Lila and I had coffee yesterday on her front porch. She talked about the wind, it was blowing hard, as it often does on the prairie, and she was worried about her hollyhocks. And then she told about how the evening before she’d been sitting in just the same place, reading the Minneapolis paper, when a couple walked past holding hands. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, but she could tell they were having a good time, looking at one another earnestly.
“They were in love—you could see that a mile away,” she said. “And then yesterday morning I ran into my neighbor, Ann, I don’t think you’ve met her. At the post office. I was mailing a pair of pillowcases I’d embroidered to my niece in Wisconsin. Anyway, Ann stopped me and wanted to talk about that couple. She’d seen them too. She was all in a tizzy because they were two men. Holding hands. All in a tizzy over such a little thing. Don’t that beat all?”
I admitted that it did.
“She said, ‘Now that’s just nasty.’ And I asked her, What’s nasty about love? Well, you’d think I was from Mars or something, the way she looked at me. ‘Two men, holding hands? You know what that means, don’t you?’ What does that mean, I asked her. ‘I’m not going to stand here in public and tell you if you don’t know.’
“Isn’t that the silliest thing? So I said to her that I thought there wasn’t enough love in this world and that if any two people wanted to love one another, well what of it? She went on to talk about sanctity, and grown-ups being role models, and how two men in love was some kind of threat to marriage. All that. So I asked her, well goodness, are you saying to me that someone else’s marriage is going to affect your own, make yours worse or better in some way. Is that how it was with you and Al, I asked her? ‘I don’t know what you mean’ she said.
“I said, Ann, you and I have been neighbors for what, thirty years? You and Al in your house, me and George in mine. Neighbors. Did my marriage have anything to do with your marriage? That’s what I asked her.
“And of course she had to say no, really, it didn’t. Not at all, she said.
“No, of course not. And yet, I went on to say, those two men who walked down our street yesterday, let’s just imagine they were married. Are you saying that would rub off on you and Al somehow? Make your marriage something different?
“She had nothing to say to that for a minute. Then she said, ‘It’s just nasty, that’s all.’
“Here’s what I think,” Lila said, and she was getting a little worked up and had to stand and look straight at me, “I think what’s nasty is when somebody badmouths the behavior in someone who’s different, behavior that is generally considered good and right and beautiful. Nasty is when you’re stingy with love. Thinking it’s some kind of scarce resource that only some folks, folks like you, get to enjoy. That’s what’s nasty,” Lila said, and then sat down and drank the last of her coffee.