It was difficult not to stare at them, this 30ish couple coming into the small mountain café where I had stopped for a quiet meal. They both were dressed in hiking clothes. I had noticed their jeep when they pulled up. It had camping gear on top. The man, medium height with coal dark hair, had a backpack slung over one shoulder. Both looked in excellent health. The woman had long red hair that fell in waves to her shoulders.
As they walked by me I noticed something unusual about them that I had not seen at first. The man had his hand under her elbow and was guiding her to a booth. “Here’s a good table, Elizabeth,” I heard him say to her. They sat down across from one another. He looked at her with a gentle tenderness and then glanced up at me, making me quickly avert my eyes. I’m certain he was accustomed to people staring at them and I didn’t want to be one of those.
OK. I tried not to look and listen. But I’m a writer and a minister and that combination makes me pretty nosy. This is a fair warning to all you innocent or not-so-innocent folks out there – you never know when some nosy preacher-writer is watching you, searching for an article or sermon idea. You have been warned.
The man took off his backpack and placed it on the seat beside him. He then reached over and took her hands into his and looked at her again as if he were memorizing her face. I noticed that they were wearing wedding rings. Maybe it was their honeymoon.
The waitress came and brought them two menus. When she realized that only one menu was needed, she was obviously embarrassed. But they took no notice of it, to her great relief. The young man picked up the menu, looked it over, and whispered something to his wife. She smiled. Apparently he knew exactly what to order for her. He knew her well.
After the order was placed, he pulled out a rolled up newspaper from his backpack. He opened it and began to read the headlines quietly to Elizabeth until he came across one that caught her attention and he then read it to her. He read and summarized articles to her until their ice tea arrived. Then he took out a worn paperback book, the title I could not make out. He opened it to the place marked by a bookmark and began to quietly read to her, her face aglow as he picked up where the story had left off, probably last night by the light of some campfire along the trail. I heard enough of the story to realize that he was reading some of the short stories of O. Henry and the one he was reading was, “The Gift of the Magi.” How very appropriate, I thought to myself. Here, before me, that story was being lived out.
Their meal came. They sat and ate, enjoying moments of simple conversation and others of sublime silence. I have often thought that two people truly are close when they can sit in silence, just enjoying each other’s presence, not feeling compelled to fill the void left by an awkward silence.
After they finished the meal, he picked the book up again and finished the story he had started. Then they got up and left as they had entered, his hand gently on her elbow, his heart, his mind, his love clearly lost in her.
Perhaps no one else noticed them that day– this young man reading to his beloved Elizabeth. But they left behind that day in that small café an admirer in the heart of this writer and an imprint of love on my mind that I will not soon forget. Perhaps the same is true for you now.
Bass Mitchell is a writer and minister living in New Market, who may be coming to a restaurant where you are very soon (you have been warned). He is the author of several books, including “God Sightings, In Every Blade of Rustling Grass,” and “Bit Players in the Big Play” He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org