No Place Like Home (with him).
Photos: Doreen didn’t have a photo of the old couple she watched argue that day, so she sent two lovely family wedding photos. At the top are husband Wes’s grandparents, Walter and Antonia, married in Nebraska in 1916. The photo directly above shows Doreen and Wes on their wedding day in Pennsylvania in 1972.