Thursday, June 20, 2013

Joe, Bernice, and The Hands of the Phoenix

File:Phoenix-Fabelwesen.jpgIn my post Thinking Before Midnight, I posed a question that the movie Before Midnight posed to me?  Is long-standing love possible anymore, or even relevant.

The last week or two I've been thinking about my acting days in Orlando, Florida.

Down there, I had the opportunity to study with James Best, best known (no pun intended) for his role as the bumbling Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on the show The Dukes of Hazzard.

Also in that class was an older couple Joe and Bernice.  Joe was in his late seventies, Bernice a couple of years younger.

After selling their business, they embarked on an acting career, and did well, booking small roles in films, television, commercials, and industrials as … you guessed it ... an older couple.

But it wasn’t their acting ability that caught my attention.  I marveled at the look in their eyes when each gazed on the other.

One word describes it.


After fifty-six years of marriage, they held hands and looked at each other with goo-goo eyes.  They looked like teenagers walking through the park … everything but the PDOA (Public Display of Affection).  Actually, I say no PDOA, but I did see them steal the occasional kiss.  Just a little peck on the lips (no sucking face), true, but always with a smile for each other that would melt the coldest of hearts.

Each time I saw that little peck, I felt like an intruder.

A tradition of the class was to adjourn to the local Denny’s for food, tea or coffee, and wonderful conversation.  Joe and Bernice came often.  Joe always ordered the Grand Slam breakfast and coffee, even late at night.  Bernice would typically order some toast and coffee, then help herself to a bite or two of Joe’s pancakes.

They were always a joy to be around.

“What’s your secret?”  I asked one evening.  “Fifty-six years of not only marriage, but working together in a business, and you still hold hands with the goo-goo eyes.”

Joe put down his fork and thought a second.  “It wasn’t always like that, Rocky.”

Bernice shook her head.  “No, it wasn’t.  We fought.  We really did.  But with the business we learned how to be civil to each other.”

“And the years passed where we were no more friendly to each other than to the mailman,” Joe said.

"But no less," Bernice threw in.

“What changed?”

Joe thought for a second.  “We decided to sell the shop and retire.”

Bernice nodded agreement.  “We looked at each other and saw someone we used to know.”

“And love,” Joe threw in.

“And love,” Bernice said, taking his hand and giving it a good squeeze.

“We knew we had a lot to get through, so one night we sat down at the kitchen table across from each other,” Joe said.

“I suggested that we hold hands, because I’ve never been able to yell at someone, whether it was Joe, or the kids, or grandkids, who I was holding hands with.  And I didn’t want to yell.  If I'd have started, I don't know whether I could have stopped.”

“We talked all night long.”

“And when the sun came up I saw that handsome young man who always held the doors open for me, and offered his arm when we went into a restaurant or a picture show.”

“And I saw that beautiful young lady who always lowered her head, then lifted her eyes and smiled when she looked at me.”

Joe later said that night holding hands was the most emotional he’d ever spent, and that for him it was the holding hands that pulled him through.  He couldn’t yell.  Neither could she.  He cried.  So did she.  He reasoned.  So did she.

“We got to know each other all over again,” Bernice said.  “Just started from scratch, like a good cake recipe.”

“Way back in school,” Joe said, “we learned about mythological creatures like the Medusa and the Unicorn that don’t really exist.”

Bernice leaned her head on his shoulder.  “Well, we decided that one of those creatures does.  The Phoenix.  Our marriage proves it.”

I said in the Before Midnight post that I hoped long standing love was possible and relevant.

My memories of Joe and Bernice prove it.  At least to me.

I last saw them in 1993.  Twenty years ago.  Chances are they’ve passed on.  Then again …?  :-)

Photo Credit:  Wikipedia


  1. What a sweet story of recaptured love.

    1. I do think of them from time to time, Delores. And it always raises my spirits.

  2. Beautiful!
    James Best? Wow! I loved watching him as a child, and then so did my daughter.


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