Valentine’s Day is around the corner. Love is in the air, chocolate fills every store shelf and lovers put on public displays of affection at every opportunity. But, although we like romance as much as anybody and we take love seriously here on the Rock, talking about such things can make us squirm.
The other morning I was in the check-out line at the Red Apple in Prairie Center. A young couple was behind me, and I overheard the guy say to his female companion, “I love ya and all that, but do I have keep sayin’ it?”
We Rock dwellers are just not the gushy, sweetie-pie type. We don’t go in much for moon, June, swoon and croon. My Tacoma-born mother, who never set foot on our Rock but somehow instinctively had its sensibilities, used to sum up any display of over-the-top sentimentality by telling me, “For heaven’s sake, this ain’t New York.” No, indeed, it’s not.
We go in for a subtler but no less passionate brand of romance. Here’s an example of what I mean. Picture this scene I witnessed a couple weeks ago at a restaurant on Front Street. A long-married couple was having lunch. I knew they were long-married because they looked and dressed alike: denim, flannel, fleece and sensible Nikes. Her hair was gray and curly-permed to withstand the damp weather, and his hair was gone. She wore no makeup and neither did he.
She was enjoying a plate of Penn Cove mussels. He was having some broiled salmon. Like most long-married couples at lunch, they said almost nothing to each other as they ate. And when they did speak, it was in a sort of Neanderthal code.
He leaned over and examined her plate of mussels. “They any good?” he asked. “Might want to try one.”
She said nothing but grabbed a mussel with her fork and spoon and put it on his plate. Obviously, this was an opt-repeated, carefully choreographed ritual. “Salmon’s good too,” he said, taking a piece from his plate and setting it on hers. She ate it and nodded approvingly.
“Good lunch,” she said. “But way too much food. We can’t eat it all. Better get a box.”
He also knew this ritual and signaled the waiter to bring a take-home container.
As they finished eating, he looked out the window at the sky. “Looks like it finally stopped rainin’. Glad we got out of the house,” he said, helping her on with her fleece jacket.
“Um hmm,” she replied. “But just look at those dark clouds. Let’s get home before it starts again.” As they walked out the restaurant door, one of his hands rested gently on her shoulder and the other carried the leftover mussels and salmon.
I was touched by this affectionate little episode; it seemed to sum up beautifully the love, loyalty and deep understanding that can develop between two people. It showed me that we do enjoy a healthy romantic life here on the Rock, even if it ain’t what they do in New York. And so what if our words of love don’t sound like Shakespeare and Keats? Neither are Bert and Ernie’s, but they’re still sweet and powerful.