Long Read: A gentleman
I still see the man. A true gentleman. Leaning back in his chair at the kitchen table. One leg gently hanging over the other, exposing the socks above his shoes. Black coffee was cooling in his cup. If it were raining fire and brimstone in his inner world, he didn’t show it. To him, life was meant to be sipped along side some cheese and crackers. He maintained a glimmer in his eye. He kept you front and center.
His world was crumbling. That is if one chose to look at it from a certain point of view. A rather obvious point of view. His love of more years than any one could remember was passing. His eldest son estranged through a confusing labyrinth of religion and dead rules. His sons and daughters would slowly move to other towns and other faiths. Yet, he seemed impervious, perhaps even a little rebellious toward the sorrows obviously swirling about his life.
Content, connected, he would wrap a piece of iceberg lettuce around some cheddar cheese or dig a saltine into the top of an ice cream cone and quip, “now, there is nothing we need to get worked up about”. This gentleman was about simplicity. He knew how to make others feel important. He could have ran for office and won; simply on the basis of his natural diplomacy. Power wasn’t his thing. Family, people, faith, those were his thing.
He had more friends than small-town county could hold. In fact, it seemed almost monthly some set of friends would simply show up from Anywhere, U.S.A. They knew his door would be open. Sitting at his well worn formica kitchen table, long spiritual conversations would shift to memories, then to silly jokes and laughter. I never thought of it as a kid, but he chose a round table. One which every person sat as equal.
As children we could have been the Knights of the Roundtable. When we were at Grandpa’s we were center stage. He had over 30 of us grandkids yet made time for us all. Him and grandma would go to sleep in their bedroom with the door open. She snored like a freight train. He never complained. They slept well. We would tip toe past the door only to see their feet stick out of the covers at the bottom of their bed. It made for giggles and for whispers.
What does it mean to be happy? I think my grandpa, the gentlemen, whispered something to me. Not with words but with action. The glass is truly half full. We can be content with that. It is ok to marginalize the disappointments. Sometimes we need the space away from our suffering. The steaming black coffee and simple foods beckon us to simply take a deep breath, be placed in the center and be listened to.
Like a child has no problem being placed in the center of attention, we sometimes need to humble ourselves like little children and find relationships where we can be in that seat.
I miss that round table and the way he relaxed. Now I am in my forties I see how complex his world really was. Yet, he made it look easy. There with his well worn fingers interlocked, holding his knee, one leg over the other, a wink, and his never in a hurry attitude spoke most to how truly important others are.
Here is to my Grandpa Joe and my fumbling attempts to make life seem easier than it is. He was a pro. He gave me some of my most prized memories and deepest lessons. Hopefully I can do the same.