August 14, 2012

for my family

6/16 - 6/18

 It’s not strange for a tall mustachioed man to walk in, wearing cowboy boots, a belt buckle the size of a dollar bill, and a leather vest, his white cowboy hat in hand to pay his respects. In a way, combining visits for losses ten years apart. “Your mother was a lovely woman. Always a lady. Thought of her when I drove through Arlington Heights once, on a route from Joliet.” I get the sense he might have been too shy to ever have carried on a whole conversation with her when they were young, but maybe admired her from afar.

We’re gathered in the small, square room and it feels like there should be more of us. (Is our family really this small?) There is an American flag draped over the bottom half of the closed casket. I’m glad somebody thought of that.

Grandaddy wears what Dad says he saw him wear to every important event—navy blazer, khakis, bright red tie. His shock of white hair still fuller than you’d expect any 92-year-old man to have. Rachelle shoved a dollar in his hand on the way out, as he was always shoving money in our hands as we left. “I thought a twenty would make him too mad.”

Mr. Crawford came in to town especially to prepare him, and mentioned that his hands were still remarkable, especially when it came to golf: so strong and capable and powerful, and at the same time so delicate and gentle.

His hands were an unforgettable part of him (like his melting-satellite-dish ears)—thick and rough, their backs speckled and textured like the back of a hundred-year-old-whale. (or something equally spotted, hairy, rippled, and multicolored) I don’t remember his young-man-hands, so the old hands are the ones I know. His thumb tips curved out just a little, maybe by nature, maybe fine-tuned for golf.

I still expect half-cigars lying forgotten on any given surface, even though he hasn’t chewed them for years.  Even as he grew quieter lately, I still keep glancing over to his chair because that was where he should be. Expected the white shock of hair, the glint of his glasses, the scuff of worn loafers, the priceless sideways shots of wisdom that lost their spark if repeated in any voice other than his own. There's no point in quoting him if you never knew him, and can't hear his voice in your head, saying it himself.

He did always sign his cards and letters and sweet notes: "Himself."

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