Years ago I was married to his son.
He, intrigued me. He was gruff. Uneducated by the school systems. But educated in life beyond what I will ever understand. He had the massive forearms of Popeye on steroids. And an Amish beard without the religious connections. His hair was a perfect mix of salt and pepper crowning his head in an old fashioned but never out of style crew cut. I loved to sit and listen to his stories. His gravelly voice. The smell of his cigar. When we stopped in around lunch time to visit we ate cold lunch meat sandwiches with colby cheese and cottage cheese on the side. I don’t know if I could ever eat that again and not be transported back years, and years. So very often we sat in the bench seats at the formica topped table, in the breakfast nook, making our meals, and talking. Often hearing the same stories on repeat loop. But only as a way to connect even better with him. He thought he wasn’t very smart, but his inquisitiveness and honest admissions when he didn’t know something taught me how to be smarter. If he was mad at me I knew it. If he was happy with me I knew that as well. His eyes, when they laughed, crinkled in the corners.
I adored him.
Then his son and I divorced.
And, I thought, he didn’t adore me so much.
We remained connected, around the edges of life. I would take my child there, to be with her grandparents. And I could always see what that love meant to him. He loved his grandchild. He loved her beyond measure. She put something in his heart that I had always known was there. But no one ever really talked about or acknowledged about him. To the world he was a strong, hard working man. He avoided the public. He didn’t need accolades. He seldom left home after he retired. He had a lifetime of doing what he was supposed to do, then he quietly only did what he wanted to do. He seemed content to be right where he was. He didn’t need to be seen.
But he was.
One day I went to pick up my child from her grandparents. Just he and I were in the living room. I was standing up to leave. And he started to cry. He told me he knew that his son and I were no longer married, but he always considered me family. I was stunned. He took my hand in a very unlike him, or me, gesture. Not knowing what to do I very awkwardly tried to hug him. He didn’t want hugged. And I didn’t know if I was supposed to or not. I backed up and he held on to my hand.
It wasn’t long after that that he unexpectedly died. I remember getting the call from his son. And I remember feeling like the world was a little less strong. A little less safer.
Years ago this happened.
It still effects me today.
I loved that man.
He was a good man.
And his life still ripples on.
Even if no one sees him.