He was 84 back then. As he said, he had retired 3 times; this wasn’t one of those times. He worked hard every evening, keeping pace with us 40- and 60-somethings.
He loved to laugh — it tied with how much he loved to make others laugh. “Well, back in ’70 or so — NINETEEN 70, I mean — not 1870..” All I ever had to do was get started on my faux outrage lyrics and his shoulders would be already shaking. “G-g-g-goodness, guRAYshus, great balls of puppy fluff!” He was belly-laughing as if hearing it for the first time.
He was also the kindest soul. That first night as our team chatted in a room near the vending machines from which he bought his nightly and wonderfully cold orange soda, he held a dollar bill under the table and leaned in to speak quietly to me, “Sometimes folks don’t bring something to drink the first night, and don’t realize we have vending machines — you can pay me back when you get paid…”
He built boats “in my spare time!” Hand-built, hand-oiled, the most beautiful things ever. He only ever needed “one at a time for fishin'” so he gave them to loved ones. He was making himself a desk when we last spoke, had made just about everything in his house.
He had raised his boys himself. Mom took off with someone, and that was that. He worked whenever and wherever he could, and taught his boys everything children should learn so as to make it out there.. I doubt there are many who loved their children more than he did. His whole essence lit up when he regaled us with tales of their family life, both past and present.
There was that one slow night when he turned pensive when no others were around. We were talking about our own growings-up.
“Did I ever tell you about my mother? No, I don’t think I did.” His face turned dark, his fists balled up, and he almost choked as he spat out the word reserved unto her.
She had been ultra-mean, setting him and his brother against each other, setting his father against them until they got old enough to give their side; promising much and deliberately delivering nothing, over and over. All the times she had scared him on purpose, all the things he loved that she found some reason to take away or give away where he’d see them. Any little thing he had made for her, laughed at. It went on.. she knew *why* his wife had left him..
She had beckoned him years later to her deathbed, sobbing and utterly begging his forgiveness. “I WILL NOT FORGIVE YOU!” he shouted again these many decades later. He was trapped in this moment.. They both were.
We so uselessly speak — so fruitlessly compassion-ate so long after the fact, though it seems present indeed. “You’re such a good man, G. She was WRONG about you — she always was.”
“I’ll never forgive her, C.. never.” His breath came heavy, defeated. Again.
Who but You can raise Lazarus?