by Bernice Beard
I search the pockets of Walter’s gray jeans before dropping them into the washer. Much as I love Walter, I reluctantly put my hand into those gritty cavities, at times oily, or greasy, or, worse yet, stuffed with a dirty red handkerchief all rumpled together. Today the pockets are empty. I love it when Walter empties his pockets.
Next Friday will mark forty-two years of wedlock for Walter and me. Last year we went out to dinner on our anniversary. For my gift, Walter told me to get whatever I wanted. I don’t remember what I got. I do remember that we did not even send or give each other a card.
I’ve never fussed over Walter. Neither of us was brought up that way and I was too busy in my job teaching high school English. Now that we’re both retired, we ought to be closer, take time to show more affection, and think of ways to put more romance into our lives.
So what can I do for our anniversary that’ll please Walter, show that I love him, something he’ll remember?
From the laundry bin, I drop the last navy-blue sock into the washer.
Usually I’ve been on the receiving end, expecting Walter to give me flowers or a gift on our anniversary. One year he sent flowers to me at school. I felt joyful and loved.
What if I sent flowers to Walter? Would he think it was foolish to spend our money that way? Would he think it unmanly to receive flowers?
I rotate the washer dial to Permanent Press, pull on the knob, and water splashes down onto the waiting clothes.
Momentously, I decide to risk sending Walter a bouquet of red roses. But what shall I put on the card? Something special. I pull Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations from the shelf above my desk and scan seven pages in the index from Lovable, Love, Loved, to Lovesick, Loving, and Lovingkindness. I think of our marriage vows, how Walter has told me he intends to stay committed to them. It’s too much trouble to start over again, he adds smiling, hoping I understand. I do.
Even so, I do not want our relationship to yawn. I want to put some surprise in it, some romance, some adventure, something impractical and unrealistic. These are our “the best is yet to be” years. They’ll slip by unless I do my part to enliven them.
I dial the florist. Perspiration forms on my forehead. Will I embarrass myself? What will the florist think of a wife ordering roses for her husband?
“Red roses in a vase. How much are roses?” I ask when the young female voice greets me from her secure haven.
“Forty dollars a dozen.”
Wow! My head rings like the whirl of a cash register. I’d better order only half a dozen or Walter will think I’ve gone off my financial rocker.
“May I order half a dozen with some baby’s breath and greenery?” Perspiration builds with the uncertainty of doing the right thing for Walter.
“Do you have a card that already has Happy Anniversary printed on it?”
“Yes, we do,” she says. Do I detect a hint of amusement in her voice? Is my voice giving away my uncertainties?
I try to sound poised as I say, “Would you add this: ‘. . . to love and to cherish . . . All my love, Ruthie.'” What must the young florist be thinking of this older woman getting mushy?
“Could they be delivered to the house on Friday?” I visualize Walter going to the front door, seeing the delivery man, and being surprised to find the flowers are for him. I break out into a big smile just thinking about it.
When I hang up, my knees are limp and my blouse sweaty. Do men go through this emotional uncertainty when they plan something romantic for us women? No wonder romance dwindles; it’s unpredictable and it’s work.
As the days pass, I vacillate between canceling the order and feeling excited for Walter.
On the Friday of our anniversary, the weather is clear and sunny. So Walter decides to install a roof fan in our motorhome, parked in our driveway. I do not think much about it until I go out to see how he is getting along and find him sitting on top of the motorhome, his feet dangling down into a hole where the fan will go. I had thought he would do the installation from inside the vehicle.
“How much longer will you be up there?”
“Oh, it’ll be a little while. I have to put caulking around the lip of the fan housing and then insert the fan itself.” He is a careful worker, having served the electric company for forty-one years until he retired last summer.
Turning back toward the house, I start to worry. What will I do if the florist comes while Walter is on the roof? It will ruin my romantic fantasy if Walter cannot receive the flowers from the florist.
Stones crunch. The florist’s van swings into the driveway behind the motorhome.
A gray-haired driver appears from behind the van carrying a green tissue-wrapped bouquet. We meet at the rear of the motorhome beside its ladder that leads ten feet up to the roof. Walter must be absorbed in his work for I do not hear him say anything.
I tell the delivery man, “They’re for my husband. He’s on the roof of the motorhome,” and pause. Do I dare ask? This man looks older than Walter. Yet I’ve got to do it. It will spoil everything if the florist does not deliver the roses to Walter. “Would you mind taking them up there to him?” His gray hair belies his nimble actions.
“No, I don’t mind. Here, hold this until I get on the first rung or two,” he says, already grasping the ladder. Soon I hand back to him the fragile bouquet and he climbs higher. I step back to see what happens.
On the roof, Walter looks up and says, “Hi, George!” as if they were on the ground. I didn’t know they knew each other.
“Happy Anniversary,” says George. “These are for you!”
“For me? Are you sure? My golly, I never get flowers. Hold on a minute, George, until I climb up out of here.” I hurry into the house for the camera.
By the time I return, Walter stands holding the flowers and the two men talk cordially. From the ground, I photograph a replay of Walter reaching for the bouquet and shaking George’s hand, all on top of the RV. I laugh at the thought of what was happening.
As the florist van backs out of the driveway, Walter stands on the roof holding the roses. I pull myself onto the first rung of the ladder and join him on the roof. “It’s high up here,” I say, feeling unsteady.
“Thank you, dear!” says Walter, smiling and coming toward me. “This is a real surprise! I never got flowers before!”
“Let’s sit down first. Up this high, I feel kind of shaky. Kissing you would probably send me right off the roof!” I laugh as we lower ourselves to the top of the motorhome. Walter still holds the roses as our lips meet in the morning light.