They were an older couple, walking slowly down the long hall, following the signs pointing us in the direction we needed to go. I made eye contact with the wife, as she patiently waited for her husband to make his way down the long hall, using his cane. We exchanged smiles as I walked past, and then, she spoke up, “Excuse me. Do you know if they have a wheelchair around here that he could use? This is a long way for him to walk.” I didn’t, but told her that I would go find out and rushed down the hall to find a volunteer.
The volunteer came to meet them and it was determined that we were all, in fact, in the wrong place, and needed to go across the parking lot. The wife looked a little defeated, so I offered to go find someone else to try to get a wheelchair. She explained to her husband what was happening, and he just turned around and resolutely started making slow progress back towards the door.
It was time for a new plan: I offered to stay walking with him so she could get her car and pull up to the front of the building. She agreed and hustled to go get the car.
I wanted to make conversation, so I asked, “Is that your sweetheart?”
His face brightened, and he said, “She sure is. Been married for 73 years!”
I was blown away. “”73 years? That’s amazing.”
He smiled and paused his slow progress towards the door. I could tell that he was excited to talk about her. “No, she’s amazing. We are both veterans. We both served in the Navy in World War II. I was over there when they dropped the bomb and she was a nurse. When we came home, we got married right away. After what we saw, we didn’t want to waste any time. The funny thing is that when we came home, we couldn’t even vote because we were too young.”
Again, I was blown away. “Wait – you couldn’t vote, even after you had served?” (Note to self: brush up on history…)“The law didn’t change until many years later. So, I waited until I turned 21, and I haven’t missed a vote since.” I could tell by the way he was moving that he wasn’t going to miss the chance today, either. He was making determined progress towards the door. I could see that his wife had pulled up to the front and was craning to see him.
“Well, let’s make sure you get there today.” I escorted him towards the door, and right before we passed through, he paused and reached into his pocket. He smiled, winked and handed me a Bit O’Honey candy. “Since you’ve been so sweet…”
I thanked him, put the candy in my pocket, helped him get in the car and watched as his wife drove him across the parking lot to the other polling place. As I walked to my own car, I pulled the candy out of my pocket and smiled. I love the idea that he carried around candy in his pocket, and that he decided to share it with me that day. I loved even more getting to hear about their time in the service and getting to witness a love that spanned over seven decades.
I don’t think I’ll eat that candy. Instead, I will keep it as a reminder of getting to meet that sweet couple that day, of their love story, of their service and of what happens when I take a few minutes to make connections with the people around me.