“The love of the aged is glorious.”

Lavinia Goodell, 1860

Lavinia Goodell was an astute observer, and she enjoyed writing about peoples’ relationships. In the summer of 1860, twenty-one year old Lavinia wrote a short story titled “Old Lovers” for her father’s newspaper, the Principia. The narrator of the story, a young woman, meets an elderly couple in the ladies’ sitting room of the train station in the “little village of C” in western New York. (“C” perhaps stood for Canastota, where the Goodells had relatives.)

Lavinia began, “Youthful love has been all worked up in verses and stories and essays,” “but O, why do we not hear more of old lovers? Are they so few? Does love die out with youth? Does the hard, and actual of life so over-sweep the ideal? Is love so weak, so easily overcome? Not always.”

When the story’s narrator first spotted the couple, the elderly lady, who was “apparently quite feeble,” was leaning back in an arm chair while the husband asked if he could get her a cup of tea.  The woman replied that perhaps he could bring her a tumbler of water.” The man turned to the narrator and asked, “Sis, will you stay with her, while I go after some water?” The narrator nodded and engaged the woman in conversation. “She was a simple hearted old woman; had never been fifty miles from home; had never seen a rail-road before, but now was going to visit a married daughter.” The woman, whose name was Sally, said her husband John “felt very anxious for her; he had traveled more, and was smarter than she was, and he was afraid it would be too much for her, with her nerves.”

John returned with the glass of water and then soon departed again to warm a brick to put under Sally’s feet. When John returned with the warmed brick, “he took a seat by hear side, and held her hand, and – they met – those two pairs of dimmed, old, blue eyes. How much they spoke!” As the narrator watched the old folks, she had a vision of them as young lovers: he tall and strong, intelligent and earnest and she slight and girlish with rosy cheeks, brown curls, and a silvery laugh. As the narrator imagined their courting, she said:

Thus two hearts met, and thus have met many thousands of human hearts – but O, among them all, how few have clung to each other through the summer suns and winter storms of half a century; sharing the same joys, supporting each other in sorrow, bearing with every failing, and loving more deeply, more tenderly, to the last!

The train whistle blew. The old man wrapped the shawl more tightly around his wife, took up their basket, and supported her up the steps of the platform. They boarded the train, the door closed, and the train pulled out of the station, but the picture of John and Sally lingered:

Youthful love is beautiful – beautiful as the morning, with the sunshine on the dew-drops, and the larks singing, and the white, fleecy clouds with the blue sky between them; but the love of the aged is glorious, like the golden sunset; after a fitful April day of winds and showers, when the sunlight has conquered, and the clouds stand back in piles of snow, against the deepening azure.

Read the entire story here.

Sources consulted: “Old Lovers,” by Lavinia Goodell, published in The Principia August 4, 1860.

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