He first noticed her bouncing a ball with one of her friends. Her long, lovely braids danced as she moved. She was 10 and he was 11. By the time she was 16, he'd exacted a promise from her that she'd wait for him to get out of the service when he'd come home to marry her. And he did.
They lived a very traditional life, with her keeping the home and children and he working hard to make a living for their growing family. They adhered to their upbringing and culture that dictated the man was in charge of the family. It didn't seem to bother her. She awoke early every morning and rolled out dozens of tortillas each day. Her children's alarm in the morning was the comforting aroma of the tortillas toasting on the comal on the stove in the kitchen.
They never had extra money in those days, but they always had enough. He never showed much affection, and the macho code restrained him from ever sharing much of his feelings with anyone, but his way of showing his love to his family was by providing for them. She brought liveliness and much affection and joy to him and their children.
As the two aged, the children speculated their mom wouldn't last long if their dad went first, so dependent was she upon him, but figured their dad was the Rock of Gibraltar, and would stoically weather any storm, including his wife passing away before him.
A massive heart attack and then Alzheimer's, despite her family's best efforts, sent her into a nursing home. Everyone's concern centered on her. Their dad was so self sufficient they didn't fret about him.
He was again silent about his feelings, but faithfully went to the nursing home every day to visit and spent the entire day, every day. Their new home built on the lake sat empty and he moved their travel trailer into town to be closer to her.
It was when his family noticed he had lost an alarming amount of weight that they realized the heavy toll this new battle was taking on him. At 84 years old, he had no health problems, but he was failing.
Finally one day he cried in front of his son, the first time the son had ever seen his dad weep. He poured out his love and concern for his lifelong sweetheart, and his son was amazed that behind that rock like exterior beat such a heart of intense love and devotion. He seemed to find strength in unburdening himself and began to regain weight.
His novia, as he calls her, is hazy on the some the details of their early life, but loves to talk about them. He patiently listens and gently supplies the missing pieces to her, day after day.
He bought a brush and although in his whole life he'd only ever combed his own hair, he began brushing her hair, as best he can, every day. He bought bows and combs and now affixes them daily to her hair, as he remembers she used to do.
The nurses would do it, but he insists on rubbing her hands each morning and makes them soft and supple with lotion, thinking back to all the times those hands had generously patted out bread loaves and tortillas, and washed and folded his clothes and soothed their children.
He looks into her eyes and gives her that little wink he first started giving her when they were teenagers. When some of the old school Spanish polka music comes on the radio in her room, he clasps her hands in the same way he used to when they'd hit the dance floor at the countless weddings and quincieneras they'd attended. He sways with her just as if they are gliding around the dance floor once again, although she is bedbound. She laughs and tilts her head back, knowing with full confidence she still has this man's heart captured.
And in this last, sweet, slow dance they share together as more of her disappears each day, their children marvel at the man the press of life has produced in their father.
There are some who feel that when a person's mind has been robbed from them, the marital union no longer exists. Don't tell that to this couple. It took the crucible of the nursing home to demonstrate just how strong it is to everyone, but my mother in law and father in law meant it when they said, "For better or for worse." Nothing short of death is going to break their bond.