Yesterday I finished my Christmas shopping. Hooray for that! I was waiting in line to make one of my final purchases at that Canadian shopping institution, The Bay, when a woman caught my eye. I didn’t have my children with me, so I had the mental energy to actually notice her. I could see that it was taking her a long time to make it from her spot at the front of the line to the next available cashier. She was pushing a walker, filled with the day’s purchases. I don’t know how old she was, but if I were to guess I would say at least 80.
She laid her items on the counter in front of the cashier. The two women chatted as the cashier rang up the purchase – two pairs of suspenders. Christmas suspenders for her husband, I thought. I built a whole backstory in my mind. They’ve been married for 57 years, and every Christmas she buys him suspenders. A small gift, but a thoughtful gift. He’s come to expect them. Maybe even anticipate them. By late November, his old suspenders are showing their age. But he doesn’t worry, because soon enough his supplies will be replenished.
I think you can find the meaning of life in Christmas suspenders, if you look hard enough. When viewed from the outside, it seems like a small thing. She always buys him suspenders. But start adding the little things up. He always makes her morning cup of tea. They can never agree on which restaurant to eat at. They each have their own side of the bed. On their anniversary, they always have the same chicken they ate on their wedding night. They read the paper together on Sunday mornings. All the little things that make a marriage, like small pieces of a much larger puzzle.
Casual routines spring up in a relationship, often without our notice. I certainly don’t carefully consider each interaction with Jon. We’re approaching 20 years together, and much of our life together at this point is just convention. Who knows why I sleep on the right side of the bed? I just do. Who knows why all of our towels are yellow? They just are. But sometimes, when you think about it hard enough, you remember. You remember that the one thing your fiance wanted to register for was fluffy yellow towels. You remember the way you naturally claimed ‘your side’ of the bed. You see the mosaic of a life in the little bits of a day.
It’s true that convention by any other name is a rut. Perhaps the Christmas suspenders are a symbol of a loss of creativity and connection. Perhaps, after 57 years of suspenders, her husband wishes she would get him anything else. Routine can feel comforting, like a warm bathrobe, or confining, like a straitjacket. And two people may not agree on whether this routine is well-loved or worn-out. But even that is part of a relationship. Another brick in the wall that you build together.
I wonder where I will be, 50 years from now. Will I have started buying Jon Christmas suspenders? I doubt it, never having seen Jon wear suspenders even once, unless they came with a rental suit. But as I think about it, I can guess what I might still be buying. The Christmas magazine. The Christmas pens. The Christmas book. We won’t give it a second thought. It will just be part of our life and our marriage. Not the flashy, glamourous, exciting part. But the part that happens day in and day out, and lets us know that we are together. Still together, after all these years.
Do you ever make up stories about random strangers you encounter? And do you have something that you buy your partner every holiday season? I’d love to hear!