Thankful for Hands to Hold

By Jim O'Brien

A cute older couple was walking along the second level of South Hills Village, holding hands and looking content in each other’s company. This scene, from late November 2001, remains squarely in my memory. It seems that I was at the mall a lot more in those days.

I noted this particular couple on several other occasions and wondered who they were and why they were holding hands as they paraded down the promenade. Walking with a purpose, it was evident that this was their daily exercise. I interrupted their walk to ask them who they were.

The couple was Richard Davis, retired from Koppers, and his wife, Joan. They live in Mt. Lebanon and have been married to one another for more than 50 years. “He’s a very affectionate person,” explained Joan when I asked why, after all these years together, they looked like teenagers on their first date. “I don’t know, I guess he doesn’t want to lose me,” she grinned.

“As you get older,” remarked Richard, “you better walk. If you don’t, someday you’ll find that you can’t.”

“I hope we can always walk together,” said Joan.

As a result of my observation and my discussion with Richard and Joan, I spoke to several other senior couples who I noticed walking hand-in hand, or with arms linked, at South Hills Village and Century III Mall, asking them to explain their beautiful behavior. They all expressed gratitude to be together. As they walked past me, I overheard one couple discussing a recent terrorist activity. I guess that holding hands with someone you love gives you a semblance of security in troubling times.

Ralph and Angeline Monteleone lived in Brookline most of their married lives, but were now living at the Lincoln Point apartments in Bethel Park. They often go to South Hills Village to pass the time. He 79, she 76, they’d been married for 53 years. “I hope it lasts,” he said, with a toothy grin. “The truth of the matter,” he said, when asked to explain the hand-holding, “is that she has Alzheimer’s, and I don’t want her to get away from me. I tell people that we hold hands because it gives us comfort to be with each other and makes us feel like we’re not alone. I survived D-Day in World War II and came home to talk about it. I went through a lot and I am lucky to be alive. Angeline was there for me, and I need and want to be here for her now.”

Paul and Cecilia Samreny of Scott Township were married 23 years ago and younger than most other couples I spoke to. “We’re in love, that’s all,” said Cecelia.

“After you’ve been together this long,” opined Paul, “you tend to appreciate each other even more, and you want to show it how and when you can.”

Mary and Paul Jellison of Whitehall still had starry eyes for one another. She 77, he 83, they’d been married for 53 years. “It’s just love,” said Mary. “He’s been through a lot with me. We’ve had lots of problems and illnesses. Holding hands is a sign of our commitment to one another, I guess.”

Tom and Nancy Plunkett of Bethel Park were holding hands as they, too, walked past. He 72, she 69, they’d been married for 50 years. “It’s true love,” he insisted.

“I enjoy being with him,” said Nancy. “After all these years, I’m glad we still hold hands. The older generation and the really young seem to hold hands. The in-between don’t for some reason. We’ve always held hands, even before we were married.”

As my wife, Kathie, and I came away from a Pitt basketball game one Sunday night, I took her hand in mine as we walked down Cardiac Hill. As the Thanksgiving holiday approached, I wanted Kathie to know that I was thankful for her and our two children. Holding hands, indeed, is a very comforting act. 

Jim O’Brien has written and published 29 books in his “Pittsburgh Proud” series. His website can be found by googling Jim O’Brien Pittsburgh sports author.

This story first appeared on pages 20 and 21 in the spring 2019 UPPER ST. CLAIR TODAY.

15241 TODAY logo.png