The Sadness of a Winter’s Night (tf)

Mike’s most recent words reminded me of a night a few years back. It was winter. It was growing dark as I drove from my home back to the town I grew up in. Old snow was on the ground. Lots of it. The kind that devours parking spots on side streets. I was alone and not wanting to be. But that’s the way it goes sometimes.

A childhood friend had just lost his mother. It wasn’t sudden. She had been sick for a while….so I was told. I had lost touch completely, so I only knew what I read in the paper. I hadn’t seen my friend or his Mom in years, but time away doesn’t erase everything. I was going to the wake not out of a sense of obligation. That’s a word that sounds like I’d be judged otherwise. Truth is, the family thanked me for coming, but wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn‘t been there. I wasn’t high on their list of priorities.

So I drove in silence. When I arrived I drove past the funeral home once, then twice, searching for a parking space. It was bitterly cold, and I didn’t relish being outside any longer than I had to be. I expected a long line. There was none. I parked a block away in an empty parking lot and suddenly realized I didn’t want to go in. I fired up the car heater and sat. Maybe it was the lack of the line. I’d walk in…and wouldn’t be whisked through past an overwhelmed family. I’d be noticed. I’d have to pause and be counted. I’d have to look people in the eye without somebody behind me giving me a reason not to.

I got out of the car. I walked slow. The sidewalks were cracked and bulged from the invisible roots of the large trees that lined the street. I had to look down or risk a fall. There were patches of ice too….from the walks that were never cleared. I always look into the front windows of these houses. Who is in there? Most likely whoever it is is alone. And old. Family long gone. Those left behind can’t fight the snow anymore. And nobody thinks them important enough to offer assistance.

I wasn’t dressed warm enough. Just a blazer over a dress shirt. Funeral attire for all seasons. Now I was glad there was no line. I hurried inside. Signed the book. Went to the casket. She looked as I remembered her. But smaller. Age seems to take inches off the top.

Her husband was seated in a chair next to her. He was too weak to stand. The last I’d seen him he’d been a robust, hard working laborer who made his living with his hands. Built his own business from the ground up. Dark hair. A man of few words who never needed many. A man typical of the town I grew up in. A good man.

Now his hair was gray. Even seated, you could tell he was stooped from age. His eyes were glassy. He looked into my chest. His son reminded him who I was. I bent down to reach eye-level and saw a flicker of recognition. Then my name came to him. He smiled. He thanked me for coming. He meant it. I hugged his son. We were the same age. I didn’t know what to say. I told him that. He whispered in my ear….”you don’t have to say anything. Thank you for coming. It means a lot to us.”

I left. I started to cry on my walk back to the car. I got in and sat for a while, letting the heater work. I searched for something that sounded right on the radio. There was nothing. I needed to wipe away tears. All I had was the arm of my jacket. It’ll do in a pinch.

It was pitch black now. A light freezing rain started to fall so I had to drive slower than I wanted to. I was alone and didn’t want to be.

A few weeks later the old man was dead too. It was still winter. The same snow was on the same ground. This time I had a valid excuse not to go, although I don’t remember what it was. I didn’t cry. I think he was where he wanted to be.

I haven’t seen his son since. I don’t know if he’s still in town or not. I drove past the house he grew up in. It was getting dark. The walks were covered in snow.

–Tom Flannery

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~ by admin on February 7, 2011.

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